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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Youth Vote

Richard Fowler, Director of Advocacy for Youth Democrats of America
Charlotte, NC
September 6, 2012

1:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome back to the Foreign Press Center’s Briefing Center here at the Democratic National Convention. Our briefing this afternoon will focus on the youth vote, and our speaker is Richard Fowler, who is the Director of Advocacy for Youth Democrats of America. Richard is a political action committee director, a local advocate for young professionals and middle class families, a transportation columnist and expert, and a former campaign manager. So he will take your – he’ll have an opening statement and then take your questions focused on the youth votes, and then he will also be available for any pull-asides afterwards. So if we can could just organize in an orderly fashion afterwards, that will be great.

And without further ado, I will turn it over to Richard.

MR. FOWLER: Good morning, everybody. How are you? And I’m happy that I could be here with you guys today. It’s – I’ve got to tell you, this convention has been – not only has been great, but Bill Clinton last night was absolutely electrifying. And the part of the speech that really got my mind and my whole – the goose bumps running up my legs, when he talked about young people and he talked about the issues facing young people and what the President has done to address those. She already – she read my bio already, but just some updates to that since we sent it over.

I also have a radio show, the Richard Fowler Show, and we’re the youngest syndicated progressive show in the country. So if you have any questions about how the U.S. media is sort of dealing with that, we can take some questions on that, too.

Whether or not – I want to start out by saying that I think our generation is faced with a lot of challenges in this country. And we’ve seen from the Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney budget of what they plan on doing with our generation, and I’ve got to tell you we’re not happy about it and we’re pretty upset. There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not young people are going to turn out, and there will – if there is going – if young people sit home this year. And I got some – I got news for you guys. We don’t plan on sitting at home at all. We’re going to get active. We’re going to get energized for the President, because we understand what’s at stake in this election. If President Obama is not reelected, there’s so much that young people can lose. There’s so much at stake.

This generation – this election – this election in 2012 is not necessarily about our generation. But this election is about our children. What will happen to our children if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are elected and they reverse all the policies that were created in Obama’s first three years? And some of those policies include 3 million young people being able to go back on their parents’ healthcare insurance. It includes income-based repayment for students and young professionals struggling with student loan debt that they can’t handle. Now they have the ability to have an adjusted payment based upon their income that they make. On top of that, we’ve seen this President make more investment in community colleges, in historically black colleges and universities, and also working to make college more affordable for all Americans, both middle class and the working class in this country.

Without further ado – I don’t want to go belabor you and give you a long speech. You’re going to hear a lot of those tonight. So I am open for any questions that you might have that I can answer for you about the youth vote or about the Democratic Party in general.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Hi, this is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Thank you for coming here. Can you tell me – Kal Penn was invited to the podium day before yesterday on the prime time, and also he is today having a live show asking the voters to – young voters to come out. Two questions: Why he was selected for this – these two jobs; and what is the main idea behind why only the – why you are targeting only the youth voters?

MR. FOWLER: Well, I think the reason why Kal Penn was chosen to speak last night is: one, he’s absolutely awesome; but beyond being awesome, people know him. He’s famous for the movie Harold & Kumar, which is part of our generation. It’s an inflection point in our generation, so he is a star. But beyond that, what Kal Penn did when President Obama was elected is he gave up his career and his life in Hollywood to be in the President’s White House, to be – to work on the President’s change agenda. And so that’s why he was invited to the podium. He recently left the White House to go back to Hollywood, and I think he’s shooting a pilot for CBS shortly.

But the reason why we are – we need young people to come out is that we all understand that in order for the President to win this election, it’s going to require a coalition. And it’s going to be very different than Mitt Romney’s path to winning. How I like to coin it, Mitt Romney’s path to winning is "pale, stale, and male," and ours isn’t. We will use – we will go after a lot of different groups. We’re going to after Hispanic voters. We’re going to go after African American voters. We’re also going to target young people, because the only way the President wins is with coalitions of those individuals in all the battleground states.

I am from the state of Virginia and I am a delegate in the state of the Virginia, and we know for the President to win students on college campuses have to come out in big numbers, young professionals in the northern part of the state have to come out in big numbers. And that is the reality all across the country in all 12 of the battleground states.

Any other questions?

