I’m married to a pessimist. He’s been reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and is convinced we are now well into the decline. While I’m not quite so pessimistic, I admit I have my own moments of despair. Sometimes it feels as though we have no control over the future. Almost certainly, the Republican party has already caved in. But events like the recent election in Alabama and the generic polling that consistently shows a preference for electing Democrats to Congress this year give me a ray of hope. If Virginia can almost completely flip the state legislature, why can’t we do the same for Congress?
I can think of at least three roadblocks: Money (think the Koch’s), voter suppression (gerrymandered districts and new voter rules), and, last but not least, the age of the Democratic leadership.
A lot has been written about the first two roadblocks on my list but not so much about the third. I love the members of the Vermont delegation but, let’s face it, the youngest is Representative Peter Welch who is exactly my age – 70. I’m pretty sure that I am will vote for his reelection – and for Bernie’s – but there are a number of younger folks who will be ready to take their places next time around. For right now, we need their seniority.
Moving from Vermont to national politics we have Nancy Pelosi (77) and Chuck Schumer (67). If the Democrats retake the House, and even if they don’t, it is time for Nancy to retire gracefully. She has served us well as both majority and minority leader, but it is time for the next generation.
Howard Dean, another Vermont politician I supported for President, is one of the few of my generation speaking out about this. In a recent NPR interview with Rachel Martin, Dean said
The most important age group for us is people under 35. They elected Barack Obama in 2008. But now it’s time to let them take over. And they’re going to have to take over on their own terms. We have tons of talent in our party. We do not need to rely on my generation anymore. And these kids think differently. They’re more respectful of each other. They’re willing to listen to each other’s ideas and work things out. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re more conservative than we are economically than the left wing of the Democratic Party. They’re mostly libertarian.
I just think this is the future of America. They are diverse. They value immigration. They value different kinds of people. They believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. They care deeply about the environment. We need a real change in this country and the only way to do it is for us to get out.
Dean goes on to say that the party has to change because the world is changing and is no longer so dependent on institutions. There are all sorts of interesting people running for Congress this year filed as Democrats. I believe I read that most of the House seats in red districts have a Democratic challenger. At this point, I think the most important role the Democratic Party as an institution can play is to help raise money as the elections will be won by grassroots workers who will not necessarily be Democrats.
So what about 2020. The word here is that Bernie is gearing up for another run. Yes, I know that Bernie’s base was young people in 2016, but by 2020 he and they will be four years older. And even though there is likely nothing there, the Jane Sanders financial stuff is going to haunt any campaign.
My pessimistic husband sees no one who can run, but remember in 2007 no one thought that Barak Obama known only to Democratic activists for his speech at the 2004 Convention, could run, much less win. So let’s look at some new faces: Seth Moulton (age 40, ex-Marine Congressman from Massachusetts); Cory Booker (Senator from New Jersey, age 49); Kamala Harris (Senator from California, age 55); Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator from New York, age 55); Amy Klobuchar (Senator from Minnesota, age 58); and Chris Murphy (Senator from Connecticut, age 45). Look them up. And I’m sure that there are some Mayors out there who would be interesting candidates.
I still think our democracy can be saved, but we each have to play the proper role and for Democrats of my generation, that means following Howard Dean’s example and moving ourselves to a supporting role.