Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Stupid tactics and promoting bigotry

There are many things that I don’t talk about on this blog because even though I have strong opinions about them, I don’t want to give them any air or added publicity. On the other hand, as our friends on the Leftward Side of Left would surely agree, sometimes it’s necessary to call out people when they say or do stupid things. On balance, this is one of those times.

I saw a link to the video above on a Facebook group I’m part of: Not the actual video, just a link. The “naughty” words used were the reason the video itself wasn’t shared, but that’s not what I found offensive about the ad—after all, I swear all the time. What is offensive is the use of blatant ageism. But even that isn’t the main thing that’s wrong with this video, it’s the utter stupidity of the tactic.

First, let’s look at the data:
Voter turnout rates in presidential elections, by generation
As the chart from Pew Research shows, there is a truth on the ads, namely, that older people vote: Silent/Greatest vote the most, with 70% of eligible votes doing so. Boomers are close behind at 69%, and Millennials have a terrible turnout rate of 51%. So, on paper, it looks like Millennials will be swamped by older voters. There are two problems with this, and both of them are numbers.

The first problem is that eligible younger voters are now outnumber eligible older voters. In 2018, GenX and Millennials combined will make-up around 135 million voters, while Boomers and older voters will make up only 93 million. Millennials alone outnumber Boomers.

However, the second number problems is that younger voters just don’t vote: In the 2014 Midterm Elections, younger voters cast only 36 million votes, as opposed to 57 million cast by older voters.

So, the problem isn’t that older people vote, it’s that younger people don’t vote. If they did, they’d outnumber older voters.

That being the case, this is a good approach, right? If the goal is to get younger voters to vote, then it must be a good idea to point out that if they vote there will be real change, and if they don’t, it’ll be more of the same. Motivating younger voters is important—just not this way.

Here’s the problem with this approach: It blames every older voter for every problem in the country, and, conversely, excuses younger voters shirking their responsibility to vote by saying “everything’s all the old peoples’ fault!” This is self-defeating.

This is obvious and shouldn’t need to be said, except it does: Older voters are diverse. Many are selfish and conservative—obviously. Public opinion polls show that older voters are more likely to oppose social justice, equal rights for minorities, and are more likely to support racism, sexism, and homophobia. However, they are also the generation that ended the Vietnam War, rebelled at Stonewall, took part in the Freedom Rides in the South, and so much more. To suggest that ALL older voters are grumpy, selfish, self-satisfied, greedy, rigthwing pricks insults the millions who are none of those things.

This sort of approach will anger older voters who are between the two groups—moderates on many things, in other words—who could be persuaded to back progressive candidates for office. But if you’re told that everything bad in the country is your fault, wouldn’t your first reaction be “fuck you?!” Maybe that’s just me, but the point is still true. Attacking people and blaming them for everything bad does NOT win people to your side or your argument, it alienates them. Worse, it can drive them to support the other side.

This approach also implicitly gives younger voters a reason to NOT vote. It tells them, nothing’s their fault, it’s all the fault of oldies, and since oldies always vote, don’t bother voting. In other words, rather than giving younger people a reason to register and vote, it implicitly gives them a reason to not do that.

Finally, any attempt to build a truly progressive movement cannot single out segments of society for ridicule and blame. That’s NOT what being progressive is all about. A truly progressive agenda should ALWAYS work build coalitions and alliances across—even in spite of—our difference. Put another way, any real progressive campaign unites people, it never divides them.

What any serious campaign aimed at motivating younger people to vote needs to do is to sell aspirations, dreams, and a vision, which, not coincidentally, is how companies market products and services to younger people (for example, consider Apple’s marketing of iPhones). So, the campaign should make it clear what motivated young people can achieve if they vote, such as, full equality for women and minorities, ending poverty, ending institutional racism, restoring the middle class and economic opportunity for all working people, and SO much more. Inspire younger people to work to change the country and its politics—that’s the only way to do it, not hope to motivate them by attacking other parts of society.

I think, but don’t know, that the group behind the ad really does want progressive change, and I absolutely applaud that goal. But they cannot get there by dividing people against each other.

So, what’s offensive about the ad isn’t the “naughty” words. It’s offensive because it’s wrongheaded and counterproductive. We need progressive change, and stupid tactics like this can help ensure we never get it.

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