Opinion guest column

The 2020 Democratic Primary: How to choose a President

Given a large candidate pool, it’s important to be deliberate with our choices.

Nineteen democrats are running for president in 2020, and more could still enter the race. This presents a wonderful tradeoff. We need options if we’re going to elect the best person. However, too many options causes choice paralysis. As a consequence, most of us will neglect to choose who we vote for until there are fewer options.

This raises the question, if deliberation amongst the American people is not refining the candidate pool, then what is? Is it the candidates with the most money? The most donors? The most media attention? Those who are viewed as most likely to defeat Donald Trump? Or is it the candidates that most Americans are seriously considering?

I don’t know what combination of forces will conspire to select the next presidential candidate before it happens. I’d rather that we narrow the list of presidential candidates and not some invisible force. There is only one way to do that. We must talk to each other about which candidates we like and what values are most important to us. This conversation must become central in our lives this year.

Aside: political campaigns will try and figure out what your values are and then target you. At first glance, this seems great. Like targeted ads, “don’t waste my time with those other candidates, show me what I want to see.” But that’s the crux of the problem. This is a decision that is too important to be made on autopilot. I don’t want Netflix recommending the next president to me. I want my community, through conversation, to discover the best candidate. We need to reconsider our values in a changing world and decide what to prioritize.

To start the conversation, I’m going to discuss my current selection criteria. I hope this will inspire others to discuss politics. The process matters and not the outcome. We don’t have to agree or come to one final answer. But how can I begin to justify my choices unless they’ve been legitimately challenged?

My main filter for presidential candidates is their campaign financing. I will not vote for any candidate who takes big donations to fund their campaign. At first, this seemed simple because I only knew of a few candidates driving home this message and boasting about their small donor contributions: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Beto O’Rourke. However, it appears that most have disavowed corporate PAC money. That doesn’t mean that some won’t take large private donations, which I also don’t like. We will have to watch closely to see who keeps their promises.

Why does this matter anyway? We don’t live in a representative democracy anymore. The rich buy the politicians, and the politicians select their own electorate through gerrymandering. Even if you don’t believe that big money will corrupt your favorite candidate, wouldn’t you rather remove that possibility entirely? For that reason, I donated money to the four candidates I listed above. As long as buying politicians is on the table, then I want to be the owner.

I have other policy concerns; some matter to a majority of Americans, like immigration law and some to just a few, like science policy. No matter what issue you’d like the government to address, one fact remains clear: a government corrupted by the interests of the rich will never serve the public. That is why I must prioritize candidates who are likely to address campaign finance reform.

It is not worthwhile to elect politicians who will only superficially represent our interests. I’d rather have a president that most Americans legitimately want, even if that president is not the one I voted for.

President Donald Trump is a spectre that will preside over the entire election cycle. For many, the main goal will devolve into selecting the candidate that can stand up to him. This trend is probably nothing new, but seems amplified given the current political climate. I understand that Trump elicits a strong emotional response. However, I’m more concerned with the election process than I am with who ends up in the White House. We have to live with those we elect, and thankfully our government is structured to remain stable through transfers of power. Though we would like for our candidate to win, that should not be our goal. Our goal should be to conduct free democratic elections. This can only be done by an electorate that has deliberated the options, which is required by their civic duty.

How does one actually choose a president beyond those considerations? I hope some readers will help us with that. Though I haven’t narrowed down the candidate list much, I will be following the money very closely throughout this election. I hope that our continued discussion brings us closer to selecting the next president.

Stephen Filippone is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.