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The Democrats are blessed with a large number of candidates whose experience, politics and personality make them qualified to assume the office of the presidency. Even if we rule out the most well-known but all fairly ancient Democrats—the septuagenarians Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—the Democrats’ cup runneth over with talented candidates.
Unfortunately Beto O’Rourke is not one of them.
Yet, Beto is the one that the mainstream news media want to focus on. The other day, MSNBC’s pseudo-progressive Chris Matthews pumped up O’Rourke’s candidacy. This week, The New York Times ran a front-page featurefocused on his potential candidacy. The only other possible candidates mentioned in the article are those the writer believes Beto particularly threatens—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Joe Biden.
What’s more, strong anecdotal evidence exists that large numbers of probable Democratic voters are intrigued by Beto. Other than Biden, Bernie and Hillary, O’Rourke attracted the most support in a recent national poll, although he won a mere 9% of participants. My Facebook universe of more than 3,500 friends, which is decidedly Democratic and progressive, generates at least two dozen updates a day about the 2020 election. About a sixth of the posts wail over the possibility of Hillary running and another sixth propose Bernie as the top choice. A handful of posts mention other candidates, while the remainder—about two-thirds—propose Beto as the top candidate.
Yet what has he done? Not much, as it turns out.
He served three undistinguished terms as a back bencher in the House of Representatives. Between forming an environmental coalition, speaking out (sometimes inaccurately) on many issues and paying her interns a decent wage, the spunky Alexandria Octavio-Cortez has already had a greater impact as a congressional representative than Beto did in six years, and she hasn’t even taken office yet. Before he ran for office, he had an undistinguished career in business.
Beto, like JFK, both Bushes, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown and Mitt Romney, does have the advantage of coming from a politically connected family. His mother is the stepdaughter of the Secretary of the Navy under JFK, while his father served as county commissioner and county judge and is a longtime political crony of former Texas Governor Mark White. We can assume that Beto called in decades of chits in first running for office as an unknown mediocrity.
When the news media and social media gush about O’Rourke, they focus on one fact and two feelings. First and foremost, they mention his charisma, which is, to quote Webster’s “apersonal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.” Charisma is an amorphous feeling that has been applied to JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush (only in comparison to his 2000 opponent, Al Gore). No one likes to use the “c” word when talking about Donald Trump, Adolph Hitler, Huey Long or Mussolini, but we know that large numbers of people were irrationally devoted to these individuals. Some individuals with charisma were decent leaders, but most were fairly mediocre like JFK or Clinton, or full scale disasters like Ronnie and Georgie. Then there are the manipulative, lying demagogues. Many Democrats seem very likable, especially Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker. Others have the gravitas that I prefer in a leader, including Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee and Sherrod Brown. All have greater credentials and have accomplished more in their lives than Beto.
Beto-heads like the fact that O’Rourke raised so much money from so many small donors for his failed campaign to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. That’s the fact. We’ll never know, however, what portion of the small givers were as much anti-Cruz as they were pro-O’Rourke. A lot of people despised Cruz before they ever heard of Beto. Remember that Cruz is considered unctuous, hypocritical and untrustworthy by large numbers of people, and is even disliked by many of his allies in the Senate. No one has ever written that Ted has even a modicum of charisma, charm or even likeability.
Finally, supporters of O’Rourke believe that his great showing against Cruz in Texas demonstrates that he can beat Trump nationally in 2020. The implicit reasoning behind this feeling seems to be that the nation as a whole is more liberal than Texas. Yet Texas has a lot of minorities. Its demographic future seems to be similar to the path taken in Nevada, Virginia and Colorado, all states that are turning or have turned blue. Besides, it is Trump not Cruz who commands the so-called Republican base of evangelicals, those opposed to immigration and racists. They preferred Trump over Cruz in the 2016 primaries. If Beto couldn’t beat a despicable Cruz, why does anyone think he can handle the more formidable Trump?
