PILLAI: Democrats must move away from their traditional candidates

Column: Unboxed

She is a warrior who practically trademarked the word “fight” in her 2020 presidential campaign to represent the struggles of all Americans who hope for a better future. 

She is a senator who refused to be silenced in Congress, where other senators referenced an archaic rule to smother her words. She is a leader who famously made pinky promises with young girls on the campaign trails to indicate that she would finish what she had started. She is a champion of the everyday citizen who spurned billionaire donors and made nonautomated phone calls to individual contributors instead. 

And yet, none of this mattered when voters made their decisions on Super Tuesday and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on March 5. Addressing her campaign staff and the world, Warren eschewed the mournful, diplomatic tone usually reserved for suspension announcements and relayed a message full of empathy and hope. 

She suggested that her team’s work during the campaign was just as meaningful as any president’s accomplishments in the Oval Office, since she sparked nationwide conversations about corruption and social justice that would have otherwise been ignored. Moreover, her policy proposals often set the agenda for the Democratic debates and compelled other candidates to make their plans more comprehensive. 

As someone who had hoped that Warren would be our next president, I resonated with her truly humble and genuine message, but I experienced a sense of dejection that eclipsed the magnitude of my reaction to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. Within a matter of hours, it seemed that moderate Democrats mobilized to coalesce around former Vice President Joe Biden, who is deemed the most electable candidate in the field. 

While Biden is definitely qualified to be president, the irritating question still remains: Was Warren shunned because she is a woman?

Sexism is not new for the Massachusetts senator. In 2017, Warren read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor to protest the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as the U.S. Attorney General, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invoked Senate Rule 19 in an attempt to silence her. McConnell famously (or infamously) said, “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned … Nevertheless, she persisted.”

People around the world now use the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted” to advocate for women’s rights. In fact, this phrase is this year’s theme for the Douglass Residential College, and I have heard and proudly repeated this rally cry at various events at Rutgers, such as the Christiana Foglio Palmer DC'84 Douglass Career Conference for Women.

No candidate has championed women’s rights with the same fervor as Warren, who has inspired everyone from young girls to college students to women of her own age to be unapologetic and unafraid. Perhaps the prospect of a president who does not back away from the word “feminism” scares some voters. 

Not only did Warren fight for women, but she also diagnosed problems at their roots. For instance, when the 2008 recession left lawmakers to scratch their heads, Warren went to work to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Rather than railing against the one percent repeatedly in her rhetoric, she investigated the issues underlying wealth inequality and engaged in discussions on race and gender. One possible reason for her rejection is the fact that many members of the American public are simply unwilling to participate in these conversations. 

As a country, we have neglected the difficult questions that surround identity and discrimination, claiming that our only immediate priority is to find a candidate who can defeat President Donald J. Trump. In the quest to reclaim the Oval Office, Democrats have been searching for the golden candidate who can glue together fragmented factions and collect the necessary votes to claim a majority. Thus, individuals may vote for the candidate who they think other voters will elect rather than the candidate whom they personally support. 

We cannot continue this pattern in the future. There will always be an opponent to defeat, policies to defend and a country to unite, but the excuse that elderly white men are the only contenders who can solve these problems becomes weaker each election cycle. 

Democrats may detest Trump, but if he is re-elected, the party may continue down its misguided path and rally behind “safe” candidates instead of incredibly qualified individuals who have a plan to move the country forward.  

Preanka Pillai is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in marketing and business analytics and information technology. Her column, "Unboxed," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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