Are The White Male Democrats Leading The Polls The Most Qualified?

Louella Konner, ‘22

May 2019

I, along with most students at BHSEC, can’t vote, and I still won’t be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election. But I still have some interest in the current presidential race, and in listening to, reading about and discussing it, I have heard a lot about how those in the lead in the race for the Democratic nomination are white men. 10 out of the 24 Democrats in the race are women and minorities, but Joe Biden, a straight white man, is the front-runner, with Bernie Sanders right behind him in the polls.

It would be different if these candidates were at the helm of the race because they’re the most informed or intelligent, or because they have the best policies, but I actually don’t think that is the case. Joe Biden, the front-runner, has a relatively conservative past; he failed to speak up when the United States invaded Iraq; he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act; he supported many “tough on crime” anti-drug laws; he championed major banks and consumerism, earning him the title of the “senator from MBNA.” While he has certainly evolved with the times, his policies remain pretty moderate, especially compared to some of his fellow Democratic candidates; he hasn’t endorsed Medicare for All, he has been vague about the action he would take against climate change, and his pro-choice position is tenuous, especially considering his largely anti-abortion past. He has also been accused of sexual harassment, to which he has responded: “Never did I believe I acted inappropriately.” 

By contrast, the most intelligent candidate with the most comprehensive policy agenda seems to be Elizabeth Warren. Compared to Biden, she’s had very few controversial moments, except for one in which she claimed she was Native American, and then apologized profusely. Most importantly, though, she has the most detailed and radical yet realistic policy out of any Democratic candidate. She has rolled out plans to cancel student debt, to make two-year and four-year public colleges free, to enforce affordable universal child care, to tax those who have a net worth of over $50 million, to create federal laws which protect abortion, and so much more. (Watch her town hall on CNN! It’s really good!). 

My point, however, is not that Elizabeth Warren is amazing and Joe Biden is horrible. Rather, it just seems odd to me that Biden, along with Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, are leading the race when they don’t seem to be the best candidates by most measures. 

Perhaps these candidates are so popular because they make people feel at ease and cozy, in a way that Warren, among other female candidates, might not. Biden has been the Vice President to the very loved Barack Obama, and he’s garnered a reputation as a charming, safe, harmless older man, who just generally seems kind and smart and liberal, even if you don’t know much about his actual policies. Meanwhile, Buttigieg has stood out as the “most impressive candidate” in terms of his largely non-political attributes. As New York Magazine put it, “If you squint hard enough to not see color, some people say, you can almost see Obama the inspiring professor. Oh, and he’s the son of an immigrant, a Navy vet, speaks seven foreign languages (Norwegian, Arabic, Spanish, Maltese, Dari, French, and Italian), owns two rescue dogs, and plays the goddamn piano. He’s actually terrifying. What mother wouldn’t love this guy?”. But people have also accused him, along with Beto O’Rourke, for being an “empty suit” -- he seems incredible, but he has little political substance. 

These candidates also seem so safe and good and cozy to us because they’re white men, and this, in combination with the reputations about their general personalities, makes them more appealing that women who have real, often complex policy agendas. Even if their policies are vague, or moderate, or if they have controversial pasts, they’re still more “likeable” to many people than, say, Warren. Much of this sentiment seems to mirror the pushback against Hillary Clinton, who so many people hated because she was “shrill,” “unlikeable,” or because of the pantsuits she wore and the way she styled her hair. 

It will be a few years until I can vote, and until then, I can just observe. But from what I’ve seen, it seems like very smart and qualified women, particularly Elizabeth Warren, are being overlooked or dismissed, while runners like Biden and Sanders are being fawned over because they’re white, male, and because they have reputations for being “likeable.”