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Assessment of Democratic Presidential Candidates - Jan 2020

By Herb Bowie


The White House

This is my assessment of the Democratic candidates for the US presidency, following the debates on the evening of 14 Jan 2020.

First of all, I think it's been an extraordinary field of candidates that have participated in the debates thus far. Every one of them has enriched the conversation, and helped to broaden our understanding of who we are, and who we need to be, in the third decade of the 21st century.

Second, of the six remaining on the stage last night, I would happily vote and campaign for any of them, with all my heart and soul. This is not only because I hate Trump and the party that the Republicans have become, but because I genuinely like and admire and respect all of these candidates.

Third, no matter who wins the nomination, I am excited by the idea of all of the nominees getting out and supporting our Democratic candidate in 2020. One thing the debate showed last night is that none of the nominees are willing to take the path of trying to torch and burn the others. There was disagreement displayed last night, but it was generally respectful disagreement, and I'm happy to think that this will make for a stronger and more unified party once we narrow the field down to one.

Now, with that said, let me share my assessments, just going in alphabetical order.

Joe Biden – God love him, and we all love him, but it's hard to look at him without hearing strains of “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” playing in the background. And this is not just his appearance, but his platform and political stance, as he always seems to be trying to play catch-up in terms of changing attitudes and modern progressive positions. At this point he seems to be more of a follower than a leader, and every time he almost gains my confidence, those feelings are undermined by that little stutter of his, or his tendency to give up on whatever he was trying to say in mid-sentence and just throw together some kind of word salad.

Pete Buttigieg – Mayor Pete started out strong in his campaign, impressing me and others with his ability to speak intelligently off the cuff on a wide variety of topics, letting his credentials take the background and be revealed naturally through his comments. But of late someone has tried to discipline him to stick to a few carefully manicured talking points, trotting out his credentials early and often, and the result is not nearly as satisfying. In some ways he now seems a sort of Frankenstein candidate made up of these disparate parts – eager Midwestern boy scout, bright McKinsey analyst (or is that Associate?), former warfighter, good Christian, member of the LGBTQ community – that never really seem to come together to form a unified person.

Amy Klobuchar – It's impressive that Klobuchar has hung around for as long as she has, considering that she started with almost no national identity, and very little attention from the press. I've liked her from the beginning, although in the early debates, with such a crowded field, it was hard for her to get much attention. I thought last night was her strongest performance yet and, for my money, she led the pack in many ways. In terms of the experience vs. age issue, she hits a sweet spot for me, at 59 years of age, and three terms in the US Senate, representing a state in the Midwest. She always sounds solidly progressive to me, but also seems pragmatic and willing to compromise and do things gradually, rather than all at once. I can picture her leading the country from the White House more easily than I can see any of her competitors in that position.

Bernie Sanders – Everyone's favorite democratic socialist. He's intelligent, he's solid, he's consistent, but he's got a couple of problems, in addition to that socialist thing. First of all, visually, the lingering image of him from the debates has been his slack-jawed, balding, gray-haired visage leaning towards the journalist, one hand cupped over an ear, straining to hear the question. This is not a good look for a potential president. But then also his single trait that makes him so attractive – his independence of mind – is also the trait that gives me the most pause when considering him for the presidency. I tend to think that we need a president who can lead, but who can also unify his party in both houses of Congress, and in statehouses across the country. And I'm not sure that Bernie's willingness to take to the high road in splendid isolation would serve us well when on display in the Oval Office.

Tom Steyer – I like a lot of what he says, and I like his money, but I've seen dead fish slung around at the Market displaying more personality than this guy. And what's this thing about him always talking directly to the camera? A good guy, but not a genuine presidential candidate, in my book.

Elizabeth Warren – Bright, articulate, solid campaigner, great set of plans and positions. At 70 she is up there, but not as far up as Biden or Sanders, and manages to look and talk a heck of a lot younger. On the other hand, while she's not as far left as Bernie, once you remove Bernie from consideration, and put her in a general election, she's going to appear pretty extreme. That's not necessarily a bad thing – we need what passes as extremism in DC today in order to do anything more than put a fresh coat of paint on some old, failed policies and norms – but she can easily scare people off if they're at all inclined to be afraid of liberalism, socialism or institutional change.

It will be enlightening to see what Iowa voters make of all this in the next few weeks.

Published 2020 Jan 15

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