While Democrats’ substantive response to the coronavirus has been critically acclaimed, they need a visible response as well. To simplify the situation, but only by a little, the party needs someone who can consistently appear on cable news as soon as Donald Trump is done talking, to undo whatever damage the president has just done to public health.
Joe Biden, as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, would be the obvious choice to embody the opposition, but the dynamic and clear conveyance of information in a fluid situation is not one of his current strong suits. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer seem to have done well in negotiating a sizable coronavirus relief package with Mitch McConnell and the Trump administration, but are not that well liked by the general public and are busy doing caucus leader stuff. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are well known and well liked by many people, but not as well liked by others, including some in their own party. And Sanders is still officially competing against Biden for the nomination, albeit in a low key. Others appear on the news here and there, but none of them is officially speaking on behalf of the party as a whole in the way Trump does (to an alarmingly effective degree, it seems) for Republicans.
Why not turn over the party’s messaging about the pandemic to the two-woman team of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren?
Yes, this recalls the New York Times’ editorial board’s self-defeating recommendation that its readers vote for either Warren or Klobuchar depending on their risk tolerance. But what was impossible in a zero-sum presidential race would be natural, on both optics and substance, for the daunting collaborative task at hand. Both senators have high current visibility thanks to their presidential campaigns, and while neither won the nomination, they were regarded as sharp debaters and were able to cut through the noise generated by a 20-plus-person field enough to make what was essentially the final round of the primary. They have relevant reputations for being practical, in slightly different senses—Klobuchar for being able to work with right-leaning voters and legislators, and Warren for her mastery of detail.
They are also already publicly engaged with the matter at hand. Warren’s suggestions for preventing the stimulus package from becoming a corporate boondoggle were taken up by the rest of the caucus, with apparent success. Klobuchar announced Monday that her husband has tested positive for COVID-19, and before that had proposed (with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden) a national vote-by-mail law intended to prevent the outbreak from interfering with the November election. Even before the current crisis, Klobuchar was also known for her interest in making long-term care less costly and burdensome, a subject that has relevance to a disease that requires isolating a disproportionately older set of patients.
The main reason you wouldn’t put Klobuchar and Warren together under ordinary circumstances is that they are well known for having different opinions on what constitutes a desirable and feasible level of federal spending. But that disagreement is an asset right now. The Democratic Party is having a rare moment of near unanimity about spending because interest rates are at zero percent and the need for a massive disgorgement of public cash is dire. As politicians who’ve spent the past year overtly representing the party’s left and center, the pair would send a useful signal—that signal being it is incredibly obvious, to a brain-having person, what is needed right now—by uniting on a plan and message.
One drawback of this idea is that while the Democratic Party is a diverse one along almost all possible axes, Klobuchar and Warren have similar demographic profiles: straight, white women who are of or near retirement age (Klobuchar is 59). On the other hand, older white people are, for better or worse, the crucial swing demographic in national American politics, and white women are the softest spot in the Trump 2016 coalition. It might not be the worst time to pander to them.
The goal is not primarily to set up a win in November, though. It’s to prevent millions of unnecessary deaths and job losses before then. Democrats need to win the battle of public opinion vis-a-vis Trump’s terrible ideas about, for example, encouraging people to sit side by side in church on Easter, and to create and sell their own, better ideas. Klobuchar and Warren, who are as ready as anyone for such a surreal assignment, could be the left-moderate odd couple that saved America.