Opinion
Open Letter

The Debates: 23 and He

Democratic officeholders worry about the electability of a female candidate in the Trump era.

The Debates: 23 and He
Vance Opperman

To: Mr. Tom Perez, Chair
Democratic National Committee
430 S. Capitol St. SE
Washington, D.C. 20003

Dear Chair Perez:

Will Rogers once said, “I don’t belong to any organized party. I’m a Democrat.” More recently, a Democratic presidential candidate suggested that it took a village to raise a child. Apparently in today’s Democratic party, anyone can run for president, and it takes at least 23 to make a candidate. So far, the Democratic National Committee has been able to limit its “debates” to 20 candidates from the initial 23, with former Vice President Joe Biden remaining the frontrunner. Indeed, this village can be described as 23 and he.

That brings us to the candidates themselves. There are too many. Paring down the second debate sequence to 20 of 23 candidates does not dispel the gnawing concern that this village, instead of raising a child, might be birthing the village idiot. Serious policy cannot be described, let alone debated, between 20 candidates; Lincoln-Douglas this is not. This is particularly true when every candidate is grabbing for a sound bite that will enhance their online fundraising. 

And, in fact, the problem this crew has, besides numerosity, is its fatal lurch to the left. This radicalization of the Democratic Party is a sort of Thermidorian reaction to the hard right, white nationalist policies of the current administration. As with the French Revolution, that reaction did not work out too well. So you should first narrow the field, then later eliminate losing policy proposals. Here’s how to limit the field:

Every political campaign will have that earnest, early-announcing, and totally unelectable candidate, such as former Rep. John Delaney. As a native Iowan, I appreciate his pledge to visit each Iowa county (there are 99). Jettison Mayor Wayne Messam, Rep. Seth Moulton, and former Rep. Joe Sestak. Ditto Sen. Michael Bennett, Gov. Steve Bullock, Mayor Bill de Blasio, ex-Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Cory Booker, former Cabinet Secretary Julián Castro, and businessman Andrew Yang—all good men, earnest and unelectable. Former cult guru Marianne Williamson was notable for suggesting that she would combat President Trump with love. Back to the Crystal Healing Dome for her! 

Quickly, the rest of the field should be narrowed to six: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. This lineup will consist of three men and three women and cover the most experienced public officeholder (Biden) and the least (Buttigieg). It would feature candidates from all parts of the U.S., West Coast to East, and Midwest in between. Such a candidate grouping would test our country’s tolerance for firsts: the first biracial female candidate (Harris) and the first high-profile married, openly gay male (Buttigieg). The age span from 37 to 77 would also be a first. 

The six would present a philosophy of governing from the center (Biden/Klobuchar) to the far left (Sanders/Warren); candidates Buttigieg and Harris would have the opportunity to articulate their own political position. And perhaps more importantly, it would address questions about the tolerance of the American electorate.

The country will confront whether a mid-to-late septuagenarian can be elected (or re-elected). President Trump is 73, Biden is 76, and Sanders is 77. Are men who collect Social Security benefits and are beyond commonly accepted mandatory retirement ages up to the demands of the modern presidency? In administrations past, media types would frequently comment about how the pressures of the job had noticeably aged Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama. Perhaps after one has noticeably aged, the additional pressures of the job make no difference. Having four septuagenarians actively running (walking?) will answer these questions. 

And more generally, can any female be elected commander in chief? Left-leaning columnists like Frank Bruni of The New York Times have raised questions about whether white male swing voters will choose a woman over Trump. In private conversations I’m privy to, elected (and female) Democratic officeholders have expressed concern about the electability of any female candidate in the current Trump era. But by including three experienced and outspoken female candidates, the country will have the opportunity to test this before the endorsing convention. 

Let me end with a special note about Sen. Klobuchar. 

She was a hard-nosed prosecutor with a reputation for fairness. Sen. Klobuchar has not had to “walk back” any of her earlier positions because she has been a solidly common-sense, pragmatic, problem-solving senator from a state that shares those same characteristics. Nor has she pandered to Democratic bases. She does not support Medicare for all, and she has been opposed to mass forgiveness of student debt. Most impressively, she has taken these positions in front of those very same interest groups and on national TV. She talks straight, the same way to everyone, and makes sense. Having her in the mix of presidential candidates will have a firm and moderating influence on the other candidates and ultimately on the presidential campaign itself. Include her.

Sincerely yours,

Vance K. Opperman
Anxious for real debate

Vance K. Opperman (vopperman@keyinvestment.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.

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