The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why Colorado Gov. Jared Polis could answer Democrats’ 2024 prayers

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a Denver news conference on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Dec. 7, 2021. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

BOULDER, Colo. — President Biden is sensibly saying what he cannot sensibly mean. By vowing to run again, he delays becoming diminished as yesterday’s news. And he delays the distraction of Democrats searching for his successor. That search is, however, imperative.

The national consequences of progressivism — inflation, crime, education as indoctrination, etc. — are dismaying, and it is too late to undo Biden’s embrace of the agenda of progressives who have never warmly embraced him. Furthermore, many millions of voters have come to this adverse conclusion about him: The apogee of his career has not coincided with the peak of his personal abilities.

It is fanciful for Democrats to think a recent success in Congress (they call it “climate legislation”; 2 percent of Americans tell Gallup that climate is their foremost concern) will resonate two years hence, or that then voters will re-endorse an unsteady president who will be 86 in 2028.

Neither party can responsibly participate in presenting the nation in 2024 with a spirit-crushing Biden-Trump 2.0. The Democrats’ dilemma is especially difficult because Biden’s vice president is an incontinent producer of word salads who suffers from deficits of political talent and policy substance.

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It is, therefore, time for public discussion of Democrats who are plausible presidents. The nation could do worse than to start here.

Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis is artistic in his rhetorical avoidance of presidential politics: The mere mention of it produces a Jackson Pollock-style splatter of verbiage about how he thinks, and presumably dreams, always and only about Colorado.

However, if he is reelected in November, his personal fortune might be put in the service of his impressive political talents and ambitions. If so, a national audience can assess his knack for leavening his high-octane progressivism with departures from that church’s strict catechism.

Although his parents were, he says, 1960s hippies, he chose to make a mint from capitalism rather than overthrowing it. After sailing through high school in three years, at 17 he arrived at Princeton, where, as a sophomore, he and two friends founded an internet-access company. He founded two other internet-related companies, sold all three for more than $1 billion, and used some of this to found — heresy alert — two charter schools. This sin against progressivism was perhaps forgivable because the schools’ primary purpose was to help children of immigrants.

Elected to Congress in 2008, Polis was the first same-sex parent in the House (he and his husband have two children), and 10 years later became the United States’ first openly gay man elected governor. In Congress, his endorsement of the conclusions of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission about the need for entitlement reforms proved his understanding of arithmetic. His endorsement was not risky because electoral arithmetic guaranteed that Congress would avoid doing something risky by doing nothing.

As governor, he has delivered all-day kindergarten, and has promised Colorado’s complete reliance on renewable energy by 2040. (He will be long gone before that promise goes unfulfilled.) But he, like 79 percent of Colorado voters, opposed a ballot initiate to create a state-run universal health-care system that Colorado, like 49 other states, cannot afford. And he has implemented a robust public school choice program: Every child is guaranteed a place in a neighborhood school but can attend any school in the state. Almost 14 percent of the state’s pupils (22.4 percent in Denver) are in charter schools, which doubly serve the public interest — by performing well and annoying teachers unions. Polis eschews progressivism’s protectionism: Biden should, he says, have ended Donald Trump’s tariffs “on day one.”

The Democratic Party’s leftward lurch has made it, as Daniel McCarthy writes in the Spectator, less the party of the New Deal than the party of new genders. Perhaps we are learning the impossibility of having just one party become weird.

One party has become militantly absurd, finding proof of sophisticated 2020 electoral skulduggery in the villains’ ability to completely conceal all evidence of their villainy. The other party, foolishly convinced that derangement puts success beyond the reach of a political party, feels free to promulgate its own absurdities, amounting to “1619 = 1776” and “Do not defund the pronoun police.”

Polis resides here, his birthplace, a short drive from Denver, in a university town so woke it makes Madison, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich., seem Confederate. Nevertheless, when Democrats seek a progressive who is palatable to nonbelievers, they might look here.