Some Democrats are mired in misguided debate-stage correctness. The latest tempest: With Sen. Kamala Harris of California out of the race, the Democratic National Committee's Dec. 19 presidential debate might include only white candidates!
Never mind that the qualified field of six contains two women, an openly gay man, a self-described socialist, several senior citizens and a billionaire. Sounds reasonably diverse to me, and certainly a lineup never to be matched in a Republican field.
Yet, with no candidate of color headed for the stage — at least not yet for this one debate — howls of protest are being heard. Fact is, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro came close to qualifying and remain active candidates. And former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has entered the race, but too late to qualify for the upcoming debate.
Harris didn't fail because of her race
Let’s be clear: Harris wasn’t booted off the debate stage in some hostile act of racial discrimination, or because of a flaw in the DNC’s system. She withdrew from the race, wisely, because she conducted a failed campaign with very limited support. She ran out of money. Moreover, her previous debate performances and campaign appearances, while showing flashes of competency, were largely ineffective. The first-term senator proved that she’s not ready for the nation’s highest office.
That said, she remains a viable force in Democratic politics — a possible choice for vice president or attorney general. Her “That little girl was me” T-shirts are now a collectors' item, but Democrats haven’t heard the last of Kamala Harris.
It’s worth noting that in South Carolina, the first Democratic primary in which black voters are the dominant force, the polling leader is an old white guy, former Vice President Joe Biden. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Biden has 35% of the state’s vote, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 16% and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 13%. Before dropping out, Harris stood at just 6%.
South Carolina Democrats would appear to be saying that they favor experience, plus the ability to beat President Donald Trump, over any racial considerations.
Bad news for Biden and Sanders: Democratic activists want youth and diversity
Following Harris’ withdrawal, Booker and Castro have ramped up their criticism of the DNC’s selection criteria. Speaking with reporters, Booker said, “I've seen folk here in Iowa belie what all the predictions are and show us what real viability is.”
As I wrote in USA TODAY last summer, Iowa and New Hampshire, with their heavily white populations, might carry too much weight in the early stages of presidential campaigns.
However, Booker and Castro have not put forth alternatives to the DNC’s debate selection process. As much as I like both men, neither has made much progress in national polling, and that’s the bottom line. In addition to Biden, Warren and Sanders, the debate lineup includes Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and business tycoon Tom Steyer.
Field too small to force racial diversity
Personally, I believe in affirmative action in many areas of society, including school admissions, the workplace and housing. Anyone who suggests that the nation has progressed enough to make such programs unnecessary is either delusional or biased.
Even so, artificial adjustments work best with large populations. You might, for example, say Major League Baseball should require that a certain number of black umpires be hired throughout the minor-league system, but it would be going too far to have a rule requiring at least one black ump in the World Series.
Did you know that the DNC has a requirement that there must be at least one female moderator in each of its 12 sanctioned presidential debates? It’s an artifice, but wise nonetheless. In the November debate, all four moderators were women.
Keep your perspective intact: Celebrate the diverse 2020 Democratic candidates and don't fret about 'electability'
The fact that no black candidate has qualified for the next debate in Los Angeles is not the fault of the DNC or of citizens who speak with pollsters and write checks to support candidates. Moreover, it’s not a bad reflection on the party that proudly made Barack Obama president. To Democrats’ credit, the party’s diversity isn’t an issue — not in primaries, and not on the debate stage.
The 2020 campaign is too volatile to make meaningful predictions about the Democratic ticket for November. But it’s likely that a woman, a black person or a gay man will wind up in one of the two top positions. That blend of politics and progressiveness is welcome, as long as it creates the strongest ticket and gives the nation its best chance to escape the terror of Trump.
Peter Funt is a writer and host of "Candid Camera."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats made Obama president. They don't have a diversity problem.