PITTSFIELD — The 20-somethings are capable of bettering America's political and economic climate if they ever decide to run for Congress or join the country's financial institutions.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's assessment of the younger generation's role in a post 2016 election that pits an unconventional Republican, Donald Trump against the would-be first female commander-in-chief, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Dean told a overflow crowd at Temple Anshe Amunim Sunday night, the "first global generation" as he dubs today's young adults, are empowered like no generation before. They have effectively used social media and the Internet to effect change one issue or controversy at a time.
The problem, the one-time Vermont governor says, is convincing them they are needed on Wall Street and Capitol Hill.
"They are incredibly powerful, but they believe they don't need institutions — they believe they are a bore," he said.
Dean's remarks came during a nearly hour-long speech during the 49th annual Hilda Villa Feigenbaum Memorial Foundation Lecture before 450 people gathered in the sanctuary and adjoining chapel-library where the lecture was shown on closed circuit television.
Over time, Dean believes the current generation will realize they can be part of the solution to change the country's political and economic systems.
"We need leadership in Congress that will pull us together ... the younger generation gets it," he said. "We have to show them we can change the institutions."
Dean credited young voters for propelling Barack Obama toward victory in 2008 as America's first African-American president and he foresees they can make history again by getting Clinton in the Oval Office.
However, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee expects Clinton will face the same gridlock Obama did in Congress, his, in part, due to the color of his skin.
"We have weak leadership and she will have the same happen to her. I expect a lot of sexism early [in her first term,]" he said.
In response to a written question from the audience, he disputed Trump's and others claim she can't be trusted as the nation's 45th president based on her questionable use of a private email server for public correspondence as U.S. Secretary of State.
"I think the email scandal is BS," he said. "Should she have done it, probably not."
Dean added, "There was no damage to national security. I don't find anything about her untrustworthy."
As for the tone of the Trump vs. Clinton campaign, the Vermonter likens it to some of the presidential battles of yesteryear, when mudslinging — not the issues — took center stage.
"This is getting closer to the Grover Cleveland campaign [of 1884] with the stories about him having an illegitimate child," he said. "Why is politics so nasty, because it's a substitute for war."
Dean believes the Obama presidency has brought change, maybe just not as fast as some had hoped. In the past eight years, racial tension has mounted, but nothing to rival the 1960s.
"Racism isn't dead in America, but we've made progress," he noted.
He also cited how gay marriage has taken hold across the 50 states and the Affordable Care Act is the step in the right direction to improving American's access to medical care, but more changes are need. Dean called for more rewards for wellness and the need for a public option, creating a public insurance plan modeled after Medicare.
Dean urged America to move beyond ideology to resolve health care issues, social injustice and the country's economic inequality.
"You don't change things overnight," he said. "It's not about changing our laws, but changing our hearts and minds."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233