On Jan. 19, the New York Times endorsed two Democratic candidates for president: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. The Times editorial made the case that Warren and Klobuchar are the best representatives of the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, respectively, and acknowledged that it’s not clear whether the best chance of defeating Trump lies in incremental change or the radical restructuring of our political and economic systems. While the Times received a fair amount of ridicule on Twitter for its refusal to back one candidate, endorsing both candidates was a smart choice. Both candidates’ visions for the future of the country have merit, and the ideal Democratic nominee would combine both Warren’s ambition with Klobuchar’s pragmatism.
No one knows what will be the right formula of pragmatism and idealism to defeat Trump, which must be the Democrats’ absolute first priority. As I have considered who to support in the Virginia primary, I have wrestled with how to balance what the Times called the “radical” and “realist” models. My political views are closest to Warren’s, but I’m often frustrated by her and Senator Bernie Sanders’ vague answers to how exactly they will accomplish their ambitious policy plans. For example, during his endorsement interview with the Times editorial board, Sanders was asked about his first action on climate change as president. His answer was vague, and the editorial board pressed him for more specifics. His follow-up answer? We should do “everything humanly possible.” Warren sometimes lacks specifics too: she has failed to directly answer questions about how the behavioral effects of her wealth tax will affect its revenue.
I agree with the substance of the progressive candidates’ plans, but I am frustrated that the progressive candidates often fail to acknowledge that passing their plans in a divided Congress will be nearly impossible. For example, since not even all Democratic senators support Medicare for All, I am skeptical that debating the merits of Medicare for All is a good use of the candidates’ time. In contrast, Klobuchar has not downplayed how she will achieve her policy plans, as she’s said that “the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done.” Since my ideal candidate would combine Warren’s progressive ideas with Klobuchar’s recognition of the political reality, I was happy to see the Times recognize that both candidates are extraordinarily talented politicians.
It is imperative that the Democratic nominee be able to clearly articulate how they will work with Congress to accomplish their policy goals, even if a somewhat less ambitious version of their original plan is the result. This candidate should have big, progressive ideas, but be willing to accept incremental change instead of holding out for the most ideal version of their policy and increasing the likelihood that no progress is made. The Times was wise to endorse both Warren and Klobuchar because they have qualities that are crucial in a Democratic nominee. We need a candidate with Warren’s big ideas and fighting spirit, as well as Klobuchar’s pragmatism and commitment to getting things done even if that means compromise.
The Times’ dual endorsement should also serve as a reminder that relatively speaking, Warren and Klobuchar’s platforms are quite similar. Both candidates would prioritize healthcare reform and take meaningful action on climate change. The Times editorial board argued that the meaningful difference between the two candidates is that Klobuchar has campaigned for restoring the institutions and norms that have eroded during the Trump administration, while Warren has argued for more complete structural change. It’s not clear which is the right strategy to defeat Trump and reduce the country’s rabid political polarization, and it’s not the Times’ job to figure that out. It’s up to the voters to decide.
Some Times readers pointed out that voters, of course, cannot support two candidates, and argued that the Times should have picked either Warren or Klobuchar. The critics accusing the Times of indecisiveness are asking for clarity and concrete answers in a political era of very little clarity and very few concrete answers. Additionally, the Times shouldn’t tell voters who to vote for — it should work to inform readers about the candidates and the dynamics of the race. The Times provided detailed interview transcripts to educate readers about all the major candidates and picked two accomplished, effective politicians that “differ most significantly [in] not the what, but the how,” wisely leaving up to the voters to pick which “how” they believe will work best.
As the Times editorial board stated, “If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it.” The ideal Democratic nominee would reconcile this paradoxical situation.
Frankly, I think the New York Times exposed its lack of any ideological consistency in endorsing such distinct candidates in a likely attempt to appease as many of their privileged reader-base as possible. This is particularly frustrating coming from a publication like the New York Times so often known for their bias towards “liberal” establishmentary Democratic politics.
The claim that “no one knows what will be the right formula of pragmatism and idealism to defeat Trump” feels like an ignorant statement. We DO know that a candidate very closely aligned with the “realist,” neoliberal centrist political ideology of Klobuchar/Buttigieg/Biden lost to Trump in 2016. We DO know that a significant portion of Trump’s base flocked to him not only due to his racism, sexism, and xenophobia (although they undoubtedly legitimized and raised no qualms with those) but also because of understandable frustrations with politics as usual at the expense of the working class. Of course, Trump broke these promises given his tax cuts for the rich, his gutting of a number of social services like Medicare, and a continuation and escalation of endless wars abroad, to name a few, but the populist sentiment behind these concepts clearly carries weight.
An unprecedented grassroots campaign committed to “big” ideals like Medicare for All which have proven to be popular across partisan lines will win this election. Obviously, the candidate that has proven himself most capable of leading this charge is Senator Bernie Sanders (as validated time and time again by recent polls in particular but also a litany of head-to-head polls against Trump since 2016). The ability to think strategically about such policies as Medicare for All, for example, is a privilege that the millions of uninsured Americans do not have and his campaign (and consistent record to back it up) will incentivize more people than ever to vote. Instead, the NYT chose to endorse whose consistently low polling numbers and harmful business-as-usual, “middle-ground” policies hurting those same folks most marginalized by society first and foremost.