May 27th, 2020


Two Very Different Donkeys: Klobuchar and O'Rourke, a study in contrasts

Jennifer Rubin

By Jennifer Rubin The Washington Post

Published April 3, 2019

The Closing of the American Mouth
A parade of presidential candidates appeared at the We the People summit, a gathering of progressive activists. Candidates got a chance to give opening remarks and then answer questions on meaty topics ranging from the electoral college to race to climate change.

They may not be polar opposites ideologically speaking, but the contrast between former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., neither a darling of the far left, was instructive.

The two candidates take similar positions on major issues (expanded health-care coverage but not Medicare-for-All, reenter the Paris accords, pass comprehensive immigration reform, etc.). But stylistically, they could not be more different -- a reflection of their distinct experiences and political careers.

Klobuchar knows an awful lot about an awful lot of topics. On virtually any question she seems to have introduced a bill on the topic and have a story about meeting someone who is affected by the issue. She can expound on flooding in the Midwest or drug prices or disenfranchisement. She's a no-nonsense problem solver who sees government there to help and who has seen her job to do whatever it takes, usually working with Republicans to get it done.

There is a reason she is rated the most productive Democrat in the Senate and the fifth-most productive member, according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking at Vanderbilt University:

"Sen. Klobuchar put forward 69 pieces of legislation in the 115th Congress, eight of which passed the Senate and four of which became law (compared to an average of 42 bills, 2 passing the Senate, and less than one becoming law among other minority-party Senators). Her proposals ranged across numerous policy areas, finding their way to nearly every standing committee in the Senate. Her legislative accomplishments include laws designed to improve telecommunications call quality in rural areas, to fight human trafficking, and to add protections against sexual harassment to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995."

You have to wonder what would happen if she ever got to be majority leader.

O'Rourke presents himself as an aspirational politician, but more substantive on policy than you might expect. On climate change what's the first thing(s) he'd do? Reinstate Obama-era fuel regulations and reenter the Paris Accords. Political reform? Sign an updated Voting Rights Act, end gerrymandering, stop hiring industry lobbyists to supervise department regulating their former industries. Sometimes he is imprecise on how he's going to accomplish things. He does not come armed with detailed policy proposals as does Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., but he can give a short discourse on the problem at hand, the history of addressing the issue and the impact of not solving our problems. In lieu of a long legislative record, you have to take it on faith that somehow he's going to will us into agreement.

If Klobuchar sees deals to be made across the aisle based on enlightened self-interest, O'Rourke sees the chance for some kind of national reconciliation.

If you could merge the two, you'd get Bill Clinton -- a wonk who could talk for hours and make you feel you could get it all done if people just listened to him. There is no candidate in this field, however, that has the entire package of attributes and skills. Voters can choose the most pragmatic or most aspirational or, if they care less about winning, the most ideologically extreme.

Democratic voters will tell you the most important thing is winning. After that, however, they presumably want to get things done. The choice between someone who plays the insider game expertly or someone who energizes voters depends on what you think good governance is about. For some, it's problem solving; for others it's moral leadership. At least no one can complain Democrats don't have a diverse field, one in which outlook and vision may be more significant than ideological labels.

Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.