Democrats are proving the proverb: “The nail sticking up gets hammered down.” As the 2020 contenders continue seizing and losing momentum, it raises the question why none can hold it. Rather than any seizing the race, the race has seized them.
The Japanese proverb speaks about their orthodoxy of conformity. Individualism is admonished in theory and persecuted in practice. To American ears, that is heterodoxy in a country where the reverse prevails with individualism encouraged and celebrated.
Democrats’ 2020 field personifies the proverb, which is why it is falling flat with Americans and even Democrats themselves.
The Democratic field is bent on experiencing Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have all had their boomlets; headlines announce their breakouts only to have them shortly superseded. After Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, perhaps it will be Amy Klobuchar or Michael Bloomberg. What is clear is the phenomenon will continue.
The reason for this sequential rise and fall is that as soon as one rises, the others attack. As in the proverb, they get hammered. Democrats’ voluminous field makes for a lot of hammers, and many hammers make quick work of a single nail.
The political logic is equally obvious. Emergence of one from the many is fatal to the many.
There is also an obvious reason why these Democrats have the recurring phenomenon of the protruding nail: The field is incredibly weak. It is easy to stick up when everyone else is stuck down. Having momentum has meant have between just one-third and one-fifth of total support.
The weakness is underscored by the fact that momentum’s level has been getting lower, not higher. After nine months of running, no one can break out — even among the party faithful. If unable to do so in a narrow predisposed electorate, it bodes ill for doing so with November’s broader one in less than nine months.
Another sign of weakness is that the protruding can be dealt with by such little hammers. If such small contenders can return small leaders to the field, it is a warning about the sledgehammer awaiting the nail finally remaining raised.
The weaknesses plaguing the Democratic field are due to its conformity. Its leftward lunge is one example. In Friday night’s debate the candidates had a hard time expressing concern over Democratic socialism describing their party. This truly incredible occurrence demonstrates how far the candidates are from even the party’s recent past or America’s present. Extremism’s embrace could not be clearer.
The candidates’ anti-Trump stance, regardless of its content exemplifies another conformity weakness. Because of their adherence, the candidates are forced into positions that defy common sense. The economy is good. Period. No average American would say otherwise; however Democratic candidates feel they must.
So contorted by conformity, the candidates fall into disavowing anything President Trump embraces. This makes them easy prey to opposing conventional values, as they did repeatedly at the State of the Union address. The candidates thereby appear thoroughly illogical to anyone outside their conformity clique.
To their dismay and discredit, the Democrats’ 2020 field is a reverse proof of the Japanese proverb. The proverb warns of the danger of nonconformity. The Democrats are showing the danger of blind conformity. If they keep it up, they will shortly discover that Mr. Trump has nailed down his re-election.
• J.T. Young served in the Office of Management and Budget and at the Treasury Department.
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