Compare Beto to the last newcomer anointed as a charismatic Democratic savior who leaped ahead of more experienced Democrats, Barack Obama. First of all, Obama had far more relevant experience. He had been a prominent Senator who had made noises during his four years representing Illinois, and a Constitutional law professor before that. When we focus only on domestic affairs, Obama turned out to be a good president, but during his first few years in office he made several mistakes stemming from his lack of experience as an administrator. Can we expect the less experienced and less well-educated O’Rourke to do any better than Obama?
It’s not just that Beto is at best marginally qualified to be president. It’s that the Democratic bench is so deep and talented that it makes little sense to put the nation’s future in Beto’s hands.
Among the most talented Democrats are women. The party is full of smart, experienced and personable women who would do a great job as president. The list begins with Hillary Clinton, but obviously nominating her would court disaster, as the irrational “lock her up crowd” is still rather quite large. Why give Republicans another reason to come out to the polls? Hillary would perform particularly poorly against any Republican other than Trump, because none of them would have Trump’s baggage and Hillary would still have hers.
The four women I like for president are Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. I personally think it’s about time that a woman served as president.
But nominating any of these truly competent woman or any other woman would be a mistake. About 34% of all voters, including 59% of Republicans, do not personally want to see a woman as president in their lifetimes. That’s a steep demographic hill to climb. We know that any male Republican candidate, but especially Trump, will attempt to associate a female candidate with weakness. The news media is sure to exercise its double standard for female candidates: questioning them for past actions and family situations that go unspoken when the candidate is a male.
There is plenty of evidence that a backlash against the very necessary and important #Metoo movement has formed. Leading the anti-#Metoo-ist charge is Trump Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who has pushed through new college regulations regarding claims of assault that favor the accused. Of particular interest is a recent Bloomberg News reportthat men at Wall Street investment banks, brokerages and other financial institutions are avoiding being alone with women, rather than risk an accusation of sexual harassment. These powerful business men, virtually all of whom had a mentor at the beginning of their careers, call it the Pence Effect, after Vice President Mike Pence, who will be alone in a room or at dinner with a woman only if it’s his wife. Now Pence can blame his squeamishness on his religion, but these Masters of the Universe blame it on the potential for a misunderstanding or false accusation. The article never mentions the fact that a mere 2% of sexual harassment or assault accusations are false. That means the likelihood of dining alone with a woman resulting in a false accusation is close to nil. That is, if the man keeps the conversation during business hours to business matters, and the dinner conversation to business or non-threatening personal matters. No physical contact beyond shaking hands, when appropriate. That these men don’t realize that all it takes to avoid assault charges is not to assault suggests a terrible truth about the lack of respect that women still suffer in the business and public worlds. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-03/a-wall-street-rule-for-the-metoo-era-avoid-women-at-all-cost
Whoever the Republicans run, it’s essential for Democrats to win in 2020. Why take a chance? What if the answer to the question, “Is America ready for a woman president?” is still no?
But on the other hand, it is extremely important that America moves forward. We have to lay the groundwork for a female presidency in the near future. A woman has twice run for vice president and once for president. Running a woman as a vice presidential candidate in 2020 keeps women in the presidential campaign limelight. And let’s face it, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren and Gillibrand are all more competent and presentable candidates than Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were. A woman vice presidential candidate will make a Democratic ticket more attractive to millennial voters.
But whereas all four women would make wonderful presidents and vice presidents, I would not consider Elizabeth Warren as someone’s running mate, because she’s already 69. In four or eight years, she’ll be in her seventies, on the verge of being too old to run for our highest office.
Interestingly enough, running one of the three younger women as vice president makes Joe Biden a more appealing choice to head the ticket. Biden will turn 78 in 2020 and, if elected, figures to serve one term only. Whoever is his vice president will be the presumptive presidential frontrunner in 2024. Making it Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand or another woman sets up the probability that a woman is elected president in 2024, assuming the Democrats do what they say they’re going to do.
Biden wouldn’t be my first, second, third or fourth choice among Democratic men. I still don’t like the way he mistreated Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. Moreover, I would rather see a younger, more vigorous person in office.
Who then? To answer that question, let’s begin with the issues.
