Actually, What Hillary Clinton Said About Bernie Supporters Was Not At All Condescending

And no, she didn't call them "basement dwellers."

Hackers have been busy this election season, and their latest move involved releasing audio recordings of Hillary Clinton talking about Bernie Sanders' supporters, who are chiefly progressive millennials whom Clinton has had difficulty winning over. In it, Clinton spoke of the despondency she saw in many young people about their job prospects, and how being a part of a political revolution as Sanders' campaign offered could be appealing. 

And according to the conservative media, it was awful. The Washington Times' headline screamed: "Hillary Clinton privately slams Bernie Sanders' supporters as 'basement dwellers.'" Fox News similarly seized on "basement dwellers" and wrote their headline accordingly. GOP presidential nominee and infamous truth-skirter Donald Trump tweeted, "Bernie should pull his endorsement of Crooked Hillary after she decieved [sic] him and then attacked him and his supporters."


Clinton's words were painted as a condescending scoff towards young voters, and based on the conservative take on it, it seemed that she once again fudged her outreach to the very demographic she needs to help propel her to the Oval Office. But these reports about her remarks — particularly about the "basement dwellers," which, for the record, was not an exact quote — are in fact inaccurate, if not purposefully misrepresentative of what Clinton actually said about young voters, which is this: 

Some are new to politics completely. They're children of the Great Recession. And they're living in their parents' basement. They feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don't see much of a future. I met with a group of young black millennials today and you know one of the young women said, "You know, none of us feel we have the job that we should have gotten out of college. And we don't feel the job market is going to give us much of a chance." So that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so if you're feeling like you're consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn't pay a lot, and doesn't have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing. So I think we should all be really understanding of that and should try to do the best we can not to be, you know, a wet blanket on idealism. We want people to be idealistic. We want them to set big goals. But to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals. 

When asked about the audio recording, the Clinton campaign reiterated her support for millennials' idealism, adding that she was inspired by the optimism from Sanders' supporters.

"As Hillary Clinton said in those remarks, she wants young people to be idealistic and set big goals. She is fighting for exactly what the millennial generation cares most about — a fairer more equal, just world," campaign spokesman Glen Caplin told CNN. "She's inspired by the optimism and the drive of this generation and Sanders supporters across the country — and they've helped her craft and promote the most progressive platform in Democratic party history."

Sanders himself weighed in on her comments, saying that Clinton was "absolutely right" about his supporters:

I think what she said ― and, by the way, during the campaign, we do have our differences, Secretary Clinton and I do disagree on issues. But what she was saying there is absolutely correct. And that is, you've got millions of young people, many of whom took out loans in order to go to college, hoping to go out and get decent-paying, good jobs. 

According to Clinton's allies — including Sanders himself — Clinton's comments were an insightful, empathetic observation on what drove young voters. Cherry-picking certain lines and characterizing it out of context wasn't atypical of how certain media outlets cater to their audience, but does speak volumes about their election coverage overall.

Having been targeted by Republicans and the media for almost her entire life in the public eye (case in point: this very story), Clinton is warier than most about the information she chooses to share. Her habit of secrecy is arguably one of her bigger flaws, one that her opponents have lumped within a sexist agenda (her tone, her "look," her unsmiling face, her aloofness) that some young voters ascribe to their aversion towards her. But in this particular instance, her remarks on Sanders' young supporters marks of one Clinton's strongest, if most under-appreciated political skills: the willingness to reach across the aisle, the continuous efforts to understand differing perspectives, and the recognition that the opinions of even those who say they despise her hold weight.

Cover image via Joseph Sohm /


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