Celebrate the diverse 2020 Democratic field. Like it or not, Mr. Trump, this is America.September 10, 2019
It was hard not to smile at the announcement of the 10 Democrats who made this week’s presidential debate. The field screams “We are America.” If you are a Democrat or a Never-Trumper, it also screams: “So there. We’re not who you think we are.”
At risk of both stating the obvious and being politically incorrect, can we just celebrate this incredible diversity for a moment before moving on to critiques and snark and why isn’t one of these people perfect?
This 10-person lineup includes three women, an Asian American, a Hispanic American, a black man, a woman who is half black and half Indian American, a gay white man, a Jewish man and, oh yeah, Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. It’s a wonder, and reminds us that America is a wonder, and appreciating that doesn’t have anything to do with identity politics (as a commenter suggested to me on Twitter).
Try to disregard gender and ethnicity
In fact, my wish for Democrats and anyone who watches the debate Thursday night is this: Judge these candidates by their ideas, their personalities, their ability to lead a party battered by setbacks and doubts, and their ability to lead a bruised and divided nation.
Don’t add or take away points based on their gender or ethnicity, and don’t try to guess how others might react to their gender or ethnicity. Don’t assume people won’t vote for a woman because in 2016, not quite enough of them in certain states voted for Hillary Clinton, who has been a cultural and political lightning rod since 1991. Don’t assume they aren’t ready for the first gay president or the second minority president. If you are, maybe they are, too.
Ten Democratic presidential candidates qualified for September's debate. Top from left: Julián Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders. Bottom from left: Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang (Photo: Associated Press, Getty Images and USA TODAY)
By all means ask yourself what the heck Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was thinking when she tweeted the other day that she would pause offshore fossil fuels drilling leases and all fracking on Day One. Can a president even do that? And wouldn’t those steps aggravate global warming, as Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer pointed out, by driving up demand for coal?
(Perhaps Warren should make more ads in her kitchen to clear up a few things. Husband Bruce, walking in with a McDonald’s bag: “Honey, I’ve got the cheeseburgers.” Elizabeth: “Honey, could you please stop slurping through one of those plastic straws that we use all the time?”)
Policies and personality are fair game
Ask why California Sen. Kamala Harris is endorsing mandatory assault weapon buybacks, before we even get anywhere close to a ban on these weapons or a voluntary buyback. (Maybe soften that one with a heartwarming video of “Momala” teaching her grown stepkids how to shoot her handgun.)
Ask yourself why former Housing Secretary Julian Castro keeps talking about decriminalizing the border and doesn’t make clear that’s not the same as an open border. Why anyone thinks Biden will be a better candidate now than he was in 1987 or 2007. Why O’Rourke keeps saying the F-word like a new campaign slogan; why Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders shouts so much; why South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (age 37) thinks his time is now; why Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota can’t get traction, and why rich businessman Andrew Yang is convinced we need another rich businessman in the White House.
Republicans have lots to answer for
But also ask why female Republicans are fading fast in Congress, and why black Republicans on Capitol Hill are one senator away from vanishing entirely. Ask how Donald Trump made it to the Oval Office and how on earth he could still be there and why his three challengers so far are a white man who served one term in Congress, another who was governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s, and a third who went AWOL as governor of South Carolina to meet his Argentine mistress. Ask how the Republican Party will ever recover from the hole it has dug with the growing Hispanic electorate.
Above all, be proud of this Democratic field. It shows that America has been doing its job and fulfilling its promise. Our country opened the gates of opportunity and all kinds of people have walked through them and succeeded. These candidates show we are in fact a nation of immigrants, Trump administration pronouncements notwithstanding. And not all were immigrants who could stand on their own two feet the day they arrived.
One of these Democrats could well be the next president. Maybe it will be a woman or a minority, and wouldn’t that be a nice statement about what voters think of misogyny and racism and xenophobia. But the real statement would be any Democrat winning. That would signal an embrace of knowledge, competence and tolerance, and elicit a national sigh of relief heard ’round the world. As in, THIS is who we are. We just proved it.
Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.” Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence
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