THE 2016 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN IS READY TO KICK OFF

TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT 2018-2024

by Louis Barbash

With the presidential primaries over but the nominating conventions not yet upon us, news coverage and speculation now shift to whom the nominees will pick as their vice-presidential running mates. The Washington Post has already put out medium-list pools of possibilities from whom the candidates might choose, and a short list of the most likely choices—Newt Gingrich, Mary Fallin, Chris Christie, Bob Corker and Joni Ernst for the Republicans; and Julian Castro, Sherrod Brown, Tim Kaine, Tom Perez and Amy Klobuchar for the Democrats, if you’re curious*—all subject to the ancient caveat that those who are talking don’t know and those who know aren’t talking.

What gets people onto the lists? First and foremost, one hopes, the belief that they could, if needed, step in and run the country. Right behind that, a willingness to have his own policy and personal predilections subsumed in his boss’s. And the desire to balance the ticket: ideologically, geographically, stylistically, temperamentally and experientially. (Or not: Bill Clinton picked Al Gore, like Clinton a Third-Way southerner; if Trump picked Christie, he’d be doubling down on his own blunt-spoken, tough-guy persona.)

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have one more criterion that should guide them in nominating a vice presidential candidate and, for that matter, in selecting people for prominent positions: fresh blood.

I can’t be the only person who watched the two parties’ presidential debates and was struck by the contrast: In the Republican debates, in addition to Trump, an array of mostly forty- and fifty-something A- and B+-listers, sitting governors and senators, the scion of a famous political family and former crucial swing-state governor, candidates who had some success in ’08 and ’12, back for another crack at what they hope is a weaker Democrat; and, yes, a couple of has-beens and never-wases. Sixteen candidates who thought their party’s nomination was so worth having that they were willing to put their lives on hold for more than a year, panhandle millions of dollars from friends and supporters, and subject themselves to the often-unfair criticism and obloquy that is part of a presidential primary campaign.

The number of Democratic candidates who thought their party’s nomination was so worth having that they were willing to put their lives on hold for more than a year, panhandle millions of dollars from friends and supporters, and subject themselves to the often-unfair criticism and obloquy that is part of a presidential primary campaign? Two. One almost 69 years old and four years past her last job, the other almost six years older than that. And waiting in the wings, the 73-year-old vice president, and a 74-year-old potential third-party candidate.

Now don’t get me wrong: on their worst day, any one of the four Democrats would make a far superior president than any of the Republicans, now or ten years from now. And all of them seem strong and vigorous.

But for pity’s sake: the Republicans looked like the GOP all-stars. The Democrats looked like Old-Timer’s Day.

It isn’t just about appearances. People born during FDR’s third term, people who came of political age in the era of the Great Society and Viet Nam (a cohort that includes me, by the way), look at politics, policy and life through a different prism than those whose earliest political memories are of Reagan. The world increasingly belongs to people who don’t regard using an iPhone during dinner as a Class A misdemeanor, who reach out to Uber before they reach for the car-keys, and who don’t remember when employers provided defined-benefit pensions and health insurance. If Democrats want to win elections and govern cities, states and the country, they need to field candidates who know the challenges of this century because they’ve faced them personally, not because they’ve read about them in newspapers and magazines and heard about them on the TV news.

That means starting now to groom the candidates of the future, the way baseball teams develop players. That means picking a 2016 vice presidential candidate who can help win the election, run the country if called upon—and be young enough to run for president himself or herself in eight or four years. It means, after the new Democratic administration takes office, appointing cabinet members and recruiting House and Senate candidates ambitious enough to look in the mirror and see a future president and young enough to have no personal recollection of rotary-dial telephones or Gary Hart and Donna Rice.

In other words, it means envisioning the next round of Democratic primary debates, whether in 2020 or 2024, and seeing not just two or three contenders who can be literally described as party elders, but at least a basketball-team’s-worth of candidates, some or all of whose most recent occupations don’t include the word “former” and are not yet old enough to qualify for Social Security.

And then, making it so.

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