So here we are! At long last, after reviewing possible candidates to run for governor, for senator, and for the House, it’s time to finally look at what a competent administration looks like. And what a pipe dream that feels like these days! Today, we are saddled with a Secretary of Education who seems intent on dismantling public schools, a Secretary of the Treasury beholden to Wall Street, an EPA administrator who wants to dissemble the EPA, a Secretary of Energy who forgot which departments he wanted to eliminate when running for the presidency four years earlier, an NSA guy who lied about his ties to Russia, and an Attorney General who did the same. The most competent person is the cabinet is Elaine Chao, a Bush-43 returnee married to Mitch McConnell.
Nonetheless, I dream. I dream of a presidency committed to a square deal for every American, one infused with compassion, intellect, and vision. I dream of an administration filled with competent people who are driven by a love of public service- with no frauds, demagogues, or loudmouths among them. In this post, I’ll cover my choice for the presidential ticket, and my reasoning for doing so- and look at my ideal cabinet in the next installment.
So- what did I want in my presidential ticket?
I thought long and hard about this. Although dozens of think pieces have been written about the Democrats’ lack of a strong bench, there are actually about a dozen solid contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 that most people are talking about. My state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, are among them. Northeasterners are also heavily represented in Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey. Kamala Harris is discussed as a new up-and-comer. Return engagements for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden- both of whom will be deep in their seventies- are bandied about. Some other names turn up- Julian Castro, Al Franken, Tim Kaine, and even some wishful choices like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.
There’s a lot of talent and a fair bit of presidential timber on this list, but also some significant problems. One is the major coastal focus of this group- that’s especially a problem when Democrats tanked in the Midwest and the South, and have become a nonentity in their former stronghold of Appalachia. Another is its lack of executive experience- the only one who has it is Cuomo, in my opinion the least electable guy on my list. I want a team that will not just heal the rift between Clinton-Sanders but take an axe to the “Trump coalition” in the same way that Obama took an axe to the “Bush coalition” in 2008.
I wanted a fair dose of progressivism, but a kind of progressivism that could win over swaths of middle America, one that could get $15-an-hour workers in Kansas to stop voting against their economic interests. I wanted regional diversity- and a team that would accentuate each other’s strengths. When I used to play Magic: the Gathering, one of the sharpest pieces of advice I got was to find multiple ways of defeating your opponent. This team will have multiple ways of dissecting, confronting, and ultimately offering an all-American alternative to, Donald Trump.
It’s Elizabeth Warren for president. And William McRaven for vice-president.
Here’s why I think this is the best ticket to win and the best ticket for a progressive, socially just vision for America’s future. Elizabeth Warren scarcely needs no introduction. She made a name for herself as an advocate for a Consumer Finance Protection Board, and gained a reputation for her skill in explaining complex economic and fiscal concepts in layman’s terms. Since then, she’s become the senator from Massachusetts and a progressive icon that has almost unanimous affection within the Democratic Party and among progressive-leaning independents. She’s written multiple books on making the economy work again for middle-class families, and has followed that up by becoming a strong presence in Congress leading calls- heretofore unheeded- to reinstall Glass-Stegall.
Warren has the capacity, like no one else, to heal the rift between Hillary people and Bernie people. If you supported Hillary, you’ll probably like Warren’s deep policy knowledge, reputation for doing her homework, and conscientious social gospel Methodism. If you were a Bernie person in the primaries, Warren’s unequivocal denunciation of corrupt financial practices is probably right up your alley. Stephen Colbert described Warren as a “combo platter” of the best of each 2016 candidate, and I think that’s about right. Warren is also able to take advantage of a tactic that I wish Hillary had pursued- that of being an ex-Republican. Yes, Elizabeth Warren was a Republican at an earlier stage of her life, before the party got wedded to an ideology where no tax cut was too deep, no military expenditure too high, and no social program was too sacred to get the axe. It will let her adopt some rhetorical tics that Reagan used effectively, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me.”
But what about William McRaven? There is, I think, an unhealthy tendency to lionize or obsess over military figures entering politics. I remember well the clamoring for Wesley Clark in 2004, for Anthony Zinni to join Obama’s ticket in 2008, for David Petraeus to enter the fray in 2012. For various reasons, these figures didn’t pan out in electoral politics, but McRaven might be the real deal. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s a retired admiral, former director of NATO Special Operations, and led Operation: Neptune Spear, which ended in the death of Osama bin Laden. His reputation in military circles is of someone who checks his ego at the door, who can work a room as well as any senator, and who earns rather than demands respect. As the University of Texas chancellor, he’s shown that he can make the transition from military to civilian life in an educator’s role (as Dwight Eisenhower did at Columbia, immediately before running for president.) Those of you who read this blog know I’m somewhat enamored of the guy– I’ve floated his name for Homeland Security and have suggested he run for senator from Texas in an earlier post. Whether or not he does that, and whether or not he wins, I think he’d be a strong candidate.
McRaven’s long career in national service contrasts sharply with Trump’s multiple deferments and consistent refusal to take responsibility for his actions. More than that, McRaven can appeal to those Americans who have found earlier cultures of liberalism to be toxic or unwelcoming. Consider his response to the UT Austin football team, some of whose members were considering kneeling during the national anthem. Rather than demand or order, McRaven persuaded- and his rhetoric was nationalist and progressive at the same time: “Those that believe the flag represents oppression should remember all the Americans who fought to eliminate bigotry, racism, sexism, imperialism, communism, and terrorism…The flag rode with the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th Calvary and Infantry Regiments. It was carried by the suffragists down the streets of New York City. It flew with the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII. It was planted in the fields where Cesar Chavez spoke. It marched with Martin Luther King Jr. It rocketed into space on the shoulder patches of women, gays, Hispanic, Asian and African American astronauts.”
Recently, McRaven has spoken out about the folly of allowing concealed handguns on the University of Texas campuses, and has derided Trump’s attacks on the press as un-American. And yet, he’s a proud firearm owner- but can articulate responsible ownership in a way that won’t scare off rural Americans. Progressives have to reach out to voters like that, and Elizabeth Warren can’t do that alone. I understand the hesitance of some longtime peacemakers in supporting a ticket with a military man- I share some of it. But if we need to have a military, it’s good to have it populated with people like McRaven.
So I believe that William McRaven can help the Democrats appeal to Middle America, military families, Rotary members, and other Republican-leaning demographics that are horrified by the incompetence, corruption, and craven character of Trumpworld. It’s not enough to simply be progressive, tout your support for all the correct issues, and use the appropriate hashtags. We need to make it easy for independents and disaffected Republicans of good sense to vote for the Democratic ticket. The true populism and the true patriotism of a Warren-McRaven ticket would present an alternative that is electable, visionary, and brings out what is best about the American political tradition. I also like how the Massachusetts and Texas origins echo Kennedy-Johnson from 1960, and how they both represent three different elements of public service, one in politics, one in the military, and both in academia. What do you think? Does this ticket have what it takes?
Next time? Let’s pick out a good cabinet for this ticket.