Why should it be of any importance or interest that Sherrod Brown, the third-term U.S. senator from Ohio, announced this week that he will not run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination? For one reason, unlike many recent would-be national leaders who belong to his party — a list that includes Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Joe Lieberman, for starters — Brown had the political guts and the good judgment to vote against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's immorally ignorant decision for the United States to invade and to occupy Iraq.
How has that worked out, you rightly ask?
It is, of course, always politically dangerous to turn out to be right about a major public question on which the nation's establishment — political, financial and press — has been exposed as dead wrong. The American establishment does not willingly accept the bold dissenter who dares to publicly expose its error. But Brown, in spite of his Yale degree, has never been an establishment favorite. Maybe it's his always tousled hair or that raspy voice — which sounds a lot like Joe from the auto body shop calling with an estimate — or his wrinkled, rumpled look, which tells you he doesn't waste a lot of time before the mirror.
More likely, it's his stubborn independence — exemplified by his refusal to accept the establishment's party line that unfettered free trade would be an unalloyed benefit to the United States and even, eventually, to those American workers who might lose their well-paying jobs, guaranteed benefits and middle-class lives because of imported products made by foreign workers with no benefits, no living wages and no right to bargain collectively. That's a hard sale to make today in Ohio's Mahoning Valley, where General Motors just closed its Lordstown plant, which once provided good lives for 16,000 Ohio families.
On a bluntly political level, Brown offered the Democratic Party a model for winning back the 206 counties, concentrated in the industrial Midwest, that voted twice for Barack Obama and then, in 2016, switched to Donald Trump. It's impossible to accuse — as a few liberal analysts wrongly do — Americans who voted for the nation's first African-American president of being incurable racists. Nine Ohio counties voted twice for Obama and once for Trump. In his winning 2018 re-election fight, when he ran more than 10 points ahead of Hillary Clinton's 2016 showing in his state, Brown — the only Democrat to win a statewide race in Ohio last November — won seven of those nine Obama-Trump counties.
Sherrod Brown — who defended same-sex marriage while voting against President Bill Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act and who, by backing sensible gun laws, has earned a lifetime F rating from the National Rifle Association — has refused to choose between standing for one wing of American blue-collar workers and standing for another wing of those championing progressive cultural values. Brown understands what too many do not: In 2020, the Democratic Party must have both wings in order to fly to victory. It's an even bet that Democrats could do a lot worse than to put Sherrod Brown on their 2020 national ticket. And they probably will do so.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.