The youngest voters in this year’s presidential primaries had not yet learned to walk when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton in December 1998. Few of them have heard of Vince Foster, the Clinton advisor whose suicide was exploited by conspiracy theorists, and they have no personal memory of Hillary Clinton’s TV interview in which she first identified a “vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”
This generation can be unnerving to older voters whose political worldviews are still defined by the partisan battles of the 1990s and, in many cases, the Cold War. In this winter’s first few contests, turnout among voters under 30 has been impressive, and those casting Democratic ballots have gone overwhelmingly (83 percent in New Hampshire) for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont over Hillary Clinton. Many older Democrats are startled by the success of a self-identified socialist, and some are concerned that younger women in particular are failing to rally around Mrs. Clinton, who would be the first woman to secure a major-party nomination.
The older generation may not be wrong: Mr. Sanders’s ambitious proposals would likely go nowhere in a Republican Congress, and his ability to win a general election is questionable. But it is short-sighted to dismiss his supporters as naïve or ignorant of history. Younger voters have good reason to demand changes to a political process and economic system that seems more responsive (“rigged,” Mr. Sanders calls it) to high-income campaign contributors than to the majority of Americans, who face widening income inequality and fewer opportunities for upward mobility. They are not satisfied with candidates’ résumés or with arguments about who has “earned” the presidency, nor should they be.