Telling voters you want a “conversation” or a “debate” — but you don’t have a plan to offer — may not give voters a sense of confidence after a presidency characterized by irrationality, incompetence and chaos. Sure, Americans want to feel good about America, but they also want to feel the country is in good hands and they can go back to their lives without worry that the Trump horror show will erupt before they next check their Twitter feed.
If O’Rourke is at one extreme of the emotion/policy spectrum, you might put Hillary Clinton at the other. She had no shortage of white papers, proposals, answers, facts and figures. She did not, however, by and large connect emotionally with voters in a positive, uplifting way.
The other possible 2020 presidential candidates are going to have to find their own balance between wonkery and inspiration. We don’t elect a white paper or PowerPoint presentation as president, but neither do we choose an encounter-group leader. It is hard to sustain a campaign merely on “bringing people together” or “kindness”; those are qualities we seek in political leaders, not ends unto themselves.
After Trump — who knew nothing about anything and what he did know was wrong — the country may crave someone who knows, maybe not everything about everything, but at least a good deal about the most important things. Candidates who have run cities or states or served as prosecutors have a sense not only of the emotional void and division Trump has created in public life but also the real needs of actual people.
You cannot tell an opioid-decimated town that the solution to the hollowing out of their community is to “not label one another” or “come together.” They’d like to know politicians understand their plight and have an idea of how to help them. The same is true of the family that needs health care, a good K-12 education for their kids or decent transportation to get to work.
We’ve had one amateur president for two years who has inflated the debt, started a trade war, alienated allies, shut down the government, crushed efforts to stem climate change and accelerated income inequality with a big tax cut for the richest Americans.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s response is: The system is rigged; reform the system, take back the government and then make x, y and z changes to benefit the middle class. You know what she wants to do and how she thinks she is going to get there. She has a coherent message, even if you disagree with it or don’t like the means she proposes.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s answer is: Save the planet, rebuild an economy around green jobs and technology. You might think that’s too limiting or not on point, but there is a there, there.
Certainly, the eventual Democratic nominee will have to display un-Trump-like qualities of empathy, curiosity, kindness and modesty. However, if nothing else, Trump should have taught us that we have to elect someone who can govern if elected. And you cannot govern if you do not know what the specific problems are, which direction to go in and at least generally how to get there. We need a grown-up.
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