Sen. Jeff Merkley’s announcement this week was both anti-climactic and welcome.
The Springfield Democrat stated he will not, after a long dalliance with the idea, run for President in 2020. It was hard to tell if he was ever all that serious about running; most Oregonians likely hoped he would not.
It’s too bad, on one level, because the Democratic field could use the modest voice and cool-headed demeanor of this champion of the working class.
But it’s better for Merkley, and better for Oregon, that he not involve himself in this grand but grinding political enterprise, the pursuit of the party nomination. Merkley, correctly, believes he can continue to have more influence working in the Senate than stumping in Des Moines and Keane.
We can’t think of a more stark contrast between the current White House occupant and the guy-next-door Jeff Merkley. The contrast is also strong between Merkley and the commuter van-sized field of announced Democratic hopefuls. Imagine Merkley riding around Iowa and New Hampshire with Bernie Sanders at his ear. Someone would be better off, likely Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and the others, but it’s just as well Merkley will wait at least four years before seeing what rubs off on his elbows in such an environment.
Speaking of the environment, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week he’s in, and Merkley might have been influenced by the entry of another Northwesterner with left-of-center, progressive credentials making his move into the fray. Inslee is hardly a household name, so it is hard to envision him making a huge impact in the hunt for electoral votes. Also, he’ll be as much a target as a standard-bearer for his passionate green status and vocal and timely call for climate change to take its place as the driving issue in American politics.
Inslee likely does not stand a chance, in a formal political sense, but his entry into the race for the Democratic nomination is certain to accomplish one thing: It will force all the other candidates to take climate change seriously and give it more than lip service. No doubt, Inslee is earnest about winning, but the victory he should expect will be in putting the electoral spotlight where it belongs: On the climate change crisis facing humankind.