Now that ‘entrepreneur’ Andrew Yang has ended his presidential campaign, can we all admit what a sad commentary on the millennial generation it was? Yang was a policy quack who instantly won a cult following among young people who had never before taken the slightest interest in politics — in the other words, low-information voters.
Yang seemed pleasant enough on the debate stage, and when he’d take a break from his pop-socioeconomic jargon — ‘fourth industrial revolution’ — he occasionally voiced some simple truth, like the importance of valuing the contributions of stay-at-home mothers, even though they aren’t included in measures of GDP. But such common sense was not the core of his campaign, the snake oil was. America has always had a market for that product, in politics as in finance or pharmaceuticals. Yang’s pleasant demeanor just made him a more effective salesman of at best a placebo for politics, at worst another dangerous intoxicant. The answer to hard political question is never to be found in math or MATH.
At least Yang recognized his time was up tonight. Joe Biden’s time has been up for years. In the 32 years since he first ran for President, he has never finished higher than fourth in any primary or caucus. This is a man who quite sensibly understood that he would have no chance in 2016 against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — candidates who embodied the center and economic left wings of the Democratic party. What did Joe Biden embody? His answer for 2020 has been ’the Obama era — but without Obama.‘ What if Barack Obama were a septuagenarian white man? What if instead of his inspiring rhetoric he picked fights with his audience, calling a woman a ‘lying dog-faced pony soldier‘? We don’t have to wonder about the answer. Joe has shown us. Speaking in South Carolina tonight, Biden said: ‘When you hear all these pundits and experts, cable TV talkers, talking about the race, tell them: it ain’t over, man. We’re just getting started. Our votes count, too. We’re not going to let anyone take this election from me.’ But the voters, not the experts, are taking the election away from Biden.
My August 2019 prediction that Biden won’t win the nomination, let alone the presidency, is looking pretty good. Like everyone else, though, I was taken in for a time by the meaningless national polls that showed Biden continually leading the field. Well, of course he was: he was the only candidate with national name recognition, perhaps with Sanders. This is a dark night for Bernie as well, as his record-breaking win over Hillary Clinton in the Granite State four years ago turns into a slender victory over his 2020 rivals.
The Democratic party is indeed more the party of Biden than the party of Sanders. But Biden is a lousy, uninspiring, backward-looking leader for a party that mostly thinks as he does. So the party is looking for a younger, more charismatic centrist — Mayor Pete, plain but young, cynically centrist yet not yet pruney and withered; or Amy Klobuchar, who always seems like she’s having fun on the campaign trail despite her reputation for throwing temper-tantrums at her Senate staff.
Waiting in the wings, of course, is a centrist — i.e., establishment — authoritarian billionaire ready to buy the nomination outright. Will Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Pete, and Amiable-or-Angry Amy commit middle-of-the-road fratricide, clearing the way for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination after all? I’m not quite betting on it: in fact, there could be a rebellion against Bernie at the convention in Milwaukee of the sort that commentators imagined would happen against Trump at the GOP convention in Cleveland four years ago. The old and exhausted neoliberal center of the Democratic party doesn’t want to go any more quietly into that good night than the neoconservatives of the Republican party did. But they’re already functionally extinct — the last members of a species that, Buttigieg notwithstanding, has failed to reproduce. The big number for the night is not Bernie’s slim margin of victory overall, but his titanic margin of victory among young Democrats. The Democratic future is already written. Democrats have long enjoyed gloating that Republicans would be eradicated by demographic change, but you better be careful what curses you draw down on your enemy lest they bounce back on you. American demographics are changing, but American ideologies are changing faster, and the youth are not multi-hued neoliberals, a rainbow in which every color is really a Clinton. They are hungry for hope (and change), which they tried to find in Obama’s person and now they find in Sanders’s radical politics. The young Sanders supporter is never going to be a Buttigieg or Klobuchar voter, no more than African American were going to turn out for Hillary Clinton in the numbers they showed up for Obama.
This is the last election of the old Democratic party, the party that the DLC and Bill Clinton invented in the late 1980s and 1990s after the failures of the old old Democratic politics of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. The Republican party has already moulted. The Trump Republican party is the replacement for the failed and desiccated Bushes-McCain-Romney party. And the Trump GOP is still maturing and developing, which it will continue to do for some time yet — with an obvious challenge to be faced once Trump himself is out of office in (as now looks likely) 2025. Democrats postponed their own evolution, but now they can forestall it no more. Their future belongs to the post-liberal left. For now, at least, that doesn’t mean Andrew Yang.
With billionaires like Michael ‘Mike’ Bloomberg keeping the life-support cash-machines going, just maybe Bill Kristol and David Frum and Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney will try one last hurrah, a third-party effort to steal back the country that has justly repudiated them all. But then again, maybe not: even infinite cash can’t revive a corpse.