Friends, readers, countrymen — I would like to make an announcement:
I am not running for president.
This may appear to be an unnecessary disclosure. But it seems that nearly every American with even a hint of political ambition is determined to be the Democratic presidential nominee, so I thought that I should explain that I am not throwing my hat into the ring.
Alas, two more wannabes did the opposite this week. Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, announced his intention to run on Tuesday, and Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, made the same announcement on Thursday. These additions bring the number in the Democratic field to 23. We’ve got Bennet and Biden; Booker, Bullock and Buttigieg; Castro, de Blasio, Delaney and Gabbard; Gillibrand and Harris; Hickenlooper and Inslee; Klobuchar, Messam, Moulton and O’Rourke. There’s Ryan and Sanders; Swalwell and Warren; Williamson and Yang. This could be a list of law firms, a football roster or a mix-up at the DMV.
Either way, it’s way too many.
I’m not arguing that the presidency is unimportant, or that even the most marginal candidate doesn’t have the right to run. It’s just that there is so much else that these candidates could do to advance the goals they claim their presidential runs will achieve — and with a far greater likelihood of success.
Running for president is a vanity project at the best of times; that is, amid less crowded fields and at less dire junctures in our national history. There is a price to be paid for the ego-stroking that comes with a race, for both winners and losers. By Dec. 31, 2016, Hillary Clinton had raised $1.4 billion and spent 98% of that — the majority of which, one can surmise, did not go to the struggling middle-class workers she pledged to help with her presidency.
There are personal costs, too: Think former congressman Beto O’Rourke’s not-quite-jokes about his wife raising his children with his occasional help, or, less seriously, the embarrassment Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) may feel having had her comb-in-salad habits made public. Maybe all 23 candidates really have been called to serve, and maybe they all think that they can win. But it’s doubtful that this is the best use of their copious talents and resources.
Such sacrifices, one might argue, are worth the trouble for the country’s sake. But most of these candidates have day jobs, where their time and expertise might allow them to make more of a difference in people’s lives than stumping nationwide ever could. Take de Blasio, whose announcement was greeted with a wave of dismay. He has 8.4 million constituents in New York already —and 76% of them would prefer that he tend to the city before taking on the country as a whole.
And even if these candidates have tired of their current roles, there are other offices to consider — less glorious than the White House, perhaps, but important nonetheless. Bullock was elected governor twice in Montana, a Trump-voting state. Were he to run for Senate in 2020, he could help shift the upper chamber’s narrow GOP majority in his party’s direction. He also has a shot at winning that race.
Of course, having a big field of candidates isn’t all bad. Irrespective of their chances, new candidates can introduce fresh ideas and perspectives into a debate that often feels pre-written. Andrew Yang, a former tech executive, has made a “Freedom Dividend” of $1,000 per citizen, per month, his campaign’s signature policy proposal. In doing so, he is beginning to move the concept of “universal basic income” from a fringe idea to something worthy of debate. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) made what he called “the dignity of work” a major theme in the Democratic Party’s narrative.
In the end, Brown made the wise decision not to run. He and his wife now joke about how glad she is not to be married to a man who looks in the mirror and sees the leader of the free world. (For one thing, they can keep their home decor intact.)
Fewer self-indulgent fantasies is the right idea for a moment like ours. Not running for president? You have my vote.