When John Kennedy ran for president in 1960, he accepted the Democratic nomination with a stark declaration: “Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.” The 1960s were only beginning, but the young senator from Massachusetts was convinced that the new decade would be a time of momentous change. Kennedy secured a transformational election victory that year because he convinced the American people that he and an evolving Democratic Party had a dramatically better understanding of what that future should look like than Richard Nixon and the Republicans.
The Democratic Party of today desperately needs to renew its franchise as a party of the future. This is its greatest challenge and, unfortunately for the party and for the country, few if any prominent Democrats have proven to be up to the task.
That is why grassroots Democrats search so ardently for new leaders, for contenders who recognize, as Kennedy in 1960, that “The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high–to permit the customary passions of political debate.”
If today’s Democratic Party is ever going to get ahead of the debates of the moment, a new generation of Democratic leaders must recognize what Kennedy recognized: that there are “new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” This will, necessarily, require them to wrestle with the questions that arise at the intersection of technology and democracy. That’s what makes the candidacy of Dr. Abdul El-Sayed for governor of Michigan so remarkable, and so exciting.
The 33-year-old Rhodes scholar who gained national prominence as the crusading director of the Detroit Health Department has mounted a gubernatorial campaign that embraces the future–and that confirms the recognition he earned from the University of Michigan in 2017 as an alumnus “whose achievements carry on Michigan’s traditions of intellectual creativity and academic endeavor, of civic engagement, and of national and international service.”
El-Sayed’s campaign talks about the future with a confidence that distinguishes him from the vast majority of candidates of both parties–who are focused, at best, on the present and, at worst, on “great again” strategies for stumbling backward. That confidence is displayed in the position-paper specifics of a campaign that does not hesitate to explain that there really are solutions for today’s greatest challenges: an ambitious 24-page plan for establishing a Medicare-for-All health-care system in Michigan, a 37-page strategy for taking the profit motive out of education policy, and a 25-page plan for transitioning to a renewable-energy economy.