No, Hillary Didn't Call Millennials 'Basement Dwellers'

October 1st 2016

Mike Rothschild

On September 27th, leaked audio surfaced of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton describing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) supporters in what many claimed were insulting terms. The comments, from a Virginia fundraiser in February, were first leaked by conservative website Free Beacon after being hacked from the email account of a Democratic staffer.


Clinton was recorded at the height of the primary battle between Clinton and Sanders, and it’s clear that she was shocked by the passion of Sanders voters. She describes them as political neophytes who don’t completely understand what they’re advocating for, while dealing with an economy that had left them stuck in go-nowhere jobs.

Her comments immediately caused a social media firestorm.

It was fueled by a combination of angry Sanders voters and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump supporters jumping on any excuse to slam Clinton. She was critiqued for seemingly mocking their desire for “free healthcare and free college,” calling them “children of the Great Recession,” and tagging them as “basement dwellers.” Sure enough, the top Twitter trend Saturday morning was #BasementDwellers.

Except that’s not what she said.

And when reading the entirety of her comments, it’s clear that Clinton opponents are trying to make this her version of the infamous Mitt Romney “47 percent” comments.

In context, however, Clinton isn’t mocking Sanders voters at all, but sympathizing with their plight.

“And on the other side [from Trump],” Clinton is recorded as saying, “there’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough […] and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel."

Indeed, tuition-free college was a linchpin of the Bernie Sanders campaign, with Sanders advocating as recently as April for a tax on Wall Street transactions to fund tuition at state universities. Clinton’s plan to reduce college tuition didn’t go anywhere near as far as Sanders’ plan – and she’d later adapt some of his ideas to her own platform.

The audio continues:

"Some are new to politics completely. They’re children of the Great Recession. And they are 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."

This is the heart of the outrage about Clinton’s comments, but it’s clear the Twitter-driven interpretation of them is wrong. It's actually an apt description of the plight of recent college graduates: These are people rightfully upset that they went to college, took on huge debt, then found no work in their field because of the recession, and wound up living back home because of skyrocketing housing prices. They did the right thing, and feel like they got screwed.

Far from mocking Millennials, Clinton is acknowledging and sympathizing with them. Statistics confirm what she’s saying, 40 percent of those unemployed are ages 18-25 (a large chunk of Millennials), Market Watch reported in 2014. This is a serious issue, and Hillary Clinton isn’t pretending it’s not.

In fact, the final part of the hacked audio confirms it:

“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 […] 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."

Trump himself jumped into the fray with a Saturday morning tweet: