Remember the good ol’ days — six months ago — when a Democratic presidential candidate with the adorable catchphrase “I have a plan for that,” was surging in the polls?
The most endearing part was that her catchphrase wasn’t just empty sloganeering. She did have plans. Big ones. Plans underpinned by a righteous moral center.
Intellectually, she was heads above the rest of the field. In less than two minutes, she obliterated half a billion dollars worth of political advertising and took down Michael Bloomberg. Imagine what she could do with four years?
And then Democratic voters decided to play pundit. Perceived electability won out over ideas, ambition and intellectual acumen. Her campaign ended in ignominious defeat, shortly after she came in third in her home state of Massachusetts.
Yes, I’m obviously talking about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).
Cut to the present, with a coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe and economic collapse imminent. The existential threat of climate change clearly wasn’t enough to hammer this point home, but the coronavirus has made it succinctly: Politics isn’t a reality show. It’s life or death.
We don’t need to grab beers with our presidents, we need them to make sure our public health and emergency medical systems can keep millions of people alive — and that the rest of us have the resources to survive and thrive during quarantine.
Despite ending her candidacy, Warren has offered the most prominent, thoughtful and urgent response to the coronavirus crisis of any politician in America. While Republicans, including the president, were still denying the threat of the coronavirus, Warren was already preparing plans for an inevitable economic catastrophe. And while most of her Democratic colleagues were occupied tossing political barbs, Warren was shaping policy that would eventually form the basis for the Democratic response to the virus.
Throw all other political considerations into the garbage: The world needs Warren in the executive branch, a heartbeat away from the presidency. She should be the vice presidential pick on the Democratic side.
Consider Joe Biden’s response to the virus. As news of its spread grew more dire, Biden has been largely quiet since his overwhelming win in last Tuesday’s primaries. We’ve heard little from him on policy. We’ve heard little from him in the way of offering public guidance. We’ve heard little from him in general, other than a few political attacks on Trump’s coronavirus response.
This, perhaps, shouldn’t be a surprise. Biden isn’t necesarily running as a man of action. His appeal is almost exclusively political. His pitch is that he can beat Trump. And, once he does, he intends to “return dignity to the office” of the presidency, along with experience. That’s all well and good, but the coronavirus doesn’t respond to civility.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) too, it should be mentioned, carries an almost exclusively political appeal. Yes, he has grand plans. But those plans are so sweeping as to feel less actionable and more like blunt instruments to pull the political center of the country to the left.
This is a role he’s perfectly capable of continuing as a senator.
We need leaders at the highest levels of government who have the intellectual capacity and moral backbone to protect lives during national crises — and to get us through those hard times with a plan for coming out the other side better, stronger and more prepared than we were before.
Here is where I state the obvious: Our current president doesn’t just lack the capacity to rise to this challenge, he lacks the interest even to try. His goals are exclusively political and/or self-serving.
Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, either through incompetence or an inability to exert the slightest influence on the president, is useless. Tasked with heading up the executive branch’s coronavirus response, Pence has acted like a feckless sycophant whose primary job is to massage the president’s ego, instead of protecting the nation from the most dangerous outbreak the world has faced in a century. He is executive cheerleader of the United States.
There’s a time and place for mat talk, and it is not in the middle of a global pandemic.
Yes, vice presidential picks aren't supposed to outshine the top of the ticket. They are selected almost exclusively for their ability to provide some kind of political advantage — either by making up for the perceived shortcomings of the presidential candidate, or offering an edge in the electoral college. This is how we wound up with a human bowl of unseasoned mashed potatoes, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate.
There may be candidates out there who can provide Biden with bigger political boosts. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) could help shore up undecided voters in the Midwest. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) might reassure young voters of color that Biden won't ignore their interests the moment it becomes politically convenient.
But there is only one candidate with the surgical competence to address the issues facing our country and the planet. The coronavirus pandemic has made it abundantly clear that Elizabeth Warren is the person who should be leading the nation. Since that’s no longer an option, we need her as close to the presidency as possible.