I’m skeptical of Pete Buttigieg. He seems like a nice, approachable guy, and the way he talks reminds me of the aspirational way that Obama talked about America. But there’s something about the way he talks about coastal elites and bringing in Trump voters that makes me uneasy, not to mention the way that he talks about “security” as one of the pillars of his campaign.
I’m skeptical of Kamala Harris. She has done a lot of things I like since becoming a Senator, both in terms of legislation and in terms of how she’s handled every confirmation hearing I’ve watched. But as California’s Attorney General she had a “tough on crime” position that makes me unsure exactly how she’d approach criminal justice reform as a President.
I’m skeptical of Bernie Sanders. I’ll be honest, I voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary. And I appreciate how he’s been consistently and unapologetically for progressive policies. But he just keeps saying things that make it clear that he doesn’t understand much about how race, gender, and other marginalizations intersect with class, and at this point I’m not sure if he’ll ever understand.
I’m skeptical of Elizabeth Warren. Warren has by far the most thoroughly developed and well articulated policy agenda of any candidate I’ve ever seen, and although I haven’t read them all, the ones I’ve read I’ve liked. But the way she talked about her “Cherokee DNA” for so long and the fact that it took her so long to listen to Native people about why that was a problem makes me wonder how much she understands those whose marginalizations she doesn’t share.
I’m skeptical of Beto O’Rourke. I found it thrilling that he came so close to unseating Ted Cruz, and some of the speeches he gave during that campaign gave me chills. But since he lost that race, a lot of what he’s said and done has struck me as sort of clueless and self-absorbed and fragile, and I don’t know what kind of a President he’d make.
I’m skeptical of Cory Booker. Booker’s first campaign ad was legitimately wonderful, and I like the way he talks about hope. But his history of supporting charter schools and school choice vouchers gives me pause.
I’m skeptical of Joe Biden. It certainly matters to me that President Obama holds Biden in such high regard, but Biden’s support of Reagan- and Clinton-era criminal justice policies, and his support of pro-Wall Street legislation throughout his career, and the way he just doesn’t get it when it comes to touching people makes me very concerned that a Biden Presidency would be a step backwards.
I’m skeptical of all of them. I’m skeptical of Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee and Eric Swalwell and Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. I’m skeptical of the candidates whose names I can’t even remember. But I’m going to vote for one of them in the primary, and I’m for damn sure going to vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is in the general election. I have already donated to campaigns and I will probably do so again, and next fall I’ll be doing what I can to organize volunteers to get the vote out, and I’ll be out walking precincts myself.
The point here isn’t to slag any candidate or to dissuade anyone from voting. Far from it. But if there is anything we should have learned by now, it is that no politician and no candidate deserves our loyalty or even really our trust. In 2008 I believed in Barack Obama with my whole heart. Over the next eight years he did a lot of things I liked but he also deported 3 million immigrants.
No candidate is going to save us. Every candidate has done and will do things that hurt people. Every elected official needs to be held accountable by their constituents, and that means none of us can take for granted that they’ll do the right thing; we have to check up on them, and keep checking up on them. Candidates, especially presidential candidates, are not the answer. The real work of democracy is only ever done on the ground by everyday citizens, and that will never stop being true.
So, yes, let’s do our research. Let’s pick our candidates and support them and vote. But please, let’s not ever make the mistake again of confusing government for leadership. We are the leaders, you and me and our 350 million friends and family members and neighbors. Government is the tool through which we express our will. It’s important to remember that.