THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY —– Missing the Point
The most important element of the 2020 election stood unnoticed in plain sight from start to finish in October’s Democratic presidential debate. The doubly centrist combine of CNN and The New York Times never faced head-on the party’s two linked zeitgeist-shakers: Race and Gender. This, even though the event was moderated by an out gay Euro-American man, an African-American man (gender orientation unspecified), and a heterosexual Euro-American woman. No hetero-guy-Euro-American Great White Hope visibly in authority, as far as moderating went.
And what’s most important: That line-up didn’t seem weird at all. Seemed like TV as usual — now.
Fact: The majority of Euro-American men have voted Republican for a while now; in 2016, they were joined by a majority of college-educated Euro-American women. Recent polls show Independent Euro-Americans leaning heavily Republican. Why isn’t this a strong indication that aiming one’s electioneering at centrist Euro-American voters is a losing strategy? Without strong minority turn-outs Democrats are fucked . . . because . . .
It has happened, fellow-citizens: For all intents and purposes concerning Democrats and Independents, whites now are a minority among minorities. If Dems haven’t the acumen to understand this, they could easily lose. If they angle this election toward fair-skinned, affluent Democratic and Independent liberals and centrists, they risk everything. And this ain’t so new. You have only to query Michael Dukakis (’88), Al Gore (’00), John Kerry (’04), and Hillary Clinton (’16).
Without strong, enthusiastic Latinx and African-American turn-out in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, even Donald Trump can win 2020.
THE LINE-UP – A Fantasy Game
I’m not sure what it says, that putting five people of color on that debate stage (Samoan-American Tulsi Gabbard, Asian-American Andrew Wang, Latinx Julian Castro, and African-Americans Kamala Harris and Cory Booker) didn’t budge the race or gender needle one bit during the discussion. Partly because CNN and The New York Times ask mostly shallow questions, but also because . . . well . . . like I said, I’m not sure. Let’s take them one by one.
JOE BIDEN — He’s way downhill from his best. Everybody knows it. Speaking prepared remarks, he really looks like a president. Speaking extempore, he often loses it after a couple of sentences, detouring not only in language but in thought. And, especially if you like the guy (and I always have), it’s upsetting to see him drift. Biden’s main selling-point is formidable: He knows the job. The U.S. has been suffering from acute inexperience-in-office since the 1992 election of William Jefferson Clinton. But Biden’s political blind-spot is striking and surprising: He watched Republicans piss on Barack Obama’s shoes for eight years, yet still thinks those people will work with Joe Biden.
And whataya wanna bet: If elected, Biden will let Trump and his corrupt enablers walk, as Obama-Biden let the bankers and torturers walk. Obama-Biden made no serious change in banking and finance laws; and the present CIA director, Gina Cheri Haspel, was central in the CIA torture program and she admits destroying hard evidence about it. Obama-Biden also allowed their Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to remain in office after being outed by Edward Snowden in outright lies to the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, thus denying the authority of a republic’s civilian oversight. (Clapper is now an honored contributor on MSNBC.) Biden will let Trump and his enablers walk, because that will be his offering for a deal to make nice with the GOP.
But . . . only Joe Biden polls well among African-Americans. How shallow or deep is his support? I don’t think anybody knows. Thirty million African-Americans will be eligible to vote in 2020. The Democratic Party needs all of them, all over the country. On their part there is no obvious enthusiasm, just some poll numbers.
According to NBC News, Latinx eligible voters in 2020 will number 32 million. One doesn’t hear or read about that much. Latinx issues don’t come up much in Dem debates. This is a serious mistake. They could turn Texas and/or Florida, New Mexico, Arizona . . .
According to Bloomberg, “a record jump in the turnout rate for young voters — those ages 18 to 29 — helped Democrats retake control of the House.” Every state has a large percentage of young people. Exactly what is being said to them except an unlikely bribe of free college and lip-service on climate change?
Is Biden appealing to Latinx and young voters? Is his African-American approval deep?
We don’t really know, do we?
And money that would normally go his way seems to be flowing to Pete Buttigieg.
BERNIE SANDERS — It should go without saying that a 78-year-old man who’s recently had a heart attack should not endanger the rest of us by seeking an elective office that may require swift, clear decisions involving the lives of millions in situations of the greatest possible strain. Google up documentaries of the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962. After 13 days on the brink of nuclear war, watch John F. Kennedy give the final speech of that emergency. He looks like hell. And he was only 45.
Indulging in age-blindness about Sanders or Biden is sentimental and could be dangerous.
Full disclosure: I’d object to Sanders running now even if I liked him — but I never have. Tried to keep an open mind until this spring, when I watched MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt conduct an extensive one-on-one with Sanders. Hunt reminded Sanders that he continued his 2016 campaign for the nomination after it was clear that he hadn’t the votes to be nominated; Hunt noted that there are serious voices who hold that Sanders’ refusal to concede helped solidify the thin margin of Trump’s victory; her question, yes or no, was will he do likewise in 2020 if it becomes obvious that he cannot win the nomination? With his face set in what my family calls “a shit-eating grin,” Sanders refused to answer — even when Hunt pressed and pressed again. Obviously he has the money and he may have the health to again run until the convention, whether or not he can be nominated; in that interview his intention was plain and he was delighted to display it, without outright saying so. This is a graceless person. So the question should be, Is he effective at governance?
