I watched the last or latest Democratic Presidential debate at that big Whig-Clio get-together the old institution likes to have. Between occasionally yelling at the screen with the many other attendees and watching the candidates (seeing Biden’s performance was a bit like watching Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween), I gave live commentary to a non-Princeton friend of mine. He, being a relatively well-established man about town, told me it was actually refreshing hearing from me. Usually, he said, he talked to reporters from the New York Times and pundits. He said listening to my perspective was interesting because I am relatively uninformed about the presidential race compared with many of my fellow students and people in the political world. I usually keep up with politics just to the point that I am socially responsible.
I used to be a political junkie. Then 2016 happened, and I realized that that life was not for me.
That is what I feel really separates me from the other members of Generation Z. They had what to them was a healthy reaction of trying to make a difference and thinking increasingly about their political identity. My version of a healthy reaction was to stay out of the fight as much as possible. I vote, yes. I am also a Democrat, though I’m registered Republican in order for my vote to count in my hometown (a long story for another article). But I currently have no plans to go door to door for Elizabeth Warren (who I plan to vote for in the primary) or to become some kind of organizer, let alone to follow high school dreams of running for office—not like the Democrats need someone like me anyways.
But, what do I really think about the political race as someone trying to keep as much distance as I can? I care about the election from the point of view of civic responsibility, not as an activist or a political organizer, and I think that’s valuable because not all left-leaning Americans are going to be able to devote their entire lives to political involvement. I, in my own outside perspective, have two main points of view relating to the primary race.
We could go with Joe Biden. He seems to be the kind of candidate no one actually wants but everyone still believes is the most electable candidate for reasons outside of my realm of understanding. He comes off as a problematic old grandpa more than the leader of the free world. That phrase, to me, should really be the litmus test for electability. Can you imagine X person being the Leader of the Free World? The phrase has gravitas to it, and the presidency needs gravitas. Trump has gravitas; it’s the same gravitas as Godzilla or a giant squid, but it’s gravitas nonetheless.
The last few failed Democratic party presidential nominees (Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore) have all lacked gravitas. Could you imagine Al Gore making that speech from Independence Day that rallied the world against the alien invaders? He probably would’ve brought along a PowerPoint. Biden would’ve probably challenged the Martians to a fight before needing to sit down.
That lack of gravitas is dangerous, especially considering Biden’s problems attracting younger voters. A recent New York Times article titled “Joe Biden’s Digital Ads Are Disappearing. Not a Good Sign, Strategists Say” (great title) discusses how Biden is dropping a huge amount of his online ads. Instead, he’s focusing his advertising efforts around television and directing his message at “an older electorate” according to the article. Ask a few people under 30; they don’t watch a lot of network television. This is a problem because if Biden becomes a candidate running solely on the platform of not being Trump, and fails to connect with younger voters by doing so, we might have a repeat of 2016, where not enough people are energized enough to come out and vote.
Now, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have gravitas. Look at their crowd sizes and followings. The main problem is, to me, that the average observer can’t tell them apart. I see Sanders focusing on ideological positions and healthcare while Warren focuses on real wealth redistribution and broad social change. Still, when you squint, they look like the same candidate. One of them needs to drop out and support the other. If we’re being honest, the one to leave should be Bernie (who in just about every poll is slipping), but either way, one needs to leave. If you add up the voters for both Warren and Sanders, they are about equal or more than Biden’s percentage of the vote. So, if they really want a socialist-democrat type president, they’re going to need to hash this out.
I don’t want another Trump presidency, but we can’t operate on the idea that the American People want their country operated like either a corporation or a European country. They need a movement or a strong ideology to guide their focus. For instance, look at the success of the 1992 Clinton campaign. Bill Clinton was a great candidate because he represented a real graspable change to the Democratic party that energized and interested voters. Clinton ran on an ideology of “fiscal responsibility” and of reforming the system.
I have no idea what Biden’s ideology is except that moderation is important and that sometimes you have to hang out with the KKK. He isn’t a safe choice. He’s the Don Draper of this moment, and the thing is, folks, we’re living in a Peggy Olson era, an era where women and minorities are taking more political power and not waiting to be given it. Biden represents an era when female politicians were a novelty and had to endure the uncomfortable physical displays of powerful men. That era is over. If you want to part be a progressive movement, you’ll have to move on. That is the new political movement that could energize voters: structural change to the way politics operates from a cultural perspective as well as a legal one. That is Warren; that is Sanders; lord knows it isn’t Biden.