If you have some time to kill (and this could take a while) you might want to check out this very long profile of New York Senator and flailing 2020 hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand, written by Anna Peele in the Washington Post Magazine. Peele spent some time on the campaign trail with Gillibrand earlier this year and she fondly recalls the time she was coached through a weightlifting and workout session by the senator.
Almost all of the article seems to be a campaign pitch for Gillibrand, pointing out her many wonderful qualities, but it’s equally packed with almost endless speculation on one question. Kirsten Gillibrand seems, in the author’s opinion, to possess the perfect combination of qualities, policies, and experience needed to win the nomination. So why is it that she can’t manage to get above one percent in the polls? Almost nobody is paying attention to her. Peele sorts through a number of predictable possibilities, including the expected accusations of sexism, but finally seems to settle on one problem the candidate is being dogged by. Kirsten Gillibrand isn’t willing to be “entertaining” enough for an audience that’s grown jaded by President Trump’s Twitter feed. In other words, she’s just too boring.
At a time when our national cortisol level is tied to the president’s Twitter feed, and when candidates are live-streaming and clapping back and eating salads with hair equipment, it has become unforgivable to be boring. Taking on attention-gobbling Donald Trump feels like asking people to watch an eight-part PBS series on Reconstruction instead of the episode of “The Bachelor” where the guy is supposed to lose his virginity on TV. Gillibrand’s brand — motherly, responsible, pragmatic, experienced — is going to be a tough sell if what we really want, at some level, is for our politicians to entertain us…
I liked being weight-trained by Gillibrand. I find her policies pragmatic and her response to the people she encounters empathic. I feel comforted that her literal style and purposeful motherliness have not been crowdsourced into something more entertaining. In other words, I like the things about Gillibrand that are probably going to keep her from coming anywhere close to the White House.
If you take the time to read through the entire piece, you’ll find some of the common (and highly misleading) claims about Kirsten Gillibrand’s supposed strengths as a candidate. They bring up the fact that she’s never lost an election. That’s true, but she’s really only run five times. The first two wins were managed because she ran to the right of her GOP opponent in a conservative upstate district and the other three were statewide races where anyone with a D after their name would have won without effort. (It also didn’t hurt to have the state Democratic Party clear the field for her in her first Senate election, strongarming other Democrats considering taking her on in the primary.)
Strangely enough, in making her defense of Gillibrand, Peele actually covers – or at least touches on – almost all of the reasons that the Democratic base would ignore her. Far more than anything else, it’s the fact that Democrats know she may be singing with the liberal choir now, but that’s a relatively recent phenomenon. She was beyond a blue dog when she was in the House and even had a favorable rating with the NRA. But when she was plucked from that seat and placed in the Senate by the New York Governor, in barely a year she completely reversed course on many of her positions. (This process is something Peele describes as a “recalibration.”)
Before she even got into the race officially, her fellow Democrats were sending out poison pen letters reminding everyone of her past positions. She was once referred to by the Daily Beast as a “bizarro version of Sarah Palin.” Not to put too fine of a point on this, but that’s really all it took. Besides, Gillibrand wasn’t offering primary voters anything they couldn’t already get elsewhere. Want a woman to run? There are others with a lot more name recognition to pick from. Looking for someone willing to say bad things about the President? The field is full of hopefuls with far sharper tongues. Pick a policy from her issues page and I can show you more than a dozen others offering the same goodies.
With so many to choose from, why would Democratic primary voters take a chance on someone who is so relatively new to their tribe? Her liberalism is a mile wide and an inch deep. She is, at best, an ideological leaf blowing in the political winds. She’s not polling at zero percent because she’s perceived as boring. So is Elizabeth Warren, but she’s somehow making it work. Gillibrand is resting at the bottom of the barrel because voters in her own party don’t trust her. Nor should they.