Bernie Sanders has sat in the Senate for a long time — so go on, test yourself, Google his legislative achievements. See what Bernie-bills have actually passed — especially as compared to Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren. If you’re for Sanders, you’ll not like what you learn.
And of course . . . African-American and Latinx support for Sanders was virtually nonexistent in 2016; so far he’s shown scant improvement for 2020. Which translates into: He can’t win. Sanders-sentimentalists tippy-toe around that fact, but the rest of us must not.
ELIZABETH WARREN — In January she was seen as the weakest of the “name” candidates. That’s what I thought too. It may be time for centrists, Bernie-istas, and Biden-wishers, to realize what she’s achieved. Warren is the most consistent, energetic, fearless, thorough and truthful of the pack — so it was especially painful, in the recent debate, to watch her squirmy repetition of a half-lie regarding Medicare For All. (Turn that inside-out and it’s refreshing to watch a politician who really hates to lie.) Amy Klobuchar is right to nail Warren on “pipe dreams,” but Warren’s retort is also needful: “Dream big, fight hard.” A friend says she’d be “the schoolmarm president”; as the husband of a fine grade-school teacher, I don’t see why that’s bad. (Have you seen the fender-stickers sported by schoolmarms here and there: YOU CAN’T SCARE ME — I’M A TEACHER. Teachers are the people who consistently put themselves out front to take the bullet for their students. For real. And speaking of school-shooters … okay, let’s not.)
I’d happily champion President Schoolmarm — or Nominee Schoolmarm — but, unhappily, she also polls nowhere with Latinx and African-American voters. (Nor, at present, do the candidates-of-color. Interesting.)
This may be a good place to interject that Latinx and African-American voters A) are not solid blocks and B) are in many ways rival constituencies.
Also, at this point in the conversation, let us not underestimate our country’s misogyny, nor should we neglect to observe that “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women” (misogyny’s Oxford American Dictionary definition) is not a strictly male phenomenon: 53% of college-educated Euro-American women really did vote for Donald Trump.
But to answer “Can a woman win?” let’s remember that in 2016 Hillary Clinton, though despised by many on all sides and lacking a cogent campaign strategy, nevertheless handily won the popular vote. Answer: Yes, a woman can win.
PETE BUTTIGIEG — Treated like a front-runner before he became one; now, at least in Iowa, he’s a contender. These days Pete Buttigieg is raising buckets full of money and where is he getting it? From what the media calls, politely, “traditional Democratic donors,” i.e., corporations, the corporate rich, and Hollywood elites running scared from Sanders and Warren. Sanders and Warren, let’s not forget, take only small-donor money; if in office, neither would owe Big Money a damn.
Ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez easily walloped Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked successor, the Corporate Democratic Party (which, let it be noted, has lost more presidential elections than any other manifestation of the Democratic Party) has furiously worked against the Emerging Democratic Party of young politicians who want a reconstituted party of inclusion. Pete Buttigieg stands as the Corporate Democrat’s poster-boy, saying, by his stance: “I’m your face of the future! If I’m your front-man you can look brand-new without actually changing very much. After all, I’m gay but I’m white and male and a vet and for sale. As your First Gay President it shall be as it was with Obama: We can say that everything’s changed while everything stays the same.”
The thing is, Pete, that Obama’s black. Once African-American voters saw he could win, he had a powerful constituency. Given (we’re not supposed to say this) significant homophobia in communities-of-color, can a gay man get the heft? Maybe with Stacy Abrams — or, less improbably, Susan Rice — as his VP.
As I write it looks like Buttigieg has a good shot in Iowa. It says something terrific about our zeitgeist that the new Great White Hope is gay. To use a Texas verb-tense: He might-could win; the anyone-but-Trump constituency strengthens by the day. I’m certainly there. That said . . .
Nancy Pelosi is the most skillful American politician of our time; she is also — like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and, it seems now, Pete Buttigieg — a corporate-funded, oligarchic Democrat. In our present national emergency (and that’s what it is) I’ll vote for the Democrats, period. That said: As I felt with Obama, a victory for the Nancy Pelosi wing of the party is in no way my victory, except that (with Buttigieg as with Obama) it’s always fun to juice the zeitgeist.
KAMALA HARRIS — In the second debate Joe Biden strode from stage-right as Kamala Harris came from stage-left and when they shook hands Biden said something like, “Go easy on me, kid.” She, with a shocked expression, blurted “Kid?!” — rather than, “Sure, old man, just watch me!” (his use of “kid” would have made that fair). Then Tulsi Gabbard clobbered Harris with an attack you’d think Harris would have rehearsed for; the darker side of Harris’s Attorney General record was bound to come up sometime. Since Gabbard’s ambush, Harris seems always a little off-balance — not as sure of herself. She seems to be leading no one. (I don’t mean in the polls; I mean amongst the people.)
