We emerged from almost six hours of 20 candidates in televised debate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination this week with no great complaints, which may seem odd when so many others are quick to blame a candidate or the host, CNN, for not doing something. We certainly felt we got our time’s worth.
There were a lot of candidates and résumés on that stage over two nights, and almost all of them had a claim to be there. On this alone, America is raising a fine crop of leaders, even if a couple are long in the tooth.
Among the standouts for us, naturally, were Colorado’s favorite sons, former Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet.
Colorado has given to the nation two leaders who are smart and able, moderate, and modest almost to a fault. Hick worked for us and Bennet still does, but what makes them good leaders for Colorado does not seem to scale up, at least not now, which may be America’s problem.
Hickenlooper snagged the least airtime on his night and risked becoming a one-trick pony: He governed in a purple state and knows how to bring people together to get things done. Almost alone among the candidates, he would maintain a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. This would be fine if it were not the 2020 primaries, but the base of his party is looking for a visionary fighter who will take the children out of the cages on the border, give them free tuition and make health care either free or a lot more accessible.
What the base does not want to hear about now is the art of compromise, and with that went Hick’s chances, most likely. Still, if that is all, he gave it a shot; and he could make a heck of a cabinet secretary for someone, maybe a secretary of Interior.
Bennet did better, on the second night. Unlike the sparring partners who are higher in the polls, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, Bennet could not be baited. We think that quality could stand him in good stead in a match-up with President Trump, but again, it is not what the party seems to seek now. His modesty is out of fashion.
When Bennet said we need to fix our education system, with too many high school dropouts heading to prison, you could sense all the other candidates nodding yes, that too. But it raises another question.
No Democrat will disagree that we need to fix education, or that we need to fix the system of policing in the U.S. But we are not sure what anyone has in mind. Education, like policing, is not a single federal system. It is many, many schools and teachers and superintendents who are accountable to local boards and politicians. The federal government plays a role, but when it tries to set standards, it results in more complaints than measurable progress. Policing is a similar story. It is a strength as well as a weakness of these systems that there is so much state and local control.
Bennet and Hick have both shown Coloradans they want to raise everyone’s boats, not just their own. Unfortunately, that may not be the best quality for a presidential candidate. Still, it has been good to have them in the mix so far. Bennet correctly and vigorously challenged Harris over her plan to expand access to health care; it will cost more than she lets on.
One of the biggest questions for Democrats is whether they want a health care system that will be real single-payer and will at a stroke eliminate profit in the health care sector, or whether they want choice or a public option. Hickenlooper and Bennet are both on the moderate side of that question. So may be the party’s nominee; Biden, the current front-runner, is. Even if Colorado’s favorite sons cannot hang on much longer in this contest, their ideas could – and that is some consolation for us.