We couldn’t possibly see the political picture clearly until we got most of those people off the stage, out of the funding race, out of the news, out of people’s heads. I wanted clarity. I wanted one candidate I could get behind.
But I’m not happy to lose Harris. The California senator was never my top candidate, but I loved that she was on my team: a strong, smart, accomplished woman who seemed totally comfortable in her skin and unflappable behind a Senate hearing microphone.
I never quite understood what her core political beliefs were, but I figured I’d worry about that later when there were fewer Dems to differentiate. How bad could she be in the grand scheme? An overly prosecutorial prosecutor who wasn’t always clear where she stood on health care? Um, I think we’d survive that administration.
That’s how I felt about all of them, to be honest. Though I grumbled about their numbers, I thrilled at the Democrats’ cumulative talent, intellect, complete sentences, human compassion. Yes, the menu was too large, but all the choices looked good after three years of congealing junk food.
Excuse me, madam, would you prefer incremental movement in the right direction or swift, fundamental change for the good?
Oh dear! It all sounds so delicious!
My friends and I would debate the merits of each candidate (well, each of maybe 10 candidates) for the sheer pleasure of counting our treasure. Look at this one! What about this one? Don’t forget that one!
We had an embarrassment of riches; the Republicans had an embarrassment. How could we lose?
Harris’s presence in the field added immensely to that sense of wealth, in part because she is a black woman, a member of a cohort that is traditionally both underrepresented in the federal government and resolute in its support of Democratic politicians and policies. And, in part, because she projected a capable, upbeat resolve.
But as the field narrowed and front-runners emerged, it seemed clear that Harris wasn’t going to be the one.
Logically, there was no reason for her to stay on the campaign trail. Logically, we should be clearing the path for the man or woman who might win. So why does her departure bother me? Because it reminds me what it will mean — after all the debates and all the news stories and all the campaigning — to actually choose a nominee.
As a group, these candidates are ethnically diverse and brilliantly educated and totally conversant on the issues. As a group, they are shiny new and time-tested. As a group, they look great in suits and can deliver a punchline and served in the military and got legislation passed and moved the needle of American political thought.
A single candidate will not, cannot, be all that. Harris’s departure brings home the reality that we don’t get to order one of everything. We don’t get the cumulative candidate; we get one person. And having one person to get behind also means having one person to get disappointed by, to get frustrated with. One person who could . . . get beaten.
We’ll still have a candidate we can be proud of; they’ll still have an embarrassment. But still: we could lose.
Maybe that’s the true source of the dread I felt when I learned of Harris’s departure: It’s getting real now. The closer we get to one candidate, the closer we get to the possibility of losing in 2020, of reliving the trauma of Nov. 8, 2016, and of living with the consequences while constantly willing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to stay alive.
Suddenly, I’m feeling nostalgic for the time when the field of candidates was too large to fit in my visual field, when the primaries seemed terribly far away, when everything good seemed possible. Including the election of our first black female president.