Sunday, December 09, 2018


In a recent Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, the 2020 Democratic primary field was dominated by two old men -- Joe Biden at 28% and Bernie Sanders at 21%. Beto O'Rourke was a distant third, at 7%. Hillary Clinton slipped into third place when her name was included in the survey, but Biden and Sanders were still ranked one and two.

That should mean absolutely nothing -- it's early yet, and Biden and Sanders (along with Clinton) are the most recognizable names. But I wonder if a fresher face really can emerge if, as appears to be the case, it's open season on the lesser-known candidates. In his new subscription newsletter, Charlie Pierce writes:
This is not a healthy thing for me to admit, but I am already sick of the 2020 presidential campaign and it is not yet 2019. I am sick of it because, by all available evidence, nobody learned anything from the 2016 presidential election, and that was one of the most depressing experiences of my career. Just in the first week of December — of 2018, that is — we saw evidence that the elite political press’s appetite for trivial nothingburgers remains fathomless as the New York Times banged the drum (again) about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test, which is shaping up to be, if not the Hillary Clinton’s e-mails of this cycle, then certainly the Al Gore Said He Invented The Internet thereof. We also saw evidence that there remains an appetite for cannibalism within the Democratic Party. Non-candidate Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, dropped out. This was surrounded at the moment by stories painting him as a tool of predatory lenders. Beto O’Rourke met with Barack Obama at roughly the same time that Bernie Sanders was holding a hoedown in Burlington for his supporters. Shortly thereafter, in an amazing coincidence, several progressive journalists flew off the wire at the same time, to borrow an image from the late Senator Eugene McCarthy, writing that O’Rourke was insufficiently progressive to pick up the baton from Sanders’s unsuccessful 2016 primary campaign — and that is assuming that Sanders himself wants to let go of the baton, which is doubtful.
You know the arguments: Kamala Harris is a tool of the carceral state. Kirsten Gillibrand sandbagged Al Franken. Beto O'Rourke is being attacked for accepting as lot of money from employees of oil and gas companies (even though that would seem to be an inevitability in Texas, where a lot of people work in the energy industry.) A Jacobin editor responds to a New York Times opinion piece on the BDS movement by taking a swipe at Cory Booker:

And on and on.

Some of these candidates will weather the attacks -- though I have my doubts about Warren, who's already being urged not to run by The Boston Globe, all while suffering more of the usual racist invective from the right -- "Smoke Signals Say Elizabeth Warren’s Presidential Dreams Are Over," writes the execrable Howie Carr in the Boston Herald, while at PJ Media it's Elizabeth Warren's Political Trail of Tears."

Oddly, no one in the mainstream press, the right-wing media, or the community of lefty online influencers seems to be seriously attacking Biden, while no one in the first two groups seems to have it in for Sanders. (The lefty influencers are presumably on Bernie's side.) Why are Biden and Sanders being left relatively unscathed? Are they seen as harmless old men who won't be a factor when the campaign really gets under way? Is this old white male privilege?

I don't know, but if it continues, while other candidates are under perpetual assault, a party that hasn't won a presidential election with a candidate over the age of 60 since 1948 might be going into battle in 2020 with one of two male septuagenarians who've failed in three presidential races between them. Not all of their potential challengers are young -- Warren certainly isn't -- but Warren is newer to politics than either Biden or Sanders.

Rivals to Biden and Sanders will inevitably be attacked -- but the friendly might be what kills their candidacies, leaving just the old guys to battle it out. I'm not sure that's the outcome we want.

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