AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman
Nothing demonstrates the loss of confidence in Joe Biden even among Democrats better than the spate of stories over the past weekend speculating on the succession plan for Biden in general, and the “unsuitability” of Vice President Kamala Harris in particular. “Biden-successor chatter grows and Harris isn’t scaring off anyone” declared Politico, while the Washington Post ran the headline “Harris, Buttigieg under the Spotlight amid uncertainty over Biden’s future.” There was enough truth to this speculation, or at least worry over its effects, to lead to an intervention from the White House, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki issuing a rare Sunday night tweet:
Despite the surface appearance of Psaki backing the Vice President, the very fact that the White House felt the need to release such a statement confirms what the news headlines suggest – namely, that Democrats are thoroughly demoralized. That is probably due not only to Biden’s obviously failed performance as President, but also to the prospect that his two most likely replacements as party standard bearer are Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. The rise of Harris and Buttigieg represents something as significant as Biden’s failures: the intellectual and demographic decay of the Democratic Party. The truly demoralizing fact for Democrats is that, even if they could rid themselves of Biden, their problems cannot be fixed by spending more money on bridges, community colleges, or whatever is in their “Build Back Better” bill. The troubles go far deeper, and nothing illustrates those troubles better than the personas of Harris and Buttigieg.
At its root, the Democratic Party has no roots. This is not to say there are no Democratic voters, but that Democratic politicians increasingly are creatures of power, not policy. They entered politics because they were inspired by the idea of being someone, not by doing something. The result was young men and women who from their start in politics set their sights on making their way to D.C., where they would mix with the powerful, seek media attention, and presumably use an impression of relevance to achieve actual relevance.
On the surface, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg may appear to be from different wings of the Democratic Party. The former is a woman of Asian and African American descent from California, with a left-wing reputation, and who was a local prosecutor, State Attorney General, and Senator. The latter is a Midwestern boy who went to Harvard, briefly served in the military, went to McKinsey, and then returned to South Bend to run for Mayor. Both, however, share core similarities. For both, ideology is superficial. For all of her left-wing actions and votes, Harris was never trusted by the left, and with good reason. She did not seem to care, or to really believe it. It’s all positioning. When in San Francisco, Harris championed police reform and light on crime policies. As State Attorney General, with her eyes on the Senate, she reversed course. At each stage of her career, from her first interactions with San Francisco boss and CA Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, she had her eyes set on moving up. If she was a prosecutor, it was not because she cared about crime or prosecutions or reform, but because that would help advance her one rung on the ladder of power. As Vice President, she is associated with no cause or policy, and mostly seems known for trying to dodge any involvement with the issues Biden assigns her, such as the border crisis.
Buttigieg similarly seems to have plotted his road to power meticulously, doing everything a successful millennial desperate to impress Gen X/Boomer parents of millennials would do. Harvard, McKinsey, military, small-town, vague notes of bipartisanship, Fox News appearances. The only thing he seems to have overlooked is what he would wish to do as President. Like Harris, Buttigieg never showed any interest in issues, and in office has tried to argue that any important political matters which might be associated with him, such as supply chains, are not the business of the Secretary of Transportation.
Harris and Buttigieg are not unique in their vapidity. In this they represent a wider trend. The Democrats ran dozens of candidates for president in 2020, most of whom were indistinguishable. What precisely did Michael Bennet stand for? Of the candidates, only Bernie Sanders and maybe Elizabeth Warren stood for anything ideological (along with Tulsi Gabbard in a different way) and both were 70. The cast of climbers left Joe Biden, an old-time career politician who at least knew how to say the right words, looking downright empathetic by comparison. That Democrats had no one under 78 who could even effectively fake caring about normal Americans was a massive indictment of the party. That they have found no one in the last year and are now faced with Harris and Buttigieg as their only two potential stars is another searing indictment and true reason for demoralization.
If Harris and Buttigieg run for president again, it will likely not be policy that dooms them, though it won’t help Harris, who unwisely veered much too far left in the Senate. It will be that their political careers are transparently and solely based on their own visions of personal self-aggrandizement. That alone can be forgiven when someone’s self-aggrandizement resulted in building something. Donald Trump was surely not shy about discussing his achievements, but they involved multiple global brands and businesses. Buttigieg, had he risen to McKinsey CEO or management, might have something to say. But he was an analyst, a mayor, a desk officer in the military. Voters require substance to tolerate ego.
Furthermore, the vacuum created by empty careerists like Harris and Buttigieg is directly tied to the rise of extremist ideology and policy within the Democratic Party. With a class of politicians lacking in any values or views of their own, the party has been vulnerable to infiltrators, and it is no surprise that the two most influential groups pushing Democrats in disastrous directions are non-Democrats.
On the Left, the Democrats have faced infiltration by the sort of Marxist, anti-American elements even George McGovern would have shied away from. But if Buttigieg and Harris have no commitment to American support for Israel except in terms of it being needed for their careers, then how can they lead any sort of counter-attack against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and their cronies? If neither has any real opinions on what should be taught in school, then they, like Terry McAuliffe, give off the impression that even if they don’t personally care for CRT, they care even less whether it is taught or not, or what is taught, or even if anything is taught in schools. Whatever their party’s base wants, they are perfectly happy to say. The Sanders-ite left has thus taken over the party because while the socialists actually have strong core beliefs, the likes of Harris and Buttigieg have none of their own with which to resist them. Thus we got Democrat presidential debates in which all of the candidates looked around at each other before unanimously raising their hands to pledge that their government healthcare plans would cover illegal aliens.
On the other end, Neo-Conservative former Republicans such as the Lincoln Project, who left the Republican Party largely in protest of his criticisms of the Iraq War and Bush years, have provided the new Democratic Party with their nation-building foreign policy and affection for an overbearing national security state. While AOC and the Sanders left are responsible for “Defund the Police” and extremist domestic policies, the decision to go all in on Russian/Ukraine conspiracy theories and pursue two impeachments against Donald Trump was driven by Republican defectors determined to use the Democratic Party to settle their personal scores. Once again, careerist Democratic politicians like Harris and Buttigieg went happily along for the ride. As Virginia and New Jersey showed, there is little evidence actual Democratic voters, especially Latinos or African Americans, cared in the least for this entire endeavor. It was all the Rick Wilsons, Bill Kristols, and Stu Stevens of the world.
The succession fight for Joe Biden’s vacant throne should indeed be demoralizing to Democrats because it will solve nothing for their party. The very fact that the left is now engaged in this conversation is a testament to the failure of Joe Biden’s presidency, and the two apparent candidates to replace Biden demonstrate the vacuous nature of the party. America needs a liberal party which stands for more than careerism. Otherwise, we have three more years of mediocrities fighting over the deck chairs on the Titanic.Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.