True to the form of an opposition party tearing itself apart out of the anger, despair and humiliation of defeat, there is a small terracotta army worth of candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 United States presidential election. The many who actually receive a mention in the media, and whose names any sane person would actually recognise, are only a mere fraction of the hoard of candidates who have filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) – a figure which is well into the hundreds.
Political commentators have all sought to answer one of the most leading questions in the lead-up to the election. Who is the most fitting successor to take up Barack Obama’s mantle?
It is likely that everyone has scrolled past a few dozen articles on their social media feeds which have claimed former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke is the worthy champion of Obama’s legacy. As is so common in the age we live in, where satire begins to seem more real than news, the most apt appraisal of O’Rourke’s campaign came from The Onion, which announced that the candidate had launched an ‘Obama cover campaign,’ complete with ‘stripped down version of Change We Can Believe In’ and a ‘fiery rendition of Yes We Can.’
Moreover, it is to be expected that former Vice President Joe Biden, clearly hoping that the rule of third time lucky holds out, would be considered the most obvious contender to pick up where his running mate left off. However, this would be a misunderstanding of the nature of the vice presidency, which has no constitutional significance beyond sitting in the ‘seat of silence’ and the requirement to maintain a heartbeat in the event of a president’s removal, death, resignation, or inability. Thus the vice presidency is defined by whomever is on the top of the ticket, as a supplement to their own profile.
The fact that Obama, as the first African-American nominee for a major party, chose Biden as his running mate reflects this, especially since the gaffe-prone Biden had made a number of questionable statements regarding Obama throughout the primaries. In this way, Obama was giving his acceptance that the country had a long way to go before true racial parity could be achieved. He made it clear that this would be an uncomfortable process for a lot of people, and that he didn’t mind the occasional slip up so long as the underlying intention was good.
The attraction to Biden is based upon his perception of 'electability', as a highly qualified candidate who has always maintained an image of being an important political ally to the sort of blue collar workers who abandoned the Democratic Party in 2016. In this regard, he is looked upon as the safest bet to deny Trump a second term.
However, the last presidential election should have taught Democrats that the notion of ‘electability’ is an utter fallacy. A fallacy which made them complacent to the point that they took their traditional blue collar voters for granted as they tried to sway voters in regions where they hadn’t seen success since Lyndon Johnson was on the ticket.
The candidate whose support most embodies what the Obama-voting spirit has become is Bernie Sanders. Eight years of hyper-partisan deadlock, leading to political stagnation has been rather anticlimactic for the intense optimism, and minor personality cult, which characterised the 2008 election. Many have been underwhelmed by the Obama presidency as a result.
One of Obama’s unfulfilled election promise was to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which to date remains open and has been passed on to a successor who has embraced it. In fairness to Obama, he signed an Executive Order to close the facility on his very first day in office, yet the Democrat-controlled Senate, blocked his efforts by refusing to supply the appropriate funds. Examples such as this go a good way to explaining the origins of the ‘drain the swamp’ mentality that took Trump to the White House.
This resistance, which has equated hope with genuine audacity, has darkened the outlook of anyone who voted Obama, giving them a newfound cynicism but seemingly has not undermined their political goals nor their resolve to achieve them. It seems that ‘Yes We Can’ has morphed into ‘Yes, we can and by God we will.’
Not only is Sanders the natural successor to Obama, but he is also the most obvious alternative to Trump available from the Democratic field. At the time that both men originally entered the fray of presidential politics, they were seen as being on the fringe of their respective parties, even though in many ways they resemble caricatures of both party extremes.