...and do it with apps!

Cody Hausman spoke to the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum last Friday on behalf of his generation. The son of Brandon City Councilwoman and 2012 District 9 House candidate Jo Hausman discussed how Democrats (and any other interested party) should brand themselves to recruit youth voters and volunteers.

Cody Hausman speaks at Democratic Forum, Sioux Falls, SD, April 25, 2014.

Cody Hausman speaks at Democratic Forum, Sioux Falls, SD, April 25, 2014.

Hausman could have gotten himself thrown out at the start. He admitted that he worked for Ron Paul in 2012. Hausman said he helped organize a 3000-person rally in St. Paul for the good Texas doctor. Anyone who can use "organize" and "Ron Paul" in the same sentence deserves either extra credit or a medical exam.

Actually, I'll cut Hausman some slack. I recognize the youthful idealism that would lead one down the prim-Paul path. And Hausman's Paul story speaks to the idealism that he says is key to reaching his generation. Hausman says today's young people have a strong idealist streak... which stands at odds with the just slightly older Ryan Casey's assessment that millennials are practical problem solvers, in contrast to the baby boom idealists.

Hausman contends that Republicans do a good job of campaigning on emotions and ideals, while Democrats like to get all wonky. He says the Tea Party hasn't captured the youth vote, but their anti-government message does resonate with a generation that has a 1984 conception of government (suspicious of surveillance, zealous of privacy... even as they Facebook their lives?). Hausman recommends an Apple branding strategy: make government look sleek and stylish, show young people what value they can get from it, but don't trouble them with the greasy, gritty inner workings.

Hausman does identify some policies where Democrats seeking the youth vote should make noise. As we wait for the economy to reboot from the 2008 recession, young people are carrying big student debt from loans calculated on expected income from jobs that are not materializing. That makes young people kind of anxious. Hausman recommends expanding Pell Grants and creating a sort of Works Progress Administration for young management grads: invest in public worksand put young people in charge to give them management experience.

Hausman also stresses the importance of civil rights. He says current young voters are uniquely diverse; they've grown up with lots of people who don't look like them or love like them, and they're fine with that. On gay rights and marriage equality in particular, the morality train has left the station. No matter how icky the sex is (really, Steve Hickey? you want to go there?), young voters are already committed to the idea that whom you choose to love should not affect your legal rights. The rallies in Rapid City against the Legislature's outbreak of homophobia this winter show that Hausman has a point: Democrats can inspire young people by showing themselves to be bold leaders on that fight, willing to give those young people a chance to speak up and make real changes in South Dakota's marriage policies.

On practical party building, Hausman says Democrats should recognize the unique talents of his generation. He says his people are creative innovators who can bring technology to bear for the party. Hausman says sending young people door to door may not be the best use of their talents, that instead they might add more value by researching online apps to promote candidates and get out the vote.

I get the impression Hausman doesn't like knocking on doors much. A lot of people don't: it's scary, it's tiring, and it takes excellent conversation skills. I wouldn't have been good at it when I was 20. I still need practice at it at age 43. There will be folks with different strengths in every generation: even among Hausman's generation, we can find campaigners who are great at face-to-face campaigning. I'd hate to assume that, just because a campaign volunteer is under 30, she won't win more votes for me on the front porch than on Facebook.

In South Dakota, knocking on doors, retail politics, is a necessity. The Web and smartphone apps don't penetrate our older, rural electorate enough to turn a candidate from underdog to frontrunner. Social media is great for nationwide campaigning and fundraising, but if you want to win in South Dakota, you still have to knock on every door and face every face you and your volunteers can... and then buy a truckload of ads on KELO. If any party wants to engage youth in the campaign, yeah, apps are great projects, but we need to engage young people in our most important and most productive work. Sequestering all the young volunteers in the computer room while everyone else is out handshaking and jawboning donors and voters and really moving the needle will make those young people feel marginalized. Even if we have a great social media development team (and we need one!), there comes a point in every campaign where the boss walks in and says, "Everyone, drop what you're doing, hit the phones, and hit the streets!"

Hausman's speech brought lots of questions from the older-skewing Democratic Forum audience, and he handled all questions ably (chowing, Cody, that you might be better at door-to-door campaigning than you let on about your generation!). Hausman's roadmap gives Democrats interested in reaching across generations a lot to think about.