2020 Dems need a star for their show

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - GENE LYONS ••• Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and co-au­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Mar­tin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­[email protected]­hoo.com.

With Pres­i­dent Trump rag­ing like Shake­speare’s mad King Lear on the heath, it can be dif­fi­cult for an en­tirely sane politi­cian to get an au­di­ence. As­sum­ing, that is, that any psy­cho­log­i­cally nor­mal per­son would insert him- or her­self into the bizarre spec­ta­cle that will be the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Also as­sum­ing that Don­ald J. Trump is the GOP nom­i­nee, which ap­pears less cer­tain by the day. If he had any sense, Trump would ac­cept an im­mu­nity deal and go back to laun­der­ing Rus­sian mob money and pes­ter­ing Play­mates.

But that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. Even so, the con­trast be­tween Trump’s mad tantrums and the mun­dane ci­vil­ity of the re­cent Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial de­bate couldn’t have been more strik­ing. Some­body has to win the nom­i­na­tion, but a viewer could be par­doned for won­der­ing if any­body on that Ohio stage ac­tu­ally can. There was a dispir­it­ing air of un­re­al­ity about the whole thing.

Like it or not, an Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is a TV show, and the Demo­cratic de­bate was a bad one. Did any­body not be­ing paid ac­tu­ally sit through the whole three hours? It’s hard to imag­ine.

It’s trite to say that 11 can­di­dates are al­most twice as many as can stage an ac­tual de­bate. But it does have the ad­van­tage of be­ing true. Un­til the vot­ing starts, there’s no way to win­now the field down to a rea­son­able size. So un­til then, con­fu­sion rules.

Then there’s the un­com­fort­able sus­pi­cion that none of the lead­ing can­di­dates ap­pears es­pe­cially con­vinc­ing in the role. I see no Bill Clin­ton or Barack Obama; no bril­liant po­lit­i­cal per­former. Even if you’re fa­vor­ably dis­posed to­ward for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den -- as I am, partly be­cause he re­minds me of my late fa­ther -- he has ap­peared less than com­mand­ing. Sup­port­ers can’t help dread­ing his hav­ing a “ma­ture mo­ment” at the podium.

Ver­bal glitches have lit­tle to do with one’s in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity, but every­thing to do with voter per­cep­tions. (Never mind that Trump ap­pears on the edge of de­men­tia; his cult­like fol­low­ers lit­er­ally can­not see it.) Hav­ing writ­ten that Bi­den’s too old to run for pres­i­dent, I haven’t re­ally changed my mind.

But then it’s not my de­ci­sion.

Then there’s Bernie San­ders. Putting aside his re­cent heart at­tack, Bernie’s even older than Bi­den. It’s tempt­ing to leave it right there. True, he ap­peared as vig­or­ous and stub­born as ever dur­ing the de­bate. His most pas­sion­ate sup­port­ers ap­pear ded­i­cated to re-fight­ing the 2016 pri­mary against Hil­lary Clin­ton, who’s ac­tu­ally not run­ning. De­spite his earn­ing roughly 12 mil­lion fewer votes than Clin­ton, many con­tend that Bernie was cheated. They fore­see a mighty wave of work­ing-class vot­ers that will sweep all be­fore it -- a fan­tasy that has tan­ta­lized what are now called “pro­gres­sives” since 1917 or there­abouts.

Dream on, Bernie-crats. Back in 2016, Michelle Gold­berg wrote a ter­rific Slate ar­ti­cle head­lined “This Is What a Re­pub­li­can At­tack on Bernie San­ders Would Look Like.” Be­cause Clin­ton never needed to go neg­a­tive about San­ders, few vot­ers are aware of the depths to which Trump would be only too happy to sink. Suf­fice it to say that no­body who served as a pres­i­den­tial elec­tor for the Trot­sky­ist So­cial­ist Work­ers Party -- which pro­claimed “sol­i­dar­ity” with revo­lu­tion­ary Iran dur­ing the 1980 hostage cri­sis -- will ever be elected pres­i­dent.

And there’s more, lots more.

Not to men­tion some cringe-wor­thy writ­ings about un­der­age sex that San­ders would prob­a­bly like to take back.

No mat­ter. El­iz­a­beth War­ren has taken Bernie’s is­sues and pasted a smi­ley face on them. Sen. War­ren ap­pears to have a plan for every­thing ex­cept how to per­suade any imag­in­able U.S. Congress to en­act any of her bril­liant ideas into law. As a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date, she makes a ter­rific Har­vard pro­fes­sor. My own sus­pi­cion is that her sup­port has peaked, and that af­ter the ac­tual vot­ing starts, War­ren’s rel­a­tive stand­ing among the can­di­dates can only de­cline.

Keep in mind that I’ve been wrong be­fore.

Any­way, be­cause no­body wanted to at­tack Joe Bi­den un­der cur­rent cir­cum­stances, it was War­ren whom ri­val can­di­dates ques­tioned most sharply. She han­dled it badly. South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg and Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the two Mid­west­ern mod­er­ates in the race -- the term “mod­er­ate” ev­i­dently sig­ni­fy­ing a Demo­crat who can count -- wanted to know where War­ren pro­posed to get the money and the votes for her “Medi­care for All” pro­posal.

She had no an­swer, but promised one. The New York Times’ Paul Krug­man pointed out that War­ren “has made pol­icy se­ri­ous­ness a key as­pect of her po­lit­i­cal per­sona, so her fog­gi­ness on health care re­ally stands out.”

Klobuchar tartly pointed out that “the dif­fer­ence be­tween a plan and a pipe dream is some­thing that you can ac­tu­ally get done. And we can get this pub­lic op­tion done.” Mean­ing that the votes for Oba­macare re­form are in sight, as they’re cer­tainly not for War­ren’s and San­ders’ sin­gle­payer scheme.

So can War­ren sup­port­ers abide com­pro­mise? We shall see.

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