With Cory Booker dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president, what to make of a field that noticeably lacks the diversity that once defined it, not to mention the diversity of the party and increasingly the nation?
It is a fraught question that summons up many difficult narratives. One must start with the racism and sexism that have been a part of this nation since its founding. We have made tremendous progress, but as we have seen with unsettling regularity recently, the demons of hate lurk and can burst forth with violence and intimidation. Linked to these concerns is the nebulous question of “electability.” Defeating Donald Trump is understandably a top concern for Democratic primary voters, and it seems clear from the poling that many of them, even women and men of color, are trying to think strategically. The thinking goes that in the America of today, no matter what we may wish for, a white person, particularly a white male, has a better chance of being elected president.
I do not feel qualified to weigh in on the veracity of this “electability” analysis. There is a competing school of thought that suggests a strategy of energizing the base is what’s needed. The thinking goes: Democrats need candidates who will excite minority voters to come out in large numbers. For whatever reason (and see the paragraph above) that line of thinking hasn’t held sway. One can try to look at individual candidates, and their strengths and weaknesses. When Kamala Harris announced her run, I saw her as potentially the front-runner. I heard from many Democratic leaders and average voters who felt the same way. But it didn’t happen. I think some of her wounds were self-inflicted, a campaign without a clear message. But others have run such campaigns and gone further. Was she hurt by race and gender? I think you have to believe yes.
All this being said, I also believe that if Barack Obama, with his unique political talents, was running in this primary as a junior senator from Illinois, he would be doing very well. But maybe, with that looming question of “electability,” I’m wrong. And he’s also a man.
We are at a moment where diversity seems to have stalled at the presidential level. And I can understand why that is dispiriting to many people. What I am confident in predicting is this stalling is temporary. I remember a time when it was inconceivable that a Catholic could be elected president. I now see in the four leading Democrats, a Catholic, a man of Jewish heritage, a woman, and an openly gay man. All of those would have been unthinkable to me at some point.
But the fact remains, what about all the other diversity that is defining our country? For those feeling demoralized, there is more reason for optimism down-ballot. At the Congressional. state and local level, there is a booming new generation of politicians who represent where this nation is going. They will someday crest into a change at the top. there remains a strong. And there is a possibility, if not a probability- that the Democratic ticket will include a vice presidential nominee of color.
Unfortunately, this is where we are today. We are in an age of transition, where the inequality of the past and present is on stark display. We cannot shrink from the challenge of making sure our leaders represent America, in all its forms. I do take solace in how much I have seen change in my own life, but it takes courage, commitment, and determination to continue to make progress. Thankfully, these qualities have also been hallmarks of the American experience.