|ONLY FIVE BUT STORY DETAILS 13 in Democratic presidential field. Clockwise from top left, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke and Elizabeth Warren.|
On social media at least, the squabbling among Democratic candidates for president has started way too early and it is hard to tell how seriously the snipes should be taken.
Though socialism and capitalism have actually mixed match for a century, new disputes have broken out over semantic purity, as if a Socialist Democrat can’t be a capitalist and a capitalist can’t like aspects of socialism. Though for decades the stuff called socialism has been hijacked by what we now think of as a capitalist democracy and even a Socialist Democratic democracy.
Bernie Sanders’ occasional reluctant toe in the water to define who he is may have contributed and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have added to the confusion, though I found her university-level explanation of how capitalism and socialism blend to be admirable. But isn’t this too pedantic a debate to sidetrack the country in its search for a new leader?
Underneath there is a more serious discussion unfolding: How progressive can the final Democratic choice be? If he or she labels themselves a Socialist Democrat, will traditional Democrats run screaming as if the Frankenstein monster had been set loose from the castle? If the candidate’s label is proud Democrat, will Socialist Democrats sniff like superior nobility and stay home?
Is the country after Trump ready to be pushed into a daring Green New Deal and economic restructuring or more inclined to a step by step approach? On the other hand, where else are the voters who want to be rid of Trump going to go?
Then there is gender bias. Are white men inherently so privileged and dominant that they pale in comparison even to white women? And certainly to women of color. Does #MeToo mean #NotThem?
Did Beto O’Rourke, despite the money he raised in the first days, doom himself by telling a little white lie? That he was born to run despite teen years indulging in many escapes from society that all teenagers engage in. Clearly he meant he felt the need to be of public service very young, but it was amazing how many pundits – and mainly female pundits – seemed waiting to jump on him and move him to the level of domineering chauvinist.
Underneath this petty uproar is a deeper question about whether Beto is too conservative as well as being too white, and you sense a real argument (what is a real progressive?) forming around the unannounced (at this writing) Joe Biden who will also be a mighty fund raiser.
Progressive is not my main concern about Joe. It is his age, though his health regimen is amazing. But does his age make him more a one-term uniter, forcing the US to wait another cycle before tapping the younger crowd?
It may take Biden awhile to find the responsible answer to progressives who will slam him for past statements dating back to the crime bill and Anita Hill, where he seemed way too cavalier about concerns of minorities.
There I think Biden probably has a good answer that most Americans and even minority Americans will sympathize with – he, like America itself, grew up and became more understanding of social issues and trigger points. It’s unfair, he could argue, to take someone viewed as progressive in the 1980s and tar him with the 2019 brush, blaming him for being far ahead of most of the country then but attacked for where he was 30 years ago. Isn’t it most important that he changed?
Unlike that mischaracterization of Beto’s statement, people are not born fully formed in their opinions and many can and do get rid of the bigoted opinions they grew up around. And all those older voters count, too, even the ones that can’t quite get rid of that old mud.
It could be that beliefs of young voters that look so solid today will be refined over time as well. There’s hardly anyone with a long career in politics who hasn’t disappointed at one time or another. Now even newer presidential candidates are learning the power of the old YouTube clips, Twitter wars and reams of articles about you. Plus the weird pressures of celebrity expectations. These pressures seem to make us neglect what a talented field of candidates has emerged in our haste to fling garbage.
Aside from being too pragmatic to carry the label progressive (where did that canard come from? Read up on Milwaukee’s “sewer Socialist” mayors) Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is under attack. Her sense of humor may delight her fans but she is apparently too mean a boss, a criticism that somehow has never been landed on any of her male opponents. A converse thought – maybe their behavior as a boss should have been talked about and society is just catching up on a gender discrepancy.
Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper was too cozy then and too cozy now with Republican ideas -- how dare he in an era when any good Democratic candidate must hate Republicans!
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is making waves out of nowhere –a former Afghan veteran and piano player who knows many languages and handles town halls with ease. He has openly faced up to the issue of his youth as well as his gayness and encouraged an intergenerational approach to the issues of the day. His very presence in the race brings back to mind the famous gay soldier episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “Newsroom.”
Cory Booker confirms he is dating Rosario Dawson, so stop those whispers that he would be a potential ABC’s “The Bachelor” in the White House. (His larger problem may continue to be his support of voucher schools when mayor of Newark.)
Though black and as charismatic on the stump as any of the others, Kamala Harris is being forced to prove that her outstanding record as a California prosecutor in no way diminishes her commitment to the issues of diversity – immigration, police brutality, wages, you name it.
Julian Castro, former cabinet leader and, like Beto, another Texan vying for national attention (not to be confused with his equally handsome twin brother, Joaquin, who is making noise in the House) sought to separate himself from the pack by embracing the concept of reparations for the descendants of slaves.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee saw the nation’s high school students, unsolicited, leave schools to draw attention to his and their central issue – climate change.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has jumped from unknown to much talked about (on the Internet at least) with his warnings on automation costing millions of jobs in the next decades. He is, to oversimplify, seeking to create a universal income base by taxing Amazon.
New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand actually waited until March 18 to formally announce, though no one had a doubt she was in the race. The first thing she had to do is explain her insensitivity on the gun issue in the past. The other complaint she has to fend off is that she acted too quickly about Al Franken.
But since Vermont didn’t have much of a gun issue either, Bernie has joined her in mea culpas to the gun control crowd. We will have to see how this excuse plays out – that argument that guns or racial problems, etc. didn’t impact some candidates growing up as much as it did others. But it becomes a campaign negative when you have to prove your heart is pure.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has produced the most detailed platform of legislation and methods of any candidate for president. But you will scour news stories in vain for the details, since that is apparently more boring than all that celebrity stuff and who is raising the most money.
Let’s all take a deep breath.
The money figures for all candidates, particularly where they reflect small donor enthusiasm, are impressive. The unspoken central purpose – to expose Trump as a silly choice who should never again darken the White House – certainly looms large for all of them, along with the fear he still has enough weaklings around him in the Senate to deny impeachment.
Wildly liberal, leftist moderate or pragmatic, the Democratic candidates are moving in the same direction, even if disagreeing on terminology. Since words are my stock in trade, I sure can’t blame them. Medicare for All is the term of choice for some but not others. They use single payer, universal coverage, Medicare for 50 and up, but it’s hard to find any who don’t regard affordable health coverage as a right.
Many are now talking as Sherrod Brown wanted before he dropped out – making the dignity of all work important to their campaigns. You’ll still find platforms elusive about reparations, automation and eliminating the electoral college but pretty uniform about immigration, wages, climate change and voting rights. The public is being asked to decide which ones are doable, which are desirable and which rely on electing the right people to work alongside the new president. He or she can’t do it alone.
More people than usual are paying attention, but the interest and opinion-making has not yet reached the 70 million the winner must attract to win.
Right now the biggest maneuvering is around breaking through the media puffery – either on issues or personality. (Few seem to remember that back in 2008, Barack Obama took some fairly unpopular positions on issues at the time but the nation trusted his interior compass. Personality and issues can go together.)
All concede that Inslee is technically right on the closing window of time for climate change – we must make it important -- but suspect it will still be health care, wages and such bread and butter that many feel won the field in 2018 and think will win the field again.
Some of the arguments leading to the finale are worth having to clear the air and probably healthy. But some of the disputes are so hot so early that they are likely to burn themselves out.