The Democrats Need a Horse Race

The Democratic Party needs a horse race for its presidential nomination for 2016. They require the energy that a serious multi-candidate field brings to the electoral cycle. Primary campaigns, after all, ought to do the following things for a political party: They should frame and focus the campaign on the future. Elections, after all, are usually decided about which party has a more compelling vision of the future. But primaries also serve as seed beds for fresh ideas. Nowhere do policy proposals receive greater scrutiny than in the heat of a campaign. And, finally, primary campaigns generate passion, enthusiasm and excitement among the Party's supporters and the electorate at large. And general elections are won or lost on the basis of such excitement.

At the moment, the Democratic Party could stand improvement on each of these points. Indeed, the primary campaign can be described as running on parallel tracks that show little sign of intersecting. There is Hillary Clinton, who continues to win the support of a little more than half of the Party. She also fares well when matched against Republican contenders, although her lead is slowly diminishing.

On the next track over, there is Bernie Sanders, who is bringing enthusiasm and excitement to the race, as well as some fresh thinking. But while Senator Sanders has a strong and passionate following, he is underfunded and in desperate need of a more robust campaign apparatus.

And, finally, on the third track, there are the other candidates -- Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee. Their campaigns seem almost like afterthoughts, which is regrettable, especially where O'Malley is concerned.

There appears, furthermore, to be little planning being done for candidate debates. Times, dates, and places have yet to be announced. This is regrettable. Debates help capture the public's imagination. Yes, debates carry risk -- there is the always-present possibility of a verbal gaffe or other public embarrassment. But debates also allow candidates to sharpen their focus and get ready for that inevitable high-stakes, high-wire-walk-without-a-net that is the general election.

The present situation, it is fair to say, is probably unsustainable. Nature abhors a vacuum just as a presidential election cycle abhors attempts to frustrate an active and engaged campaigning season.

To that end, I would encourage both Vice President Joe Biden and Starbucks entrepreneur Howard Schultz to consider seriously announcing their candidacies for the White House. Both men possess qualities that would serve them well both in a campaign and, more importantly, assist them greatly in governing the country should they ultimately prevail.

Joe Biden was elected Vice President in 2008 after a three-decade career in the United States Senate. During his time in the Senate, he established himself as a key figure in a number of important areas. He has been a strong supporter of the rights of labor and knows in his heart the role labor unions play in sustaining the American middle class. Back in 2012, he did a great job calling out Paul Ryan and the social Darwinist right wing on their plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

He thus knows how to stand up to those plutocrats like Jeb Bush who continues calling for the "phasing out" of Medicare. And during his time in the Senate, Biden repeatedly demonstrated his command of foreign affairs. He both served on and eventually chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Howard Schultz would similarly make a strong candidate. His life story is one of triumph against great odds, rising from the housing projects of Brooklyn to build a leading American company. His life and career stand as testament to a quality America desperately needs from its business class -- business, all business, must be about serving the common good. Yes, businesses must make a profit, but not at the expense of human values.

Schultz has spoken out on Ferguson, Missouri, and the crying need to improve race relations in this country. He supports investments in America's educational system. He recognizes that health care is a basic human right. Even during Starbucks' early years, he took steps to make sure that even his part-time employees had access to health insurance.

Biden and Schultz, in other words, would both bring important insights and perspectives to the campaign. Just as importantly, they would reinvigorate the campaign. They would revitalize it, enliven it with new enthusiasm. They would, in other words, help to transform the Democratic presidential nomination into a horse race.

Such a free-spirited campaign, I predict, would not become divisive. This is so for at least two reasons: First, Democratic ideas and Democratic policies are innately attractive to most Americans. Most Americans instinctively support greater access to health care, improved primary, secondary, and higher education, a greener environment, and a more peaceful, cooperative world. Second, the Democratic base is simply not like the Republican base. The American right wing is, how to put it gently? peopled with some rather exotic characters who tend to frighten and put off voters. A wide-open campaign by Democrats, on the other hand, over how best to promote and enhance the American way of life, would more likely build support for the eventual nominee. The Democratic Party -- and indeed, the country at large -- both needs and would benefit from a real horse race.

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