QUESTION: Hi, Silvia Pisani from La Nacion in Argentina. If you don’t mind, I would – can you hear me?

MR. FOWLER: I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay, good. I will change a little bit the subject, and I would like to have your vision at this point. Yesterday, we heard a very inspiring speech from Mr. Clinton. As you said, it was fantastic. Everybody is saying that. One question: Now I’m hearing today that some people just saying something like, hey, why isn’t Bill Clinton running again? So the question is maybe he’s overlapping, overshadowing Obama? Is that possible? How do you see that?

MR. FOWLER: I think that’s a great question. Constitutionally, Bill Clinton can’t run again. I think there’ll be a lot of people here who would say we’d love another four more years of Bill Clinton. I think we wouldn’t elect George W. Bush if Bill Clinton could run again. So with that being said, I don’t think he’s going to overshadow President Obama. And here’s why. What Bill Clinton did last night was he crystallized the President’s message. He crystallized the achievements of President Obama. He talked about all the things we’ve done.

And the reason why it’s so important for Bill Clinton to be the spokesperson on this is because when Bill Clinton took the White House, we were in a recession, and his first – he had to do – he had to deal with some of the same challenges that President Obama had to deal with. He had to deal with the Republican House of Representatives under Newt Gingrich. He also had to deal with the various changing in policy. And he had to create jobs. And Bill Clinton was so great at creating jobs. And from somebody who was a job creator in the White House, it’s key to hear his testimonial on what the President can do.

And one line that stood out for me and I think that stood out for all Americans on what Bill Clinton said was it’s –we – it took us longer than four years to get in this, and it’s going to take us longer than four years to get out of it. And so I think that is what the President – that was what Bill Clinton’s going to say. And I think he was a precursor and he alluded to what you’re going to hear from President Obama tonight.

President Obama’s going to lay out a clear plan. Mitt Romney laid out a five-step plan to growing this economy, but there was no meat to it. It was just creating 12 million jobs. We can do all these things; no way of how we’re going to do it. The President’s going to lay out a plan on how we do it, how we keep this economy growing, how we keep the 29 consecutive months of job growth going – moving forward, how we double the number of jobs we’ve created since he’s taken office. Since he’s taken office, we’ve created 4.9 million jobs. He’s going to talk about how we’re going to create 4.9 million more jobs. And so I think the President’s going to give a clear plan and I think what Bill Clinton did last night was he – he was – he alluded to what the President’s going to do tonight.

And I think it ended so well when President Obama walked out there. It showed that both Bill Clinton and President Obama are united together. They understand that they – that this election means a lot to the President, but it also means a lot to President Clinton. And the reason why it does is because if we get Mitt Romney, a lot of the changes that President Clinton put in office in his four – his legacy is on the line here, ladies and gentlemen, because all of the policies that Bill Clinton put in place will be reversed by Paul Ryan’s budget and Mitt Romney. And so he has to defend his own legacy in the history books as well.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m (Inaudible) from (inaudible), an Italian news site. Thank you for being here. I just wanted to ask you this: So let’s assume that Obama gets a second term. What are some of the policies that you think he should put in place for young people?

MR. FOWLER: I think that is a great question, and it’s a question that I wish more people would ask. And there’s a couple of things that the President’s going to do. What – a couple – last year, or a couple months ago, the President addressed a joint session of Congress and asked them to pass the American Jobs Act. And what the American Jobs Act does is it employ – not only does it employ, it gives summer employment to young people, which has a high unemployment rate amongst the youth – amongst young people not only here, but in a lot of your countries there’s a high unemployment rate. I know in the United Kingdom unemployment’s around 50 percent. In Spain, it’s pretty high as well. So this is a global problem.

In the American Jobs Act, the President addressed that. He talked about creating youth work programs for the summers. He talked about putting in nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers back to work. A lot of young people are leaving college, and they want to take up careers in service, i.e., being a teacher, being a nurse, being a police officer. And because of the burdens of their student loan debt, they don’t have that option. President Obama wants to create funding so that our teachers get paid well, our nurses get paid well, our police officers get paid well, and our firefighters get paid well. Unfortunately, Congress blocked that. Under Paul Ryan and John Boehner’s leadership, that was blocked. So he will continue to push that forward.