Whoever the Democrats run as president in 2020 will represent the Party and the Party platform far more than is usual, mainly because there is so much unity among Democrats when it comes to platform issues—no matter what the mainstream media says.
On every issue on which the mainstream media says there is disagreement—be it minimum wage, healthcare or immigration—all Democrats are at a position extremely to the left of Republicans and relatively close to each other. All want a dramatic increase in the minimum wage. All will return to a foreign policy built on negotiating treaties and acting in unison with our allies. All will open the borders to refugees and end the crackdown on immigrants. They all will increase the federal government’s hand in healthcare and rollback the Trump rollbacks of Obama regulations. All will want to increase incentives to use solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. Every Democrat will nominate pro-abortion judges. Under each and every Democrat, a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will lead to tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.
Thus, to select a 2020 Democratic candidate because of his or her stand on the issues is foolish. There are not the stark contrasts between potential candidates, as there were between Gerry Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976, or between Edward Kennedy and Jimmy Carter in 1980. It’s more like the Republicans in 2016, when everyone running agreed on every issue with the eventual nominee.
With issues out of the consideration, Democrats should nominate the most electable candidate. While some, especially believers in Beto O’Rourke’s “magic,” would define electability entirely in terms of charisma, I prefer to look at the electoral map, which as we know favors the GOP because it gives a greater say to smaller, more rural states. Even though 21st century Democrats have enjoyed a huge advantage in the popular vote for president, winning four out of five times, the electoral advantage Republicans hold have led to their winning three of five elections.
Current political divides leave the election in the hands of a handful of states with 93 votes in the Electoral College, all of which went for Trump in extremely tight races in 2016: Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). At the very least, the Democrats have to figure out a way to turn 39 of these 93 electoral votes.
Luckily, the good citizens of Florida almost assuredly just gave Democrats 29 of the 37 electoral votes they need by voting to allow Sunshine State ex-cons who have served their time to vote. That move has the potential to add 1.3 million people to the Florida voting rolls in 2020, most of whom are predicted to vote a straight Democratic Party line. Recent Florida elections have seen razor thin margins, meaning that the vote to give rehabilitated felons the vote should turn Florida a deep shade of blue.
With Florida’s 29 electoral votes in the Democratic column, all Democrats have to do is turn one other of these swing state. One of the surest ways to get a swing state to vote for a candidate is if the candidate calls that state home. Since 1920, there have been 30 presidential elections. Win or lose, 45 of the candidates (75%), won their home state and 15 (25%) lost their home state. In four of the elections, 1920, 1940, 1944 and 2016, both major party candidates came from the same state. If we net out those elections, candidates win their home state almost 80% of the time (41 candidates out of 52).
The male candidates currently under discussion include Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Martin O’Malley, Eric Holder, Andrew Cuomo, Chris Murphy and Sherrod Brown. Only one of these men resides in one of the key swing states, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a likeable guy, a long-time liberal, friend of labor and admired by both the centrist and the leftist wings of the Democratic Party.
Sherrod Brown is the safest bet if the Democratic Party decides to play the Electoral College game because running Brown for president almost guarantees winning Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, which when added to Florida’s give the Democrats the White House. The wild card, of course, is John Kasich, another Ohio favorite son. If Kasich heads the Republican ticket—a distinct possibility if Trump has resigned or been impeached and convicted—it would cancel out the home state effect.
Kasich aside, a Brown-Harris, Brown-Warren, Brown-Gillibrand or Brown-Klobuchar ticket would be nearly ideal: It starts with a distinct electoral edge. It sends competent, deeply experienced and likeable progressives to the White House. And it readies the American people to elect a woman in 2024 or 2028
But really, any of the men on the above list except Beto O’Rourke would be fine to lead the 2020 Democratic ticket. To these names I would like to add Gavin Newsom, Jay Inslee and Phil Murphy. The Democrats do indeed have a deep bench ready to steer the country away from the disastrous economic, tax, foreign, environmental, educational and energy policies of the current administration.
Copyright 2018 Marc Jampole