by Sheila Bair
Over the past 40 years — about as long as I’ve been of age to vote — the country has seen a downward spiral in the qualifications of the individuals we have elected as president. We arguably hit a new low with Donald Trump, who had zero years experience in public service. He was able to defeat a highly pedigreed Hillary Clinton not because he was a compelling candidate but because a large segment of the electorate wanted to register a vote against her perceived elitism and disinterest in the working class.
Voters often use their ballots as weapons of punishment; indeed, Oscar Wilde described democracy as “simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” But an unfortunate side effect of negative voting is for elections to favor naifs over pros, because the pros have amassed so many years’ worth of activity for the public to get mad at.
Trump now has three years experience as president. While he has had some policy victories, he has also given opponents plenty of issues with which to bludgeon him. Democratic partisans are almost maniacal in their eagerness to oust him. They seem most interested in finding the candidate best positioned to do so, regardless of qualifications. Enter Pete Buttigieg, whose primary asset seems to be a thin résumé . He hasn’t done much to prove his chops in the national political arena. On the other hand, his lack of a record would provide scant fodder for Trump to exploit in a general election.
Indeed, this 37-year-old man has never held national office. He has never held statewide office. The sum total of his government experience includes valorous military duty and eight years as the mayor of the roughly 300th-largest town in the United States. He gives a good speech and has some interesting ideas. But he seems more adept at pointing out the frailties of his experienced opponents than explaining how he has any hope of surviving the “swamp” if elected, given his complete lack of Washington know-how.
His supporters whisper that the same was said about a relatively inexperienced Barack Obama when he ran for the nation’s highest office. But I had occasion to work a bit with President Obama when I chaired the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Pete Buttigieg is no Barack Obama. Obama was, and is, an exceptional, inspirational leader, skilled politician and grass-roots organizer. He was also 10 years Buttigieg’s senior when he was elected president and had served four years in the U.S. Senate.
Importantly, many feel Obama could have been even more effective if he had waited longer to become president. This is particularly true in the area of financial reform, where his inexperience led him to rely heavily on establishment advisers who had played major roles in devising the very financial system he was trying to reform. The result was incremental change without a restructuring of Washington’s power structure. As a consequence, the beneficial reforms achieved under Obama have remained under relentless attack by those same powers.
I am a Republican who has never voted for a Democrat in a presidential election. But I share Democrats’ concerns that our system is rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful over working families. I am tired of a loophole-ridden tax code that advantages investors over workers. I am tired of spending trillions in taxpayer money on health care and education only to see private profiteering of those programs as consumer costs continue to escalate. I regret to admit that I also voted negative in 2016, casting a protest vote for the Libertarian Party ticket because I didn’t think Clinton or Trump were really committed to change. I would prefer not to do so again.
I like Buttigieg and would be happy to endorse him . . . 20 years from now, after he has proved himself. Today, however, he is not ready, and I have a sickening fear that much of his impressive fundraising is driven by the moneyed interests who profit from the current system and think his lack of experience will lead to a preservation of the status quo.
Democrats need to decide whether they just want to beat Trump or whether they want a credible candidate who has the vision, commitment and proven skills to truly reform our government. They have plenty of experienced candidates to choose from. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren stand out as two candidates with strong records of public achievement.
Please give me someone to vote for.
Sheila Bair is the former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and has held senior appointments in four Republican and Democratic administrations.