Democracy Is Cruel
She was running for President because "that's what girls do."
Ah, Elizabeth. We treated you so poorly.
By "we," I mean America, a country that uses a complex algorithm that skews rural, white, and male to choose who will run for, and become, president.
It's not always skewed in that direction, though, as Elizabeth Warren has learned the hard way. The 2020 Democratic primary has come down to a seesaw between pragmatic and idealistic voters, and neither camp chose the most articulate, nimble, talented person to lead the country away from the Trump nightmare. Black voters who are the southern backbone of the Democratic party read the signs of the times and went with Joe Biden, a tongue-tied old man with a big heart who they believed most capable of defeating Trump. Progressives, the other spine of the party, were already fixated on the steadfastness of Bernie Sanders.
I'm growing tired of the sheer volume of defensive Bernie posts I'm seeing on Facebook. The true believers of the Sanders camp proclaim loudly that he's always been on the right side of the most important issues, though they conveniently leave out his coziness with the gun rights lobby--as if changing one's mind as one matures is an intellectual crime. They also trumpet polls that show Sanders's strength as a Trump opponent, while again ignoring those that show Biden does even better in the same polls. But I'm not here to endorse Biden, or excoriate Sanders himself--though please, Sandersites, give it a rest already with the conspiracy theories; keep it up, and you'll be losing votes for your guy.
What I am writing about now is my sadness that a brilliant, nimble, well-spoken progressive who could turn on an intellectual dime will not be debating president Malaprop this fall. Instead, it'll either be finger-jabbing Bernie or stumble-mouthed Joe. Of course, four years ago, I thought Hillary Clinton had eviscerated Trump in every single debate, only to find out that that didn't matter, either.
Because it wasn't about who was really the better person for the job, or even just the better person. It never is. Democracy is not a computer program that weighs the comparative experience, competence, and intelligence of the candidates, then spits out a decision. It's an amorphous, emotional, impulsive thing. There've been plenty of stories about people going to the polls meaning to vote for Warren, then changing their minds as they marked their ballots. The reason was rarely something they could articulate.
It could be the awkward mess over whether she actually has Native American DNA, and if so, how much. It could be that the detailed plans she was always publishing made people feel intellectually less capable. A big part of it is probably that, as energetic and charismatic as she is, she is a small woman, and Americans are used to having big men as their president.
My money is on pragmatism: as much as Democratic voters might believe it's well past time for a smart woman to take the place of the dumb man in the Oval Office, they aren't yet convinced the working class men of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio are ready for it.
My money is also on stubbornness. Seriously, have you seen the stuff Bernie believers post?
To the pragmatists, I'd like to say I was hearing the same kinds of things twelve years ago about a guy named Obama. Sure he's brilliant, inspirational, articulate, intellectually nimble; but are the voters of the Rust Belt ready to elect an African-American?
Turns out they were. And maybe they would be ready for a woman this time around. But we'll never know, because democracy is cruel.
It's a lesson I learned repeatedly in my childhood. I ran often for student body positions, and never won a single one. As a Boy Scout, I wasn't voted into the Order of the Arrow until the summer before my senior year, and was never elected Senior Patrol Leader. I was also a member of DeMolay, the Masonic youth organization for boys, which had a less democratic approach to promoting officers: once you were on the junior/senior/master counselor track, you typically made it to the top unopposed. My election from senior to master counselor was opposed: the junior counselor didn't want to wait out my six month term, jumped the queue, and beat me in the election. I wasn't elected to Honor Society until my senior year of high school, despite having the highest GPA in my class.
I look at the preceding paragraph and am astounded at how much resentment is encapsulated there. I can also see why, as an adult, I have never run for a competitive office. I've accepted offices I was nominated to, but the simple truth is that I don't trust elections to pick the best person for the job.
Now the failed candidacy of Elizabeth Warren has reinforced this opinion in a huge way. I don't hold anything against the African-American voters who were as loyal to Biden as young white progressives are to Sanders; in fact, I think they're, as a group, the most clear-eyed voters this country has, carefully weighing electability (they didn't side with Obama until he'd demonstrated he could win primaries), knowing that one thing this country can't afford is another four years of bigoted authoritarianism, and taking into account the most reliable indicator of all in choosing an opponent to Donald Trump: who is he the most afraid of running against?
I understand all this, and I know that a Biden presidency, for all the compromises the progressive wing is certain it will bring, is likely to be more effective at restoring liberal democracy to this country than that of any other candidate. I'll vote for him in November. I may even write nice things about him between now and then.
But I'm sad I won't get to vote for Elizabeth Warren this May, when Oregon's late primary finally happens. And once again, my opinion of democracy has been confirmed: it's a cruel, dumb way to pick a leader. No amount of reforms can make it less dumb and cruel.
It's also the only way to do it that doesn't collapse into tyranny. But that's a topic for another essay, another time.
Meanwhile, I'm going to be paying much more attention to the calculus of politics in the days ahead as I decide which old white man to vote for in May.