Beyond that, I think we will see from the President in the next four years student loan reform in this country and college reform. How do we fix the student loan debt problem in this country? We have almost $1 trillion amassed of student loan debt, and the question is how do we fix it, how do we tweak it, and how do we make sure that students aren’t suffered with the burden of debt that they currently have.

Any other questions? Did that answer your question, by the way?

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. FOWLER: Sure. I’m sorry. I have a tendency to speak fast. I can slow it down for you though.

QUESTION: What about beyond student loan reform? Because we have heard a lot about student loan reform, but what are some other policies that you think – I mean, you have a radio show, you said, so I guess a lot of people ask you about – you talk about different issues. So are there other points?

MR. FOWLER: Sure. I think one other thing that we’re going to see from President Obama – and if I’m talking too fast, just tell me I’m talking too fast – is we’re going to see policies that continue to work on building the working class and the middle class in this country. And we know a lot of young professionals who are exiting college are a part of that working class, and they’re part of that middle class.

So all the policies that the President are going to create to grow the middle class through – via tax incentives, via programs that put that back to work, via programs that allow them to get in homes a lot quicker – all those problems are going to apply to young people. The statistics are real. Young people are delaying home ownership because of the economic situation in this country. If the President can fix the economic situation, he can fix young people being able to buy homes. If the President can fix the economic situation – Paul Ryan in his speech last week indicated that young people are moving back in with their parents and having the Snoopy sheets and their faded Barack Obama “Hope and Change” posters. If the President can get the policies that he wants through that Congress, he will be able to make sure these people can have home ownership and they can live – they can start a life on their own and really pursue the American dream.

QUESTION: Thank you. Martin (inaudible.)

MR. FOWLER: Can you talk a little bit louder?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah. You say you are from Virginia. How difficult is it this year campaigning in Virginia? And second, what – again, in Virginia, what is the – your problem will be bringing people to vote, bringing the people that became – came of age in these last four years to vote. They didn’t live “Hope and Change.” And they didn’t get so much “Hope and Change.” The reasons are – we are not discussing the reason for this, but you have to convince them to go to vote. What will you do to vote – to convince them, and how do they react?

MR. FOWLER: I think that’s a great question, and I think the first thing that – the first – how we start that conversation is tonight in the President’s speech. I do believe – and I haven’t seen a transcript from the President’s speech, but of what I’ve heard, the President plans on going out there and saying, listen, when – I think this is very similar to constructing a house or remodeling a house. When I came in, we remodeled the house. We knew the problems were severe, but when we got into the house and started tearing down the walls, we realized the situation is worse than it really was. The piping was bad, the economy was bad, and we had to replace all that stuff.

So the President’s going to have a honest conversation with the American people tonight as their President. He’s also a candidate, so that’s going to be interesting, because he’s going to have to lay out a plan as well. But the truth is is that when we got this economy, it was a lot worse than we really thought it was. When President Obama put his hand on the Lincoln Bible in that cold day in January, we had negative 7 percent GDP growth in America. Today, we have 1.5 percent in GDP growth. That’s an increase of almost 8 percent in the GDP in only three years. That is unheard of. That is historical within itself. So I think that is going to be part of the President’s message today.

And then once this convention is over, all the folks that are clapping and cheering in this arena, they’re all going to go back home with that same type of excitement, with that same type of vigor, and with that same type of activism to make sure they get the President elected. They’re going to reach out to their family, their friends, their relatives, and their neighbors and say, “Hey listen, you’ve got to get out, we’ve got to reelect the president.”

On top of that, the Republicans have created another layer that the Democrats have to get through to win this election. In a lot of battleground states with Republican governors, the Republicans have passed laws to make it harder for you to vote. It’s – personally, it gets me very angry because our Constitution is a model for the world when it comes to how to run a democracy. And every time – and of all the amendments in our Constitution, we’re made more amendments to expand the rights of voting in this country, and now, for the fact that Republican governors are willing to pass laws that limit African Americans’ right to vote, that limits young people’s rights to vote, that limits seniors’ rights to vote, and limits Hispanic people’s rights to vote, we have a problem with that. But we can’t solve that problem until we change who’s in office. So the first thing we’ve got to do is educate our voters about the new processes, and make sure that they’re voting, they’re at the polls, they’re voting, and they’re excited for what the President will continue to do in the next four years.

