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In Search of the Unicorn (or the Perfect Candidate)

February 18, 2020


Feeling stressed out about who to support in the Democratic primary? Join the club.

Let’s face it: There is no perfect candidate. They all have drawbacks. No one really knows who can beat Trump. But we have to choose.

So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth: Vote for the one who best represents your values and the kind of country you want to live in. Your individual primary vote is not going to determine the outcome in November, especially if we all set aside our preferences and vote for whoever gets the Democratic nomination. But it will help set the course for the Democratic party and perhaps the country as a whole.

Having said that, I intend to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the Florida primary, not because I think she’s likely to win, but because I like what she stands for. Of all the candidates, I think she has the clearest vision of what’s wrong with this country and what it will take to fix it. She knows the nuts and bolts of our dysfunctional federal government better than anyone else, and actually has specific ideas about how to renovate it, not just slogans. What she’s proposing is radical only because it stands out from the intellectual desert of present-day politics.

The main thing holding her back is just being a woman in a misogynist culture. She lacks the physical and vocal gravitas that we seem to want in our politicians, which she compensates for by sheer determination. Her wonkiness appeals to people like me, but may be a drawback to many others. She’s genuine and approachable, but maybe doesn’t seem really fun. I think she may remind people of their fifth-grade teacher who wouldn’t let them go out to recess until they’d finished their lessons. But better than anyone else in the race, perhaps even Sanders, she understands the threat that toxic, unfettered capitalism represents to our democracy and our future.

I have written previously about my reservations about Bernie Sanders, so I won’t rehearse all that again. He seems to have momentum right now, though his “wins” in Iowa and New Hampshire weren’t all that impressive. If he doesn’t become the clear front-runner by the end of March, we may be heading for a disastrously contentious convention. His “outsider” status could turn out to be both an asset and a liability, and the volatility of his supporters could blow up the convention if they decide the party establishment has cheated him. I give him full credit for focusing attention on economic and social inequality, but I don’t see that he has much of a program for doing something about it.

I was as surprised as anyone by Pete Buttigieg‘s showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s thrilling to have a viable gay presidential candidate, especially one who is so clearly intelligent and talks in paragraphs, though I sometimes lose the substantive thread in the elegance of his language. I’m still a bit mystified by his appeal to older voters, but it certainly has something to do with how utterly mainstream he appears–except for, well, you know… I’m bothered by his rather limited experience and his youth as well as some pretty recent missteps as mayor, and the general fuzziness of his platform. But he clearly has star potential. I just don’t think this year is going to be it for him.

I’m not feeling Amy Klobuchar. Her main talking point is that she has passed more bills than any Democrat in the Senate. Okay, but what are the bills? In the current congress, she is a sponsor or co-sponsor of 80-something bills, resolutions, or amendments. Not one of the bills has passed the senate, let alone become law. She has gotten a few resolutions adopted, but they are for anodyne things like “National Stalking Awareness Month”. Bills that she sponsored that got passed and signed in previous congresses mostly seem to be related to crime prevention or victim rights–things that Republicans tend to like. One was to create a position for a human trafficking coordinator for the US Department of Transportation. As worthy as those bills may be, they are, shall we say, unexciting and pretty non-controversial. As for as the rest of her message, to me it boils down to “don’t rock the boat”.

Then there’s Joe Biden. Sigh. Who knows, maybe South Carolina will revive his campaign, but he seems to be mainly running on nostalgia for pre-Nixon politics and the shadow of Barack Obama. Certainly he’s decent and likable, but to me lately he just seems old and tired. His trump card (pardon the pun) was his supposed electability, but if he doesn’t have that, it’s hard to see what’s left.

Finally, there’s Michael Bloomberg, the elephant in the room. I know a lot of people are looking at him as the plutocrat ex machina sent to save us from Trump by throwing his unimaginable piles of money into the race. But that’s exactly my problem with him. He has already burned through more than $300,000,000 for TV and internet ads, and he can maintain that rate indefinitely. Is the solution to our most fundamental problem–economic and social inequality–to elect a man who is so inconceivably rich that he literally can’t spend his money fast enough? I personally find it offensive. Maybe he’s the best one to slug it out with Trump, but for it all to come down to a contest between two billionaires (or maybe a real one and a pretend one) just seems a grotesque encapsulation of our failing democracy.

Would we be making a Faustian bargain? I hope that’s not the only choice left.

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