Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and the author of the book, “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own.
Amy Klobuchar is not the candidate of shiny new ideas, and that much was on display Monday night at her CNN Town Hall appearance. She is very much the candidate of cooperation – and of “no.” No Green New Deal. No Medicare for All. No free college. What she does promise: Competence. Compromise. Order.
It’s not the stuff of great inspiration. But while Klobuchar, a US senator, may not appeal to the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party (a category in which I include myself), she has a lot to offer more moderate Democrats. And she guarantees this will be a primary in which policy and ideas are debated from her position, to the center of the Bernie Sanders left. That’s good for the Democratic Party, for voters, and for the country.
There is very little about Klobuchar that draws voters like me. But it is admittedly refreshing to see a politician speak coherently and cogently, especially after our current President’s distressingly incomprehensible ramblings. It’s also reassuring to listen to a candidate who has clearly thought through the costs and benefits of the slew of policy proposals on the table, even if she comes to different conclusions than I do.
A range of policy proposals made by intelligent policymakers who have thought through the potential upsides and downsides is the only way to have a real debate. It’s also something that’s been missing in Trump’s America, when progressives have watched in horror as a feckless President tears down so much of what we hold dear and his own party simply shrugs as he makes a mockery of our institutions and our values.
Moderate Democrats like Klobuchar are not going to capture the support of the many voters who are elated about the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. But she may capture those who are less thrilled, allowing the primary to be a true contest of ideas. I happen to believe that the more left-leaning ideas – and candidates – will win out, putting to bed the notion that Democrats are moving too far too fast. But the only way to do that is to give voters options. For the more conservative Democrats in the party, it’s hard to come up with a better one than Klobuchar.
It’s also good to see another woman in the race, even if I disagree with her on a wide range of issues. Gender dynamics are always complicated, but the more women compete for power, the more normal it becomes for women to compete for power – and the less of a price individual women pay.
While Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has put gender front and center in her campaign and Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have rolled out introductions that touch on their identities and the need to examine economic inequality through the lens of race and gender, Klobuchar again tacks more moderate, largely sidestepping anything that could be construed as “identity politics” and instead homing in on the white, middle America identity that many white voters seem to believe is simply neutral.
That choice reflects an older model of Democratic campaigning that I suspect will fail in our current political era. But again, Klobuchar offers a (backward-looking) choice that stands in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the Democratic field.
I think she stands to lose. Bland ’90s centrism is not what most Democrats seem to want, even if the #NeverTrump conservatives who have been cautiously welcomed to our side tell us it is. And bland ‘90s centrism is exactly what was on offer from Klobuchar at Monday’s town hall.
But for those of us who think the Democratic base has moved further to the left than its representatives in Congress, this primary is a fight we want to have.
Elections are usually much more about personality than policy, but with a crowded Democratic field and a slew of candidates who take the details of policy seriously, this contest could prove to be more about substance than optics.
Klobuchar is a worthy representative for moderates and a worthy foe for the more lefty among us. If she’s defeated from the left – and I believe she will be – it will be the confirmation and the mandate for true progress so many of us have been waiting for.