The phrase “basement dweller” exploded on social media Saturday after hacked audio appeared online of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaking to donors about Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
The notion that Clinton would dismiss the idealism of her former rival’s fans and millennial voters as lazy, misinformed youngsters who haven’t moved out of their parents’ homes conformed with many perceptions of the Democratic candidate as an out-of-touch elitist. The words “basement dweller,” which she never actually said, started to trend alongside “basket of deplorables,” which she did say to denigrate large swaths of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s supporters.
But reading Clinton’s words in context reveals that she was not belittling the concerns of young people at all and was, in fact, sympathizing with the challenges of entering the workforce after the financial crisis of 2007-’08 ushered in the Great Recession.
Here was Clinton’s take on why so many young voters were drifting toward Sanders during the Democratic primary:
“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,” Clinton said. “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 like we have the job that we should have gotten out of college, and we don’t believe 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 — you want people to be idealistic; you want them to set big goals — but to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.”
Clinton did accuse Sanders of making unrealistic promises and said she wanted to be honest with the American people about what she could achieve if she is elected commander-in-chief.
The audio in question comes from a private event held in McLean, Va., in February. It was first published Tuesday on the conservative Washington Free Beacon site alongside an article about Clinton saying she would “be inclined” to oppose a particular upgrade to the country’s cruise missile arsenal. But that statement did not make waves in quite the same way the “basement dwellers” comment did.
The Intercept reported on the audio and highlighted a portion in which Clinton described herself as occupying a space on the political spectrum from the “center-left to the center-right.” Politico also reported on the leaked audio and focused on Clinton’s assessment of Sanders’ voters.
Newsweek journalist Nicholas Loffredo was among the first to point out that Clinton’s tone when describing Sanders’ voters was not nearly as condescending as others had claimed.
“The truth that Clinton understands their grievances but wants to be straight with them about what’s possible in our bitter and divided political reality just isn’t nearly as sexy,” he wrote.
Nevertheless, the outraged tweets have already begun.