Dear Mr. Vice President:
I know you have a lot on your mind, what with preparing for what one hopes will be an actual, in-person Democratic convention, and dealing with the recent charges of sexual misconduct. But I think it’s fair to assume that you will be the Democratic Party’s nominee, so I’d like to focus on your vice presidential pick. I know you are getting lots of input on this, and that you’ll soon have a committee looking into it.
I hope you will excuse my temerity in writing to you in this fashion, via an open letter. My qualifications for doing so are slight. I’ve followed, and voted in, every presidential election for the past 55 years. Not always for winners. Like you, I’ve seen many campaigns. Oh, and I wrote a column last December, printed in the Journal, comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) to British politician Jeremy Corbyn and urging “moderate Democrats to come out in droves in the coming primaries to reclaim their party or risk repeating the Labour debacle” in Britain. Although I don’t think my scribblings were the key, Democrats did just that.
I’m urging you to celebrate that outcome by doing exactly what the voters did: repudiate the Bernie Sanders vision.
Now I’m urging you to celebrate that outcome by doing exactly what the voters did: repudiate the Bernie Sanders vision. Curiously, Sanders isn’t a Democrat; he’s a self-described “democratic socialist.” And although many of his ideas radically would transform American capitalism, he never fails to note that “we are the richest country in the history of the world.” He typically follows this accolade with a criticism, for example noting that there are homeless people in America or Americans without adequate health insurance.
Although Sanders says that these and other issues can be addressed precisely because we are the richest country in the world, what is astonishing is his failure to appreciate why this is so, and what it means for the so-called progressive solutions that he is urging.
America is prosperous because of its embrace of capitalism, the very economic system that troubles Sanders. Now, capitalism certainly needs rules, and it’s fair to argue about what those rules should be. But the underlying principle is that self-interested economic behavior can be made to work for the benefit of society as a whole. That people can become rich, and be rich, is not a deplorable problem but rather a motivation, an incentive. Taking away the profit motive — by demonizing those with money, by requiring corporate boards to have a large percentage of members whose interests are not in corporate prosperity, by taxing the accumulation of wealth, and by restricting the ability to pass wealth on to one’s children (which is one of the incentives for accumulating wealth) — undermines the very reasons that America is so wealthy.
The progressive agenda was overwhelmingly rejected by Democrats in the primaries this year.
Mr. Vice President, you know all of this. But my point is that in choosing a running mate, it would be best to look for someone who shares your views, and not those of Sanders; someone who unites Americans, not someone who polarizes us into angry, warring groups. Usually the choice of a vice president has little or no positive impact on a presidential election outcome. However, it can have a negative impact, as when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) selected Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008.
Some say that progressives will sit out the election if you don’t give a progressive the nod. But the progressive agenda was overwhelmingly rejected by Democrats in the primaries this year. The bigger risk for Democrats is if moderates sit out this election, or vote for a write-in, or even cross over to the other side.
Putting aside the recent, disputed charge of sexual misconduct, it is your age that hangs over this election. As the Clancy Brothers sing in “Isn’t It Grand Boys,” “the longer you live, the sooner you’ll bloody well die.” This is what makes your choice of a vice president so crucial. To many, in this election, the vice presidential choice will matter. To anoint someone from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which you so soundly defeated, is an invitation to disaster.
Gregory R. Smith is an appellate attorney practicing in Los Angeles.