Gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner felt the wrath of the internet recently for a video of him calling an 18-year-old woman “young and naive” for asking a question pertaining to his views on climate change and the money he takes from fossil fuel companies.
Within hours, the powerhouses in the Democratic party tried to spin the flippant insult “Young and Naive” into a rallying cry to get more teens involved in political activism. They printed shirts, sent tweets with the hashtag #YoungandNaive, and put the full weight of their foremost candidates behind the popular acceptance of the phrase.
This is, quite possibly, the dumbest slogan the Democratic Party could have run with.
Please understand, I thought Wagner’s behavior was worthy of all the online ire it received, but the old heads in the Democratic party glommed onto a phrase that does nothing to forward the message that young people are more informed, galvanized, and politically engaged than they have ever been. They’re reading studies. They’re borrowing library books. They’re marching and staging sit-ins. They’re forcing change at their schools and city halls. “Young and Naive” is just flat incorrect. Nationally and here in Lancaster, young people are a force to be reckoned with.
Today’s establishment politicians across the aisle are incredibly disconnected from young people’s identities. Rather than listen to their concerns and fashion appropriate policies, they think all young people want is a hashtag. Instead of demanding that their peers treat young constituents with respect, politicians chose to organize around a degrading insult. It’s a crying shame that elders in politics have reduced young people to an offensive caricature of an entitled teen glued to their phone rather than investing in the upcoming crop of movers and shakers with legitimate concerns about what the next decade holds.
I see what the party was going for with the Young and Naive thing. Feminists took “Nasty Woman” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” used in their original contexts as insults, and made them rallying cries. On the right, Trump supporters took ownership of Mrs. Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” gaff and turned it into a working-class populist identifier against hoity-toity New England liberals who don’t understand how folks in south-central PA really live.
Linguistically, all these examples worked for a very simple reason: pride. People were proud to be “nasty” or “deplorable” because of what those words meant in contrast to the other less desirable option. The opposite of “nasty” is “complacent.” The opposite of “deplorable” is “elite.” But the opposite of “naive” is “aware” — an objectively more attractive option than “naive.”
To tag the most energetic group of voters “Young and Naive” is a bonafide branding whiff. To be more accurate, inclusive, and downright smart, the party should have maybe gone with one of these:
#YoungandInformed: Think back to the Incident. A young woman came armed with some very striking statistics about the public opinion on climate change and the amount of money that the Wagner campaign had taken from fossil fuel companies who stand to lose business if environmental regulations are voted into law. By definition, this is the opposite of naive. What we saw was an exhibit of ready research met with dismissiveness and an outright refusal to take a respectful criticism seriously.
#YoungandUpset: The adulthood that awaits many of today’s high school and college students is terrifying. Concerns of debt, the environment, public safety, healthcare, job security, and more are cause for action among young adults. For good reason, they’re upset, and they’re not willing to take the destruction of their futures sitting down.
#YoungandVoting: Voters under the age of 35 have the most potential energy of any other block of voters in the US. While baby boomers had the highest rate of turnout, the millennial vote could effectively drown out demographic if the number of young voters increased. Grassroots efforts and online campaigns are pushing relentlessly to drive up millennial turnout and ensure that the government represents everyone, not just boomers.
All in all, here’s my plea to all candidates. Don’t just get behind the first catchy group of words you hear and put a pound sign in front of them. Brand wisely and make real change.