The crowded podium at the GOP presidential debates reflects not just their confusion but our progressive movement leadership's relative lack of youth and diversity
/By Matthew Snider/ Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore recently announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for President. Entering this late, Gilmore brought the tally for Republican candidates to 17. Progressives often make light of the swollen and unmanageable Republican field—so unmanageable that only some of them will get to debate in primetime on August 6. But progressives should pause and reflect on our own field before we dismiss a wide and diverse bench by the other party.
It is unfathomable that there are only five people among the resurgent Left qualified and willing to submit themselves for consideration to lead our country. This is not a slight against the options we do have—each one brings a remarkable amount of experience, especially compared to several of the GOP contenders (say, Ben Carson and Donald Trump?).
But where are our fresh new voices? The GOP has seven candidates under 60. The Democratic Party has one!
Where are our candidates from outside politics? The GOP has three professionally accomplished political outsiders. The Democratic Party has none.
Where is our celebrated and often-touted diversity? The GOP altogether has four candidates of either Hispanic, Indian, or African-American heritage. The Democratic Party has no minority candidates.
Do we mean to suggest that there are NO non-white Americans, or non-career politicians, or ambitious young voices qualified and willing to submit themselves for Democratic consideration? Recently, Martin O'Malley and Senator Sanders attended Netroots Nation only to see it "crashed" by Black Lives Matter activists. The activists seemed relatively dissatisfied with the candidates' responses to their requests for specific policy details on how to combat racial injustice. Where are the black candidates or even the white candidates with articulated visions for combating racial injustice? There are several candidates on the GOP side with well-articulated visions for a handful of important issues (e.g. Senator Paul on national security). And, in fact, Senator Sanders has articulated and built much of his momentum on the issue of income inequality and reining in Wall Street. Do we mean to suggest that there isn't a qualified American ready and willing to articulate a nuanced, well thought out vision for fighting racial injustice?
Given the common narrative that the GOP base is growing older and less racially diverse, an outsider might conclude the opposite based on a survey of the respective parties’ presidential candidates. When the August 6 forum and debate air next week, the GOP will host an exchange of ideas among a racially diverse group of candidates ranging from 44-70. When the first Democratic debate airs (if no other candidates announce beforehand), five white career politicians ranging from 52-73 will debate the future of a country in which Millennials now officially outnumber Boomers.
Beyond the preposterous and undemocratic approach the GOP seems to be taking by restricting debates to candidates polling above 10%, progressives should be embarrassed that out of 160 million Americans over the age of 35, we've produced a system in which only five people feel willing to say they're qualified to lead our country—five people of startlingly similar backgrounds. If it's true, it doesn't bode well for either the future of our democracy or the longevity of our Party. If it isn't true, it may say the very same things.