The Geezer Party: where the hell are the young Democrats?

The Democratic Party needs more attractive candidates—and they need young ones, to match the youth of the GOP.

So the Democratic nominating process this year has three candidates if one includes Martin O’Malley, whose chance of the nomination is not yet a negative number, but may as well be. O’Malley is 54, which makes him a spring chicken compared with the rest of the Democratic field. Chafee dropped out, not that anyone noticed he was in, and he’s 63. Jim Webb is 70, and he’s gone too. Biden does not appear to be a candidate at this point, but he’s 74. The main combatants at this point, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are 69 and 75, respectively.

On the other side, the ten thousand candidates vying for the Republican nomination are all over the place—Bush is 63, Kasich is 64, Fiorina is 62, and Trump is 70. Other 60+ candidates are (or were) Huckabee, Carson, Perry , Graham and Huckabee. But then there’s the other contingent—Jindal (gone) is 45, Walker (also gone) is 49. Of the remaining bunch, Cruz is 46, Rubio 45, Paul 54, Christie 54, and Santorum 58.

There’s a pattern here, and I suspect it can be bet embodied by a simple test: Quick, name a single major figure in the Democratic party who is under 60. Aside from Barack Obama, who is an outlier on many levels. There’s Keith Ellison from Minnesota (52), and Tammy Duckworth (47)–that’s about it in my case. I pay attention, and I still had to think hard. Oh, and Rahm Emanuel (56), but probably better to not go there at the moment. The Republicans seem to have quite a lot of them, even if they’re mostly reprehensible human beings. But we all know who they are. The Democrats? Not so much. My own senator, whom I would support like a shot if she ran for President, is Elizabeth Warren, age 66. She’s the life and soul of the party, as far as I’m concerned. However, I got schooled on that last summer when Nancy Pelosi, who is 75, told the world that Elizabeth Warren does not speak for the Democratic Party. This was over, of all things, the question of whether the Obama administration has been too soft on Wall Street (which, of course, is the case). And this is the problem—why the hell doesn’t Elizabeth Warren speak for the Democratic party? Somebody needs to.

Let’s see—Pelosi is 75. Harry Reid is 76. On the senatorial front, 62 senators total are over 60. Of the 58 under 60, only 15 Democrats are under 60—the balance are all Republicans. The split among governors is a bit better, but by no means comforting. 20 governors are 60 or over—so we’re dealing with a younger contingent here. How does that break out? 11 Democrats, one independent (Alaska), and 18 Republicans. I’m not even going to bother with the House—we know the pattern here. Well, all you need to know is that the average age of Democrats in the House is 60, and the average age of Republicans is under 55.

So what’s going on? Have the Democrats given any thought whatsoever to developing future leaders of the party? Is there anyone out there under 60 who can capture some national stature, the way at least half a dozen Republican senators and governors have been able to? Mrs. W has a theory, one which makes some sense—that the Clintons have deliberately suppressed any developments along this line to ensure Hillary’s presidential ambitions. Of course, it could also be just genuinely crappy party leadership. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (49, but looking a bit older these days) does not necessarily inspire confidence that the Democrats have a good plan for this. There may be other competing theories, but I haven’t come across them—because I haven’t seen anyone really addressing this issue. Still, the Clintons, for whatever positive good they may have done, are deeply enmeshed in a bunch of bad shit—Wall Street being perhaps even less compromising than some of the others. (How about Hillary’s donations from the pharma and insurance industries, not to mention the private prison business?) So from their perspective, it makes to sense to have the party not particularly active on some of these issues. It’s a good theory.

So how is this good for anyone? Who is coming along on the Democratic side to pick up the reins from folks like Obama, Clinton, Sanders, Pelosi, whoever? I don’t begrudge these people their success, but they haven’t been doing a particularly effective job of keeping the Republicans out of office. Name a single Democrat in the Congress under the age of 50 (except your own, if you happen to be so lucky). If they’re out there, the party leadership is doing a very good job of keeping them under wraps—perhaps to use them as secret weapons in the future. I keep reading about the “Emerging Democratic Majority,” what with the growth of the minority vote and other stuff that prognosticators like to discuss—but who are these people going to vote for? Whomever the party leadership puts up at the Congressional or state level? That hasn’t exactly worked out so far. The evidence for this emerging majority appears pretty scant, actually.

Yes, that famous Will Rogers line is cute; “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” But the stakes keep getting higher. The current crop of Republican presidential candidates is downright scary, and it’s the younger ones that are the most worrying—Jeb Bush is probably “better” than Ted Cruz in a number of respects. But, actually, no, that’s probably wishful thinking—Bush would be another disaster, just not a theocratic one. Who are the Democrats going to put up against them. Nancy Pelosi? Joe Biden? Someone better be doing some hard thinking about this pretty soon. There are a number of areas where the Democrats are very much in tune with Americans in general—let’s hear from some people on this. Who is the Democrat taking the lead on Climate Change, the way the Republicans have that fool, Inhofe. Al Gore (67)? Industrial policy? Trade policy (once we get over the current delusions about free trade)? Donald Trump has certainly got this latter issue figured out, and people are supporting him on it. Isn’t there anyone on the Democratic side who could take the lead on a sensible conversation about immigration policy, rather than leaving the default position to Republican crazies?

