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.