With Sherrod Brown deciding not to run for President, I’ve been taking a longer look at the other Democratic candidates. Like most of us, I consider how close their political views align with my own, their ability communicate their ideas and to inspire people to follow them, their skills as political strategists and their ability to pass legislation. The most important quality that I’m looking for is their ability to bridge the racial divide between many of the working class white communities that support Trump and the minority communities that are threatened by Trump. I look to the examples of Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson, both of whom were able to garner significant support among both working class white and minority communities in their Presidential campaigns in 1968 and 1988.
Right now, my top considerations are Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobucher. I’m leaning towards Elizabeth Warren, but I like the other candidates as well. I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect candidate. But I think there are good candidates out there who would make a good President. Here’s my early and somewhat superficial assessment of the candidates so far.
Strengths – I really like how much of a policy wonk Warren is. She has a strong grasp of the struggles of the middle class and has innovative policy prescriptions on how to solve the problems of economic inequality in our nation. She’s spent enough time in the Senate to have a realistic grasp on how Congress works. As a liberal, her views most closely align with my own. Liberals believe capitalism can be reformed, in contrast to democratic socialists, who are much more skeptical of capitalism.
Weaknesses – Her recent squabble with President Trump about her Native American ancestry points to my one big worry about Elizabeth Warren. Warren doesn’t seem to have learned the lesson that Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton learned in 2016: if you get caught up in an insult contest with Trump, Trump will win. If Warren gets caught up in answering Trump’s “Pocohantas” name-calling, people will be diverted from Warren’s superior grasp of policy.
Strengths – Bernie is a principled man who has stuck to his convictions for decades, even when his views were unpopular and derided. He has been accurate about how our system has become more economically unequal, and how the middle class has struggled. Long before Trump criticized trade deals like NAFTA, Sanders was prescient in his criticisms on how NAFTA would devastate working class communities. I personally think our country’s political center has shifted too far to the Right in the past 40 years, so I admire how Bernie Sanders has moved our political discourse further to the Left.
Weaknesses – Bernie has big policy proposals, but does he have the political skills to convert those proposals into law? Sanders has been in Congress since the 1990s. When you compare Sanders to other progressive Senators and Representatives during the same period (like Ted Kennedy, Paul Wellstone, Barbara Boxer, Maxine Waters, etc….) who were able to pass significant legislation, Bernie’s record in passing significant progressive legislation has been relatively scant. If it seems like the Democrats can win back both houses of Congress, I’d be more willing to support Sanders. If I think the Democrats will only win majorities in only one house of Congress, I’m passing on Bernie.
Strengths – Kamala Harris has good policy proposals, she does her homework on the issues, she has shown herself to be tough and incisive in her questioning of Trump’s nominees. I think her cautious and disciplined approach is the perfect foil to Trump’s more emotional and undisciplined approach. Harris’s caution makes her much less likely to fall into the trap that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz fell in with trying to trade insults with Donald Trump. Kamala Harris is the candidate that I most want to see in a debate with Donald Trump.
Weaknesses – Harris has only been in the Senate for 3 years. I worry about her inexperience in weathering the inevitable right wing assaults, the frustrations that come with trying to pass anything in Congress with Mitch McConnell as Republican leader in the Senate. Does she have the political savvy to overcome the Republican opposition? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. If Harris becomes President, she’s going to have to rely on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to pass her legislation. Does Harris have a good working relationship with both leaders? During the Obama years, Obama had a distant relationship with Pelosi and Harry Reid. Joe Biden had to act as a go-between with the Obama administration and the Democratic leaders in Congress. I don’t know Harris well enough to know what her relationships are like with the Democratic leaders.
Strengths – I have to admit that I don’t know Gillibrand as well as the other three candidates. But what I know about her, I like. She’s progressive on most issues, but she’s independent enough to break from progressive orthodoxy if she disagrees. She has enough experience in Congress to have a realistic view on what is politically possible and what is not possible. Like Harris, I like Gillibrand’s cautious and disciplined approach, which I think would work well when opposing Trump.
Weaknesses – I hate to say this, but Gillibrand seems kind of bland. Especially in a field with charismatic candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, Gillibrand seems to lack a certain quality that would inspire people to want to fight for her ideas. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, is a nerdy policy wonk but she’s also a fierce fighter for what she believes and she has the ability to inspire others to fight for her causes. It may just be because I don’t know Gillibrand enough. She may have that quality.
Strengths – Of all the candidates, Amy Klobucher seems to most have that quality that I saw in Sherrod Brown, the ability to reach both the working class white communities that support Trump and the minority communities. When I attended the last editorial cartoonist convention in Sacramento, an editorial cartoonist that I respect recommended that I take a look at Klobucher. She’s an independent minded progressive. She has experience in the Senate. She has a common person personality that makes her approachable to everyday people.
Weaknesses – I have a similar worry with Klobucher that I have with Gillibrand: they both seem kind of bland. But I don’t know Klobucher very well either. If I get to know her better, maybe she will show a charisma and a fighting spirit that will inspire people to want to fight for the causes she believes in.
I think charisma is important in a leader, so long as the leader inspires people to fight for a cause and not get caught up in a cult-of-personality. Both John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush wanted Americans to be involved in civic activism for this country. But I think John F. Kennedy, with his charisma and his call to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, was more successful in inspiring young people to civic involvement than George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light”. Kennedy was just more charismatic than Bush.