When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) announced her entrance into the 2020 presidential race, the backlash was immediate. In a December article, the Boston Globe’s editorial board pegged Warren as a “divisive figure,” arguing instead for a candidate with a “unifying voice” to reunite the country after President Donald J. Trump’s administration.
On the surface, the parallels between Warren and Hillary Clinton likely stem from a sexist attitude toward powerful women as being cold and unappealing. I unequivocally reject the comparison of the two on that basis; however, there is an underlying similarity that threatens their electability and has nothing to do with gender. Both women can be perceived as part of the establishment Democratic Party likely due to their age and race. In this political climate of frustration with the status quo, younger and more diverse candidates appeal more to voters which raises concerns about Warren’s electability.
Even though such ties seem intrinsic to determining how experienced a candidate is, maybe we should move away from the idea that experience is the most important qualification. Frankly, Americans’ disillusionment with experienced politicians means the party is losing touch with its base of working class voters who are frustrated with a party that they feel no longer represents their interests. This idea evokes the image of disconnected, apathetic leaders who are serving only for a paycheck, rather than for the betterment of the nation. In my opinion, this frustration partially explains the appeal of a candidate like Trump — a political outsider promising change, albeit of an unrealistic and racist variety. While Trump isn’t the answer, the frustration with the establishment is valid and must be addressed.
That said, had I been old enough to vote in the 2016 election, I would’ve voted for Clinton. Not just because she was the Democratic candidate, but because I truly believed she was the best, most pragmatic candidate with the ability to reach across the aisle to enact substantive change. Perhaps my skeptical views on Warren partially stem from being jaded by 2016’s outcome, but I think it’s more than that. Clinton’s loss, while a devastating blow to the country and the values I believe America should stand for, shed light on fundamental issues within the Democratic Party. The party is unable to truly connect with the working class voters it attempts to represent. Again, this is not to say that Warren’s policies are against working class voters or communities; on the contrary, her economic policies seem to align with them. However, it’s about the perception of her insider status caused by her 24 years in Washington.
For these reasons, there needs to be a shift to make room for younger, more diverse voices and leaders both within the party and without. The 2018 midterm election was a great start to diversification, but the party must not stop there. The election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over a longtime incumbent demonstrates voters’ desire for younger, more diverse representatives who are better suited to lead the party. While I have no doubt Warren has the experience and qualifications, we as a party must reconsider our prioritization of experience over other, possibly more important qualifications. Specifically, we must redefine what sort of experience is prioritized, as other types of experience outside of just serving in office are valuable, especially close ties to the kinds of communities one represents. This speaks to the issue that the Democratic Party doesn’t reflect the demographic makeup of its voting members. It is only after addressing our prioritization of qualifications and broadening our scope of candidates will Democrats have a sufficient pool of candidates for electoral success.
Madison Stephens (20C) is from Little Rock, Ark.