In this op-ed, Lauren Leader, co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a women’s political leadership organization, explains why white male candidates can't be allowed to define the historically diverse field of Democrats running for president in 2020.
Last week, Axios reported that Joe Biden, who has equivocated for months on the “will he or won’t he run” question, had met with Stacey Abrams and was reportedly considering a joint presidential ticket with her. The idea that one of the most talented rising stars in the Democratic field should take a supporting role behind a 76-year-old man who has run twice for president and lost — at a moment when all the energy in the party is with younger voters, people of color, and women — seemed cynical and opportunistic at best. Abrams rightfully put the rumor to rest in an appearance on ABC's The View. What woman in her right mind wants to do all the work, then get none of the credit?
There’s a lot to say about how tone deaf and out of touch the white men running (or almost running) for president appear to be. It’s as if none of them got the memo that women are the majority of the electorate, that black women are more likely to be registered to vote and show up at the polls, and that the November blue wave was driven largely by women, people of color, millennials, and a whole list of candidates who no one in the Democratic establishment recruited.
The real question in all of this is: Why doesn’t it occur to Biden, Beto O’Rourke, or Bernie Sanders to throw their privilege and power behind someone more representative of Democratic voters today, like Abrams, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, or even any of the men of color running? Apparently, it’s inconceivable to them that they might promote others rather than themselves — and voters are somehow supposed to be perfectly OK with women and people of color taking the backseat.
The tone-deaf candidate club is a crowded one. Biden has a major credibility issue post #MeToo. No amount of 30-years-later apologies to Anita Hill can fix that, but having Abrams on his side might help, right? Sanders never meaningfully apologized for the bro culture and sexual harassment that proliferated in his 2016 campaign. O’Rourke claimed he’s “born” to run in a glossy Vanity Fair profile, and he launched his campaign in a video where his silent, smiling wife sat at his side. And on CNN last week, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper bungled a simple question of whether he would put a woman on the ticket by making a ham-handed comment about women committing to name men as their running mates.
The response of women everywhere: sigh.
Despite the transformational, historically diverse field of candidates running for president, the theme I've seen emerge in the Democratic field is “white guys with privilege misread the moment.”
There are already too many men in the race who see themselves as so exceptionally special that they are the best choice for women, the poor, and people of color. We certainly don’t need any more. But maybe in this political cycle, with so many candidates willing to challenge the status quo and with an army of energized women voters, it will be different. Maybe this time the pendulum of power will finally swing the other way.