We lament our protracted political campaigns for good reason: campaigning and governing are different skills, and the more emphasis we put on the former, the more likely we are to elect someone bad at the latter. Yet I’m so eager to vote our current president out of office that I’m cheered the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has already begun.
My optimism is tempered, of course. Although they kept discipline and prevailed in the 2018 mid-term election, the Democrats have a knack for thwarting their own ambitions. Even if they develop and stick to a good strategy in 2020, the sheer number of presidential candidates threatens to splinter the party. And even if they unify around a nominee, they can’t underestimate Trump, as good at campaigning as he is bad at governing.
My preferred candidate is Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth. I’m not the only one to think she’d make a great candidate; there’s a Duckworth for President Facebook page. Unfortunately, it has fewer than a thousand followers. Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook page has more than three million followers. Even virtually unknown candidate Andrew Yang has 17,000 Facebook followers.
Worse still, Duckworth is the only elected Democrat above the level of county clerk who hasn’t expressed interest in running for president.
If not Duckworth, who? I’m registered as an independent, which should allow me to vote in California’s 2020 Democratic primary. (Each party chooses whether to permit independents to vote in its primary, and last I checked the Demos welcomed us.) So I’ll be following the coy late-night TV non-denials, announcements of exploratory committees, etc. along with the party faithful.
And I figure with so many people running, I want the complete package. That doesn’t mean I’m looking for someone who agrees with me on every issue. Rather, I’m looking for someone who can campaign well and govern well. To succeed at both, I believe the candidate needs three core qualities.
Today rhetoric means bullshit, but Aristotle and his fellow ancient philosophers defined it as the strategic use of language. According to them, we communicate to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. (And yes, you can do two or all three of those things at once.) Communication has three elements:
- Ethos (the communicator’s appearance and presentation)
- Pathos (not in the modern sense, i.e. sadness, but in the ancient Greek sense, i.e. the communicator’s overall emotional appeal)
- Logos (the communicator’s reason and logic)
Aristotle valued logos the most, as do most people. But all of us know individuals who are often right while irritating us somehow. The Democrats have a habit of nominating such people for president. So yes, logos is absolutely essential. But I also want pathos, preferably in the form of warmth, compassion, and humor-infused charm. And I also want ethos, preferably in the form of something more stylish than Bernie Sanders’ hair and clothes. When the Democrats run someone like that — think Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Obama — they win.
My early favorites are senator Sherrod Brown, who won re-election handily in right-trending Ohio through his natural ease with the white working class; New Jersey senator Cory Booker, unafraid to tap the link between Christianity and progressive politics; and the aforementioned Mr. Yang, staking out space as the modern, ethics-driven corporate executive.
But really, truly, I’m open — as long as the candidate brings compelling ethos, pathos, and logos.