By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
Some people think that this is the most consequential Presidential election since 1860. I agree.
Had Democrat Stephen Douglas or any of the other candidates defeated Republican Abraham Lincoln, it is unlikely that the “peculiar institution” of slavery would have ended three years later. The savage brutality would have continued for years, maybe decades more. Southern states that had a vested economic interest in preserving the status quo would have grown stronger. The ramifications of that are impossible to calculate or even imagine. But it would have continued to tear at the fabric of this country, our ideals, our morality and our democratic institutions. The course of American history and our trajectory as a world leader would have forever been changed.
It is 160 years later now, and the election of 2020 is fast approaching. The Republican candidate will be its incumbent, Donald Trump. As for the Democrats, well, that is a much different story. There are still a half dozen candidates who are seriously vying for the nomination. In two months, on April 28, Democratic voters from Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village along with the rest of the state will get their say. That is the date of the New York Presidential Primary. And it may be pivotal.
After the very early voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, one thing is certain. The mayor of South Bend Indiana has emerged as a major contender. His name is Pete Buttigieg. I have watched his unlikely rise with fascination.
At age 38, he stands in stark contrast with many of his opponents, including the president, who are in their 70s. He is a fresh face and arguably the most articulate of all the Democratic contenders. His performances in the crucible and glare of the nationally televised debates has been impressive. He’s a combat veteran and has demonstrated a mastery of domestic and international issues. He is able to make complex matters understandable to the average voter. And he does so with wit and grace.
In some respects, he reminds me of another very young candidate, John F. Kennedy, also a combat veteran, who at age 42 was elected this nation’s 35th President.
For those of us old enough to remember the election of 1960, you will recall that the biggest issue of that campaign was Kennedy’s religion. No Catholic had ever been elected President. The White House was occupied only by Protestants until then, and it was a huge political problem for Kennedy. There were those who whispered that, were he elected, the Vatican would call the shots in America. Kennedy’s loyalty to the country over his religious beliefs was questioned and made front and center. Sixty years later, it all seems so trite and so foolish. But back then it was the reason pundits said Kennedy could not win. But he did. The voters went with their hopes over their irrational fears.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg is gay. He is married to a man. If he were a more traditional person he would possibly be considered the leading Democrat at this point in the campaign. But as with JFK during the winter of 1960 he is subject to slurs, ignorant mutterings, and yes bigotry. But like Kennedy, he does not shy away from who he is. His talks and Introspection is eloquent. His humanity and his intellect comes across loud and clear.
Some will never be able to bring themselves to vote for a gay or lesbian person, no matter their qualifications. But the more I hear Mayor Pete speak and contrast what he says and thinks with his opponents, especially the man who resides in the White House, the more I think that he may just be the class of the field, a diamond in the rough.
The big question is, can he triumph over the prejudice of his sexual identity as JFK overcame the prejudice of his religious identity? How lucky the nation was, if only for a thousand days, that it chose so wisely in 1960 as it did one hundred years before.