Well, I didn’t actually fall off the planet. It’s just that I went out of town for a week, the publisher took vacation and I got a week off, and then there was Thanksgiving. So, now I’m charged with almost a month’s worth of epiphanies in one column. Here goes.
As I mentioned, I left Dallas for Shreveport earlier this month to spend a few days with long-time friends from my college days. On the drive over, Interstate 20 came to a full stop due to an 18-wheeler having caught fire and completely blocked the highway. We were stuck for well over two hours while firefighters and tow trucks came to clear the road. Now, I had never been in a situation like this, so I tried to get in that “zen” frame of mind I use for flying.
Before long, men were getting out of their pickup trucks and loping down to a stand of brush and trees where they could do what men can do even when there’s no snow around. It all seemed so casual and rather natural. About a half dozen made the trip over those two hours, including one wearing a shirt emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag across the front and back. (I was driving through rural East Texas, after all.)
And then about two hours into this ordeal, the passenger door of the car ahed of me swung open, and a woman practically flew down the embankment to get to the “watering hole.” Her trip seemed neither casual nor natural; it was desperate. Suddenly, the issues about men, women and gender in society were taking a back seat to something more basic.
Getting home from my wonderful time in Shreveport, I found Democrats doing what Democrats do best—fighting with each other. After flipping the House, the conversation turned to Nancy Pelosi and whether she should be restored as Speaker. And on top of that, some trial balloons were out about Hillary Clinton in 2020. As it has turned out, no one came forward to challenge Pelosi, and it’s anyone’s guess what Clinton will do.
It just strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to suggest that Pelosi, 78, and Clinton, 71, are past their sell-by dates when it has been suggested that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, be encased in bubble wrap so she can continue serving on the Supreme Court until the Second Coming. Of course, it was just a few years ago when there were calls for the notorious RBG to step aside so that Obama could get a new, younger justice to replace her. So maybe it’s not ageism, particularly used against older, powerful women. Maybe it’s just political expediency—of the not fully thought out variety.
There’s just one more little epiphany to share before the 2020 campaign gets into full swing. Earlier this week, the Washington Post published a piece entitled, “To win in 2020, Democrats need a young nominee.” The author of that column gets into the weeds with the average age of Presidential candidates going back to 1860. (The whole thing kind of touched my inner math nerd.) But I would offer that, to win in 2020, Democrats need a charismatic nominee.
Since we don’t know whether Samuel Tilden was more charismatic than Rutherford B. Hayes back in 1876, I’ll restrict myself to the Presidential elections I personally observed. As it stands, 2020 probably will be a campaign of one party trying to wrest The White House away from an incumbent President of the other party seeking a second term. That has happened successfully twice in my lifetime. A Republican did it (Ronald Reagan), and a Democrat did it (Bill Clinton). Arguably, Reagan and Clinton are two of the most charismatic politicians of the modern era, and they defeated incumbent Presidents (Carter and the first Bush) who didn’t hold charisma as a long suit.
Now let’s look at the candidates who didn’t make it. On the Democratic side, that would be George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and John Kerry. The Republicans offered and lost with Bob Dole and Mitt Romney. Do you see the pattern?
Focusing on getting a nominee who can attract white working class voters, or younger voters, or any other subset of voters is misplaced strategy. The primary focus should be on getting a nominee who can win. And I suspect that means one who is charismatic. And to be perfectly blunt about it, most of the names being bandied about seem low in that kind of “star quality.”
Certainly few would have recognized at this point in 2006 that Barack Obama, having been in the Senate less than two years, would be elected President in less than two more years. That’s charisma. And closer to home, who would have thought in 2016 that Beto O’Rourke, the virtually unknown congressman from El Paso, would be able to mount a Senate campaign that would outraise the incumbent Ted Cruz (remember he took second place in the Republican presidential primaries that year) in the costliest Senate campaign in U. S. history? Charisma indeed.
Now before anyone infers that I think Beto should run in 2020, that’s not what I’m saying—even if he is on a first name basis with half of Texas. Part of what I learned this month from these epiphanies is that it’s not up to tell Beto, or Hillary, or almost anybody else what to do. The only advice I would offer to anyone at this point is quite simple.
Carry an empty water bottle in your car at all times.