I’m at a loss, frankly. I want to support this party, but they keep giving me less reason to do so, other than to prevent some crazy Republican from getting elected. But to do that, they need some more attractive candidates—and they need young ones, to match the obvious (relative) youth on the Republican side. Otherwise we’re going to continue to see election results that both disappoint and terrify.

9 replies »

  1. Excellent Sir, truth in every word. Speaking as an asymmetrical republican, we need a dark horse, a conciliator, a negotiator, an enforcer. One who straddles the party lines espousing civil rights and a pathway to citizenship while tightening border security and beefing up enforcement of existing firearms laws.

    A champion of the down trodden and under privileged, yet one who understands that we can shear a sheep many times but butcher only once. We don’t have to eat the rich, merely milk them for positive social gain. Fiscal sanity must prevail but cut bombs first, benefits for needy last.

    And cuts have to be made. Military yes, social programs based on means testing absolutely. And how many federal enforcement agencies do we really need? God damn Bush Jr and the Patriot Act. Pure unadulterated fascism.

    I kind of like Rubio if he could leave his religion and pro-life bullshit in his pocket. I enjoyed the blog piece Wufnik thank you.

  2. There was a reason the Republicans took a long look at Rubio for Veep and passed. He couldn’t pass their screen, and we know how thorough that was (Palin.) I’ve read he’s knee deep in slime.

    But it’s a great question. Four hypothesis:

    1. They don’t exist (yours)
    2. They’re out there but the strength of the Democratic old guard means that the old guys get all the media attention. The Republicans don’t have anyone of age who’s credible, so their young guns get more of the spotlight. share of voice and all that. That is, we have Elizabeth Warren and the Clintons who still have a high profile. They have a bunch of old Texans who are hunkered down in Ft. Worth hiding from history.
    3. It’s a cyclical thing.
    4. The Republicans have always had a very good ground game in some areas, like packing the DOJ and the state legislatures, and maybe that’s have the additional benefit of throwing up a whole generation of potential candidates.

    But you may be right. I remember gloating last election that we had three or four good candidates and the Republicans had none. Now we have two okay candidates and they have 12–19, 7, some number between six and thirty–of bad ones, but they are young.

    • I think there’s a variant of a combination of 1 and 2. Which is that they exist, but they’re not being prepared for national leadership. This would be what might be called the Clinton Conspiracy theory. It’s not that I don’t believe the Democrats can’t field a national figure who is under 60–it’s that they have been too deferential to the Clintons (and to Obama, who has taken no role on this whatsoever, sadly). Whatever one thinks of Republicans, the party is full of people who are not afraid to challenge party orthodoxy. While this should not be mistaken for actual thought, it suggests a more free-wheeling process that lets more people come forward. There may be lots of good young Democratic Senators and Governors and House members–how come none of us know who they are?

        • Possibly, but if it’s a rule, it’s a pretty erratic one. Both McCain and Romney were Wait Your Turn scenarios, but they weren’t the incumbent party. Obama is a counter-example, because it was supposed to be Clinton’s turn, and they weren’t incumbent then either. And Sanders may be the one blowing it up for Clinton this time around, and this time the Democrats are the incumbent party. But what I’m really talking about is the pool that feeds this level–where do they come from? How do you get into the arena where you can challenge in the first place? The Republicans, however they do it, appear much better organized at feeding that level. At the start of the presidential season, there were at least a dozen “legitimate” contenders for the presidency, or we were told they were legitimate, at any rate. Maybe a better way to frame it is that the media thought they were legitimate, or made them so. Some didn’t make it very far, like Walker and Jindal. But everyone in the country knows who they are. At this point, does anyone still have any idea who O’Malley is? However the Republicans do this, they do much more effectively than the Democrats. Perhaps it’s just that the Republicans are much better marketers than the Democrats. But they also seem to have a broader pool to choose from, which I find much more worrying.

  3. Actually, Otherwise, McCain was in the incumbent party–I was wrong on that. Still, there’s a broad acceptance of the notion in both parties–for the past four years, the inevitable names have been Clinton, Perry and Walker. But Perry and Walker were the earliest to drop out. That may be because of the Trump/Carson effect this year, and in a “normal” year maybe they would still be around. Of course, then there’s Bush….

  4. it’s a fabulous question. and you get the feeling it may even be deeper than we know. Nikki Haley is getting a lot of props for her SOTU reply. again though, the Republicans have put a lot of work into winning governorships–right now they’re ahead 31 to 18, and that’s a natural path to the presidency, or at least is perceived to be.

    however, I think it’s worth pointing out that while the GOP may have quantity, there are real questions around quality. most of the gop young guard have come up through one of the radical lanes–tea party or evangelical, making them completely unpalatable to the broader electorate.

    I think the gop’s best shot at winning a national election is a Murphy/Reagan/ Schwarzzenegger/Trump, i.e. a celebrity. Now I don’t think Trump will be the one. But that’s the formula. he’s a celebrity. He offers unrealistic but simple to understand solution–his speeches use language understandable to a fourth grader (about 4 years younger than anyone else.) Trumps said too many stupid things and alienated too many voting blocks, but I think that’s the GOP’s best hope of breaking through. I don’t think the young firebrands have any better chance than slick businessmen or grouchy old war “heroes.”

    My personal guess is young Dems exist, but they’re laying low this cycle, waiting it out because they don’t think Hillary will get blasé twice. We’d never really heard of Obama before either (well, I had because he was my state senator,) but he basically came from nowhere to the front in four years.