The promise of this primary

A look on the brighter side

This primary season is tough. There are so many candidates (too many candidates). There are the candidates that have their hardcore fans who collectively attempt to obliterate anyone who may so much as whisper a criticism of their chosen one; there are the candidates who continue to poll well despite having nothing new to offer; there are the candidates for whom running for president is little more than a very expensive vanity project; there are the candidates you hate, and the ones I hate, and the great many I think would be totally fine at the job and certainly better than the man in office.

It’s messy, in other words, and it’s so easy to devolve into picking apart this person or that person. It’s so easy to have Pundit Brain, to worry more about who you think might be palatable and “electable” to those people over there instead of considering who you actually like and find compelling. Vetting and intra-party competition is what a primary is for, but I do think the utter volume of this primary puts female candidates, who suffer from Girl Smurf Syndrome — there can only be one — at a disadvantage. I get exhausted by the Twitter fights and the rage and the degree to which the stakes are feel ratcheted up so very high. Because the stakes are very high, and so we all want to be right.

But when I take a step back, and take a deep breathe, and look at the slate of candidates running for president on the Democratic side, I feel really, really optimistic.

Look at this field. There are several women, all distinct: A wonky Harvard professor from a working-class background who decided to lead with brains and plans. A charismatic, tough lawyer-turned-senator, breaking ground throughout the whole of her career, putting her grit at the center of her campaign. A slightly hokey midwestern moderate in the mold of all the slightly hokey midwestern moderates who preach the values of responsibility, middle-class aspirations, and decency. A veteran whose politics are… complicated… but who is nonetheless compelling and, at her best, totally magnetic (and possibly threatens to upend it all by running third-party). There’s even the slightly batty celebrity.

And then look at the men, aside from the usual white guys. There’s a Jewish Socialist, someone who has made a career of pushing left, who has seen a mass movement rise up behind him and his ideas — something that is scaring the pants off of much of the party (good, I say) and fundamentally challenging ideas of what’s politically possible and what makes for voter enthusiasm (it isn’t just youth and beauty). There’s a married gay man in his mid-30s, the mayor of a midwestern town. There’s a brilliant black men who went from being a Rhodes Scholar to the mayor of a neglected city to the U.S. Senate. There’s a Latino man, the child of political activists, who continually uses his platform to stand up for immigrants, for trans people, and for the marginalized and ignored. There’s the successful son of Taiwanese immigrants, pushing a single radical idea.

Do I love all of these candidates? No — I’ve criticized a lot of them. Have I ever loved every single candidate in a Democratic primary, especially a crowded one? No.

But it is so heartening to see how much more this field reflects America than any one before it. It’s not perfect — older, rich, straight, white Christian guys still dominate — but damn if there isn’t progress here.

It’s ok — necessary, even — to squabble about who is the best candidate for your values and for this particular moment. But it’s also good to pause and reflect on this particular moment, and how much has changed to get us right here. It may not turn out exactly how you or I want. Our favorite candidates might lose; people who we consider to be on our side might behave badly; we will inevitably be disappointed in some way or another.

But the way things have always been is not the way things will always be. A look at the primary stage — at the diversity of both race and ideas, of the number of women and the number of radically different ideas about what government should do for people — shows such tremendous, exciting progress. This is good. It’s not going to be perfect this year or the next or the next. But it’s better. And it’s helpful, sometimes, to pause, see that betterment, and feel grateful.

And then, of course, push on.

xx Jill