March 2, 2020 by Jean
Maine is a Super Tuesday state, so it’s time for me to make a decision about who I will vote for in the Democratic presidential primary. When the primary season began, I felt like a kid in a candy shop: So many exciting candidates, with so many interesting ideas, and so much diversity of experience and perspectives! In such a large field, it can be tempting to look for the perfect candidate, but our real choices are among flawed human beings each of whom has strengths and weaknesses.
Early on, I understood that my priorities in choosing a candidate were progressive policy goals (especially on the issues of climate change, immigration, racial justice, and economic inequality) combined with a calm, reasoned style and the ability to accomplish goals in the Washington political environment. I decided not to worry about electability because the political pundits so often misjudge who is and is not electable. (It’s helpful to remember that neither of our two most recent presidents were deemed electable when they got into the primaries. And of the Bush brothers, the less electable brother, George, actually got elected, while the more electable Jeb, the presumed front-runner in the 2016 Republican primary, could not withstand the surge of support for the “unelectable” Donald Trump.)
As the primary season unfolded and the field narrowed, my choice didn’t get any easier. The four candidates that I sent donations to after the first debate were all gone from the race before the primaries even began. This included the candidate that I had come to see as my top choice, Cory Booker, and I remain disappointed that other voters did not see the strengths I saw in him.
After last week’s debate, I knew decision time had come, but I still didn’t have a clear choice. It was tempting to just go with my gut responses to the remaining candidates, mostly emotional responses to their styles. (I responded most positively to Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and most negatively to Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, and Bernie Sanders.) But I prefer to make decisions based on logic and reason, so I set up a spreadsheet to compare and contrast the candidates still in the race and got to work reading their detailed policy proposals on the issues of most concern to me. As I worked on filling in my spreadsheet, both Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer dropped out of the race, making my comparison easier.
The results were instructive. I could see that Amy Klobuchar, a candidate whose style elicited a very positive response from me, was least aligned with my own policy concerns and that Bernie Sanders, whose style I find very off-putting, has policy proposals that best reflect my own concerns. (For example, I applaud his brilliant proposal to address income inequality with a sliding tax rate for corporations that levies the highest taxes on those with the greatest inequality in compensation between corporate leadership and the average worker. Corporations would be able to lower their taxes simply by paying their workers more and their officers less.) Elizabeth Warren was a close second behind Sanders in policy proposals that align with my own concerns.
I am not at all confident, however, that Bernie Sanders can actually carry out his plans. He seems to assume that if he gets elected, he’ll have a mandate for his “revolution,” and that everyone should just get in line and do what he wants. (Wait! Where have I seen this attitude before?) The wonkish Warren seems much more likely to take the practical steps needed to actually get her policies enacted. So I have made a decision. When I go to the polls in a few hours, I will cast my primary vote for Elizabeth Warren.
Love your decision making process. And I love Elizabeth. I agree with your assessment of Bernie. Seems the decision may be easier Tuesday as Amy just dropped out too. Our primary won’t be until April 28th. Hoping I can still vote for her by then.
Donna, It looks as though you may be down to the Bernie/Biden choice by the end of April. I just keep reminding myself that there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate.
That’s very interesting, Jean. Funny, I got to Elizabeth Warren too, but by a different path (and a long time ago).
Charlie, I think she’s probably out of it as a serious contender at this point, but I hope this presidential run will boost her influence in the Senate.
Jean, I think I followed your path too–including making lots of spread sheets. And I’ve just landed on Warren as well. Brilliant woman, but wish she would lose the school-marm persona. I’m hoping that Pete throws his support to her.
Just as a side point: I never ever thought I’d agree with Ann Coulter about anything until I read the quote used in this opinion piece by Michelle Goldberg in the NYTimes:
“On Tuesday night, after the latest Democratic debate, Ann Coulter tweeted: “Sen. Warren has convinced me that Bernie isn’t that worrisome. He’ll never get anything done. SHE’S the freak who will show up with 17 idiotic plans every day and keep everyone up until it gets done.” Vicious reactionary that she is, Coulter cut to the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s promise.
Warren has an almost supernatural ability to identify problems before anyone else and to work relentlessly to solve them. Of all the Democratic candidates, she would make the most effective president.”
Emily, It’s nice to know others also use spreadsheets to organize their thinking. One of the interesting wrinkles in politics that what makes a good candidate is so often different from what it takes to govern. I’m very aware that we are likely to continue with divided government for the foreseeable future, which means that getting something accomplished requires the ability to figure out which compromises will get you closer to your goal (e.g., a public option as a step toward a single-payer health care system).
I hope Super Tuesday help narrow the field for me and others who live in Michigan and don’t vote until March 10th. If I had to vote today, I’d be so torn. The only solid decision I’ve made is I don’t want Bernie. Thanks for this post. I hope I’m just as methodical when I have to make my choice.
Jean, It looks as though Super Tuesday has narrowed the field. Although I voted for Warren, I don’t really see her as having any realistic path toward the nomination, and I don’t think she has enough delegates to give her serious influence over the platform and at the convention.
You definitely put a lot more structure and effort into making your voting decision than most people. I was puzzled that you thought Joe Biden falls short on racial justice!? Rep. Jim Clyburn and the African-American voters in South Carolina obviously hold Joe Biden in much higher esteem.
John, I can understand your puzzlement. Biden’s popularity with African American voters certainly gave me pause and led me to question my own judgment. Here are the reasons for my low rating of Biden on racial justice: (1) After the first primary, he responded to concerns Kamala Harris raised about his record by stating “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” These were the same words that Donald Trump used to defend himself against concerns that he was encouraging white supremacists. In both cases, the words raised a red flag. For me, this claim indicates that someone is woefully ignorant about the workings of systemic racism, implicit bias, and racial privilege. And, for these highly placed men who have lots of access to information and education resources, their ignorance can only be willful ignorance. (2) I looked carefully at the “action plans” on Biden’s website for evidence to counteract this assessment, and I just didn’t find any. Unlike many other candidates, he has no plan to address “racial justice,” “racial inequality,” or “racism.” I did find mention of racial bias in his criminal justice and environmental plans — but it was just that: a quick mention that such bias exists, without any plans for addressing it. I can only hope that, if he is elected, he will appoint and listen to advisors that “get it” in a way that he does not seem to.
A weakness that worries me is that Joe Biden doesn’t always choose the right words to express what’s in his mind. But I think in this case, actions and relationships over a lifetime are more telling than words on a website. I put a lot more weight in Jim Clyburn‘s heartfelt relationship with Joe Biden, and the African-American pastors throughout the South who have genuine respect for Biden.