Opinion |

Michelle Obama for President in 2020

If anyone can take the obscene smears and overcome them with grace and force of principle, she can. It's 2018. America needs a kick in the butt and a real president

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
Former First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on October 13, 2017.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on October 13, 2017.Credit: Jim Cole/AP / ג'ים קול
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

I want to get a few things out of the way from the start.

1. I've known a lot of racists over the years. Not a single one ever believed that they were racist. Not one.

In their view, they were just being honest. Or they were just saying "what everybody knows to be true."

2. I don't think Donald Trump is lying when he insists that he's not a racist, or when he says he's the "least racist person you've ever interviewed."

He's not lying. He's just flat-out mistaken.

3. You get the America you vote for.

Still. Despite everything. Despite 2016. Despite Trump. Despite GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression and Russian subterfuge and NRA blackmail and "Fox and Friends" and the 2,000 lies a year and the Kochs and the Mercers and the Adelsons and the Murdochs and God knows whatever other billionaire families are back there in the boardrooms rigging everything they can slant to their will.

True, America is no longer the country it was in 2016. We all now know more, suspect more, scrutinize more, have more to fear and more to loathe, so the elections of 2018 and 2020 stand to be different.

One more thing. I'm an incurably superstitious person who lives in an endemically superstitious part of the world, so I'm going to be cautious about how to put this: I'm hopeful for the midterm elections in 2018. And for the presidential race of 2020.

But I'm not confident in the slightest.

Every time I hear authoritative voices explaining how Democrats will roll across a broad front to retake control of the House of Representatives come Election Day on November 6, my heart sinks. I hear the echoes of authoritative voices which told me ahead of Election Day 2016 that Donald Trump had not a hope in hell.

This Saturday marks a year since Donald Trump took the oath of office. A year since "not a hope in hell" began to describe America as a whole.

That said, there's been a change in the air of late. For example, the Democratic Party hadn't a hope in hell of electing a senator from Alabama in 25 years, until a month ago.

As it turns out, even hell can go through unexpected changes.

Overall, a record number of women will be running for Congress in 2018. A recent summary showed that 369 women were listed as potential candidates for the House, 311 of them Democrats.

And this at a time when a study has shown that 80 percent of nominations for top positions in the Trump administration have gone to men.

Moreover, Trump's nominees for his first cabinet put forward the smallest percentage of women and nonwhites than that of any president since Ronald Reagan, 37 years ago.

America deserves much better. The youth of America deserve a country in which their president serves as a role model and an inspiration, someone proactively inclusive rather than traumatically, intentionally, exploitatively and egomaniacally divisive.

In fact, a growing number of Republican leaders are openly anxious about the effect that Donald Trump is having on the country, and on their party.

They, too, know that America deserves much better. They also know that the Democratic Party has a number of potential candidates who could make excellent presidents.

Late last month, the Washington Post ranked the 15 candidates it viewed as the most likely to win the Democratic presidential nomination. The list, led by Bernie Sanders, included six U.S. Senators - Vermont's Sanders, ranked first, along with Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (3rd), Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (4th), Kamala Harris of California (5th), Cory Booker of New Jersey (6th), Chris Murphy of Connecticut (7th), and Sharrod Brown of Ohio (9th).

Also in the theoretical running were former vice-president Joe Biden at number two and four present and ex-governors – California's Jerry Brown (8th), New York's Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts (12th) and Virginia's Terry McAuliffe (14th) – as well as Oprah Winfrey (11th), former Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz (13th) and actor and former pro wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.

I'd like to add one more name.

This week, as Donald Trump managed to find multiple ways to disgrace the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., I found myself thinking about the kind of role model Michelle Obama had been for eight years.

I listened again to the speeches she gave at the Democratic Convention and, less than a month before the election, in New Hampshire, with a devastating dissection of Donald Trump.

The speeches are astonishing. She galvanizes with wisdom and love.

I realized that in 2016, many of the most searing of observations, the most soaring of aspirations, the most prophetic of warnings, the most stirring of calls to action, were voiced in speeches by someone who was not running for any office whatsoever.

She spoke, with hard-earned authority about what it takes to be a president.

What it means to be a president. That it's "about one thing and one thing only - it's about leaving something better for our kids."

I believe that Michelle Obama has that. I know that Donald Trump does not.

Can she win? Commentator Shaun King believes she can. In an analysis titled "Here are the Four Things a Democratic Presidential Candidate Will Need to Beat Trump in 2020," he wrote this week that defeating Trump, a formidable "Godzilla of a political opponent," will require a huge social media following, an existing core base of support, a strong contrast to Trump in personality and character, and organizational savvy.

Of Michelle Obama, King wrote in the Intercept, "Shes said repeatedly that she would not run, but if she did, she would win. She is one of the most popular figures in the country. Even when Barack Obamas approval rating struggled, her approval rating stayed in the mid-60s. Like Winfrey, Michelle Obama has more social media followers than any active politician in the nation, other than Trump. She doesnt have as many as Trump, but her reach is far and wide. She has the deeply committed core of supporters that a candidate will need to win. Shes an amazing speaker and can already draw a huge crowd wherever she goes. She is as unlike Trump as human being could possibly be, and she understands what it takes to win a presidential campaign."

I understand very well that if Michelle Obama runs, she will be subjected to an exhausting array of smears, obscene bigotry and new depths of misogyny – this, along with reasonable criticism regarding lack of experience in government, undue privilege as the spouse of a former president and the relative strengths of others in the Party.

I believe that if anyone can take it and overcome it with grace and force of principle, she can.

It's 2018. America needs a kick in the butt. The Republican Party needs a kick in the butt.

More than anything, America needs a real president.

Much, much more than most people, Michelle Obama knows what America needs.

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