The first election was about the – no, wait, it was about “Hope and Change.” In 2012, it’s about protecting the change, making sure we put hope in this hopeless place, and we move this country forward.

QUESTION: Sorry, I have another one. Sandra Fluke’s speech, I just wanted to know what kind of feedback did you get from that? And what do you say to the criticism that her very bold position might push away some more centrist Democrats or --

MR. FOWLER: Well, I think the Democratic Party is a big tent. We are made up of a lot of different people. When Alice Germond, the Secretary of the Party, opened up this convention, she made one statement that I think rings true: This is what America looks like. If you are in – if you guys had a chance to be in that arena and you see the diversity, you see African Americans, you see young people, you see white people, you see Hispanics, you see gay people, all together, all unified to re-elect President Obama, you understand what America looks like. Unfortunately, we didn’t see that last week. Last week, we didn’t see much diversity at all. We actually saw what I like to call "pale, stale, and male," if you ask me personally. And I think – so that is going to be part of it is working on the diversity. And I say because we are a big tent party, Sandra Fluke belongs to the party just as much as somebody who’s to the center of Sandra and to the left of Sandra and to the right of Sandra, and we can all come together understanding that the only way we can all get what we want is by re-electing President Obama.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. FOWLER: Oh. "Pale, stale, and male." (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. FOWLER: Oh, sure. The Democrats, in order for us to win this election, we are going to have to have a coalition of different people, of women, of Hispanics, of – so – and so the reason why I say "pale, stale, and male" is because the Republican Party, their only base of voters are just that. They’re pale, they’re stale, and most of them are male. They’re depending upon a country club of voters, people who are part of the country club and part of millionaires and billionaires in this country to win this election, and we know that’s just not possible. America is changing. Our demographics are changing. Our – the majority – the minority’s becoming the new majority. Every month, 15,000 Hispanics become age 18 and can vote in this country. So the demographics are changing and the Republican Party has not shifted to the demographic changes in this country. So they’re been stuck to a party where they’re just that; they look pale, they look stale, and they look male, if that answers the question.

QUESTION: Chris Folk, Dutch (ph) journalist from newspaper NRC. What can you say about party affiliation among young people? In 2008, the campaign was maybe more (inaudible) than really sort of classic party campaign. Will it be harder now to get young people involved who are not that much interested in the Democratic Party – somewhere in (inaudible)?

MR. FOWLER: I think that’s also a great question. What we saw in – 2010 was the most recent election that we’ve had where we elected federal candidates, and what we saw in 2010 is that the only demographic group that did not leave the Democratic Party is young people. Young people voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2010 – almost 2-to-1. So we expect to see those numbers or even better. They might not necessarily affiliate with the Democratic Party, but they affiliate with Democratic values, and I think that is going to be what that – it’s not necessarily what party is on your voter identification card; it’s where your values lie in this country. And young people understand that the middle class the working class is key to growing this economy. And like Bill Clinton said last night, doubling down on trickle down does not work.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Mark Engler from the Swedish magazine Fokus. I was wondering about voter registration changes in the (inaudible) in, like, Florida and states like that. I read that the organization Rock the Vote has had trouble registering young voters because of the new bureaucratic rules making it much harder – and harder penalties for voter registration and things like that. Could you just talk a little bit about the challenges in that?

MR. FOWLER: Oh, I think that the challenge is going to be great. There’s no question that the challenge is going to be great, Mark. There’s so much at stake at this election and the Republicans know it, and that’s why they’ve passed these laws that are so regressive to voting in this country. And so the challenge is going to be for how fast can we educate our voters? How fast can we get them out to the polls, and how fast can we get them registered? Like I said earlier, it’s just sad that in America, the country that’s known for democracy and freedom and greatness and prosperity, that we have to deal with people trying to regress the vote. To be perfectly honest, I thought we were past that, maybe 30 years ago (sic) when we passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But clearly, we’re not past that. Republicans will use any tactic to win, and that’s unfortunate. But we are going to out educate them. And let me tell you something: We’re going to outwork them on the ground, there’s no question about it.

