The Democratic presidential field is very large with plenty of politically talented people who can give a speech and hold a rally. Some have good policy white papers. However, for many of the contenders, most of them actually, it's hard to figure out what they've done.
Governors have it easier. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee can point to concrete, impressive achievements on guns, the environment, economic development, gay rights, health care and more. When you're in charge of a state and responsible for specific services, you have to produce or you get booted.
Former vice president Joe Biden can fairly or not claim credit for President Barack Obama's accomplishments (e.g., the Affordable Care Act, the Paris accords, DACA), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gets to claim ownership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., gets partial credit for the First Step criminal justice reform bill (along with many other lawmakers) and certainly has a record on public safety and school reform from his days as a mayor.
Beyond that? There is a decided lack of impressive output from the field. You know what Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., if for, but none of that (e.g., Medicare for all, New Green Deal) has ever had any hope of passing. We know Beto O'Rourke is passionate about certain things, but again, if you are looking for concrete public policy outcomes while in Congress, you'll come up short. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., just got there a couple of years ago, although she had good moments in hearings, as did Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
In the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and in which action on anything has slowed to a crawl, newer members have to point to tough questioning in hearings or "standing up to" and "fighting for" something or other. But what have they done? Until Democrats won back the House in 2018, the same can be said of most House members. There simply isn't a lot there.
The question for Democratic voters is whether that matters. Candidly, it should. One of the principle concerns about Washington, is dysfunction; one of the principle concerns about President Trump is an utter lack of attention to detail, competence (not only by him but from a slew of third-rate staffers and Cabinet officials he hired) and, yes, negotiating skill. I would think voters would be wary of electing someone with no demonstrated capacity to govern, again. More than ever, the next president is going to need some experience and refined skills to clean up the mess Trump will leave behind both domestically and in foreign policy.
And that brings us to foreign policy experience. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at least has military experience. Biden has at least been on the world stage and fully comprehends the importance of allies, although he's gotten things wrong repeatedly (e.g., for the Iraq War, advocating against the plan to kill Osama bin Laden) and won't be able to escape blame for Obama's errors (e.g., a hasty drawn-down in Iraq, the red line in Syria).
The others? A few contenders can claim membership on a national security-related committee; Klobuchar had plenty of overseas trips with the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Other than that, and that's not much, there's not a lot there for many commander in chief aspirants.
To be fair, virtually anyone in the race would have a better grasp of foreign policy than Trump. They'd all certainly be less susceptible to dictators' flattery. However, they had better be able to stand on the debate stage and clear the bar for commander in chief. If they don't have direct foreign policy experience, they must sound informed and have objectives that give Americans confidence in their ability to protect our interests and values. It also might behoove them to find a vice president who instills confidence in the national security realm (Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia or Chris Coons of Delaware?)
As I noted, it may be that voters don't care much these days about experience, or worse, look upon it as a negative. That's a shame because hiring one novice after another is no way to repair our democracy and make progress on knotty problems. It would sure be nice to find someone who knows how to do things.
Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.