JULIAN CASTRO — Able and careful. A modest but significant record at the state and federal level. A flawless rep. He’s got too much sense to think he’ll be the nominee; he’s been running for Vice President from the first, and he’d be on most 2020 VP lists, especially if the nominee is Warren or Buttigieg. (Hillary Clinton had Castro on her VP short list. Instead she picked kind-of-creepy Tim Kaine. Just think . . . )
AMY KLOBUCHAR — My personal favorite. I’d love to vote for her. Tough, fun, smart, experienced, tested. A fine record at all levels of her career. A first-rate legislator. Down to earth, good on her feet, a good laugh. A working-class edge, but sophisticated. Everything but the numbers. Damn.
TULSI GABBARD — Gabbard got traction at Kamala Harris’s expense and that’s show-biz. She’s achieved the national name she’s running for. No chance to be this year’s nominee, and no doubt knows it, but Tulsi Gabbard is setting the stage for a future stardom. It’s clear she enjoys the role of wild card. But how wild?
BETO O’ROURKE — At 47 it’s a little late to be trading on one’s potential. SNL got it right: He overestimated our affection for him. Just plain stupid not to stick to Texas, take John Cornyn’s Senate seat in 2020, possibly deliver Texas into the Blue column, figure as the decisive force in a 2020 Democratic presidential win — and thus create a base of genuine power which could last a long time. That he somehow did not see this road, or value it, disqualifies him outright. Poor guy. When this run is over he’ll have nothing.
THE VERY RICH PERSON — A friend of mine who’s rich’ish, once told me that I hate the rich. I don’t hate people; it’s too tiring. I hate riches. Just the fact of riches upsets me. Just the sight of it. A character flaw? Okay, a character flaw. That said: Tom Steyer seems a stand-up kind of guy, has some good notions — but he’s short on common sense, or he’d know there’s no way he’ll be elected.
ANDREW WANG — A crowd-pleaser for sure. Some good ideas too. Not that buying votes is original, but it has its attractive side: I’d love a grand a month for life. It’s just there’s this one word: simplistic. That’s why he’s liked. That’s even why, on a very long shot, he could get elected. Where have I heard this before: Let’s put a quirky simplistic crowd-pleasing go-it-alone businessman at the head of the most complex government on earth. (Notice how coldly he dismisses anything he doesn’t understand. The Mideast, for instance. Watch for it next time.)
CORY BOOKER — A great VP choice for Amy Klobuchar, who’s not going to be nominated. Sincere, able, and not quite comfortable with himself yet. Like Beto, his breathless delivery isn’t applicable to everything. Also like Beto, at 50 it’s a little late to be trading on one’s potential. Unlike Beto, Booker has it in him to be a valuable voice in the future.
THE LONE RANGER HYPOTHESIS — I’ve heard it said, by an especially astute source, that we may expect a new entry into the race who will come out of nowhere, shake things up, and suddenly take the lead. Hmmmmm. . . who might that be?
Is STACY ABRAMS tired of how, in spite of five people of color in the running, the citizens she speaks for have once more been relegated to watching from the bleachers?
What about AL GORE? He’s the only Democrat with a range of experience comparable to Biden’s, plus he’s somewhat younger and a lot more articulate. Gore comes with excellent climate-change credentials that will appeal to the young.
Or . . . is PETE BUTTIGIEG already the Lone Ranger? Centrist by belief and leaning corporate, like Obama; and, like Obama, radical “in his person,” to stress a 19th-century usage.
Which brings us back to: Euro-Americans of the Democratic Party are a minority among minorities. The party’s two other major minorities, Latinx and African Americans, are, at this point, completely unpredictable.
And now, my personal favorite fantasy (given that Amy Klobuchar hasn’t much of a chance):
Elizabeth Warren for President / Stacy Abrams for Vice President!
“An all-female ticket cannot win” is this political-zeitgeist equivalent of “the earth is flat.” Welcome to the 21st century. Two women just walked in space. Two women can do pretty much anything these days.
Which gets to the grit of what this historical moment is really about:
The political end (and I stress POLITICAL) of all-white, all-straight, all-male rule in the U.S.A.
Contemplate the arc: 2008 – 2012 - 2016 – 2018 – 2020. Think of it as one election in five phases. The presidency of Barack Obama shook a majority of Euro-Americans into wanting a Donald Trump. We have to see, with both eyes, that this is the governance they wanted — for nothing he does is a surprise, it was all in his campaign. The election of 2018 was a reaction to that. The election of 2020 will be either a total disaster for sanity or the giant step of recognition that our U.S.A. is a nation of juxtaposed minorities with no majority big enough to outright dominate.
WARREN-Castro or -Abrams or -Booker.
BUTTIGIEG-Castro or -Abrams or -Rice.
BIDEN-Rice or -Abrams or -Buttigieg or -Castro.
Have we comprehended that the Democratic presidential ticket hasn’t been two straight white men since 2004? The Democratic presidential ticket ain’t ever gonna be two straight white men again.
Michael Ventura © 2019. All rights reserved.
Michael Ventura is a writer who lives in the mountains of Northern California.
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