QUESTION: Jose Cardenas, with Excelsior from Mexico City. In the last couple of weeks we have heard often that one of the problems for the reelection of President Obama is a deficit of enthusiasm. Do you think that that deficit has been overcome? Do you expect that to be overcome or do you only hope that it will be overcome?

MR. FOWLER: So the – can I – I didn’t hear the first part. The deficit of –

QUESTION: Do you expect that it will be overcome or do you hope that it will be overcome?

MR. FOWLER: The – are you talking about the – like, the debt?

QUESTION: That there is a lack, a deficit, of enthusiasm –

MR. FOWLER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: – in comparison with four years ago. It doesn’t seem that the Obama coalition has came together, at least yet. So do you expect, you hope that it’ll come?

MR. FOWLER: I think this week will prove that it has overcome, and I’ll give you a couple of, just, inflection points that you can point to on this. So we base a lot of – I mean, we – how we as a Democratic Party sort of see this is, who’s listening, who’s watching our message, who are we talking to. And last week at the Republican Convention, the viewership – if you look at the ratings of the Republican convention, a show here – and I don’t know if you have it in your country, called Honey Boo Boo, which is about this toddler-to-tiara, on the other side of the tracks show, a (inaudible) show – got more ratings than the Republican National Convention did on Wednesday night.

That is not the case here at the Democratic National Convention. Michelle Obama, when she spoke on Monday, there were 6 million tweets about the – about her speech. That’s almost 800,000 tweets a minute during just the 20 minutes that she spoke at this convention. That shows that we’ve overcome the enthusiasm gap. I think when the President speaks tonight, he will put the nail in the coffin that says, if you thought there was an enthusiasm gap in the Democratic Party, you are sadly mistaken. We’re fired up and we’re ready to go.

QUESTION: Thanks. Hi, thanks for doing this. Kathleen Gomes, correspondent for a Portuguese newspaper, Publico. You emphasize the Democratic Party’s diversity. Some people have suggested that the President’s – the greatest challenge for President Obama this – in this election will be the white vote, particularly working-class, white voters. Would you say has – would you agree – has some people suggested that the Democratic Party has the opposite problem of the Republican Party, that is that it has a sort of a white voter problem?

MR. FOWLER: I wouldn’t say that, and there’s a couple reasons why I wouldn’t. The first reason is is that President Obama’s key demographic to win this election is going to be middle-age white women. And we saw over the past couple of weeks that – and at – this entire week. We saw this convention cater to that audience. They brought out Cecile Richards from the platform Planned Parenthood and Michelle Obama, talking about what it is to see her husband go through all the struggles and go through all the issues. We saw women. We saw Nancy Pelosi speak last night. We saw the women of the United States Senate speak last night. So there’s so many speakers – and we also – Sandra Fluke, that we talked about earlier. They’ve all spoken and I think –

QUESTION: What about men?

MR. FOWLER: I agree. I – so, I – so, do we have a man problem? I would say, I don’t see – I think there’s – we’re building – we’re coming back on that. And the reason how we’re coming back, especially in the working class, is that when President Obama took office, the auto industry in this country was a dying breed. It was a dying brand, it was a – it was just, dead – almost dead on arrival. And President – willing – the President stepping out there and doing the auto bailout made sure that working-class people in this country, blue-collar, Caucasian men, could go back to work.

And also, a lot of these working class that we’re talking about are members of labor unions, are members of the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers. And those organizations – I got a chance to talk with president of the National Education Association this morning – and they’ve been very clear. They’re going to energize, they’re going to mobilize, and they’re going to get their members out to the polls. And that’s what it’s going to take to overcome the Caucasian male problem that – the perceived Caucasian male problem that the President has, because the working class understands that Mitt Romney is not the answer for their future. He wants to cut taxes for middle class – for millionaires and billionaires, and at the same time, get rid of the income tax child credit for working-class and middle-class families.

QUESTION: So your answer is yes, there is a white voter – a white man voter problem?

MR. FOWLER: Oh, I don’t – I think there’s – there’s not – I don’t think it’s a yes or no question. I think it’s a what – how can you galvanize independents to vote for the President, and I think over this past week the President’s done that.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: All right, that concludes this briefing. And then we have – thank you – if you want to have any individual interviews with him on pull-asides, he’s available.

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