It has been said that every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. This is not entirely true: Dick Durbin looks in the mirror and sees a gray-haired man who wouldn’t get recognized on the ‘L.’ But his seatmate, like a Durbin seatmate before her, is still young and ambitious enough to imagine herself in higher office. Sen. Tammy Duckworth was on Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist in 2020. When USA Today asked whether she would ever run for president, Duckworth didn’t say no.
“Maybe if it’s good for the country,” she responded. “I think about growing up in Southeast Asia post-Vietnam; everybody wanted to be us. We had these ideals; we had these values, and you could achieve the American dream. I would want to try to get us back to them. We’re not there now.”
Here are 10 reasons it would be good for the country if Duckworth ran for president — preferably in 2024.
1. We need a new president
Joe Biden was the right candidate to end the Trump administration. As a bland white dude, he peeled off the votes of bland white dudes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who were fed up with Trump’s antics but weren’t going to vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. But Biden will be 81 by the next election, and often looks winded trying to complete a sentence, much less an entire speech. He’s a competent administrator, but not an inspirational leader. Duckworth would inspire almost everyone: women, minorities, veterans, the disabled, the poor.
2. Duckworth is a bi-racial Illinois senator with a foreign-born parent, who went to high school in Honolulu.
That biographical profile worked for the Democrats in 2008 and 2012. Why not try it again? Illinois gave the nation its first Black president. Next, we can provide the first female president, proving that we’re the state that lifts politicians above barriers never before breached.
3. Duckworth is a veteran.
Military service was once an advantage for a political candidate, if not a prerequisite. No longer. We haven’t had a veteran in the White House since George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot in World War II. In fact, the last four veterans who ran for president lost to candidates who never served: Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry and John McCain. Duckworth can break that streak and demonstrate that the honor we pay to veterans is more than lip service.
4. Duckworth was wounded in battle.
Donald Trump may be the Republican nominee in 2024. Trump is adept at employing racism and sexism to achieve his political goals, as Hillary Clinton found out. Duckworth sacrificed half her body for this country, losing both legs in an Apache helicopter crash in Iraq. That will make her immune from the attacks Trump would ordinarily employ against a woman of Asian heritage. This has been tested. In a 2016 Senate debate, after Duckworth discussed her family’s record of military service, going back to the American Revolution, Sen. Mark Kirk retorted, “I forgot your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” I had been planning to vote for Kirk, because I appreciated the independence he’d shown from his party in meeting with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. After his Thailand crack, I switched to Duckworth.
5. Duckworth has overcome her physical challenges.
The last president to use a wheelchair was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt tried to hide his disability, clutching railings as he walked down ramps with the aid of leg braces. Duckworth, who has two artificial legs, can’t hide hers. “Sometimes it takes dealing with a disability – the trauma, the relearning, the months of rehabilitation therapy – to uncover our true abilities and how we can put them to work for us in ways we never imagined,” she once said. Duckworth’s political career is a result of her war wounds. She met her mentor, Sen. Dick Durbin, when he asked Walter Reed Medical Center whether any wounded veterans from Illinois were interested in accompanying him to the 2005 State of the Union. Since losing her legs, Duckworth has served as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs, served two terms in the House of Representatives, won election to the U.S. Senate, written a memoir, Every Day is a Gift, and given birth to two daughters. President Duckworth would redefine what people with physical handicaps can accomplish.
6. Duckworth has no serious opposition this year.
Duckworth is up for re-election in the fall, but no Republican elected official has stepped forward to challenge her. With a pass to a second term, Duckworth can travel the country campaigning and raising money for Democrats in tighter races, accumulating chits she can cash in for a presidential endorsement. Barack Obama did the same thing in 2004, when he had the good fortune to run against hapless out-of-stater Alan Keyes for Senate.
7. Duckworth will once again discredit the Birther movement.
The Birthers tried to claim Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen, even though he was born in Hawaii. Donald Trump offered a $5 million donation to charity for proof of Obama’s citizenship. Obama finally produced his birth certificate, convincing even Trump that he had a right to be president. Duckworth was born in Bangkok, Thailand, to a Thai mother, Lamai Sompornpairin, and an American father, Army Capt. Frank Duckworth. Her paternity made her a citizen at birth. Duckworth would be the first president born outside the United States. That would probably inspire a constitutional challenge to her eligibility to hold the office — which would fail as badly as the challenge to Obama.
8. Duckworth knows what it’s like to be poor.
When Duckworth was in high school, her father lost his job, forcing the family to go on food stamps. “Those food stamps kept me in school so I could graduate high school, so I could go enlist in the military,” Duckworth said. “Public schools and food stamps and all of that made a difference in my life…Sometimes you just need a helping hand. And when I got that helping hand along the way, it made the difference in my life. If my yearbook teacher had not bought me dinners, if I did not have the school lunch and school breakfast program, I would have dropped out of high school.” The last president to experience genuine financial distress during his childhood was Lyndon Johnson, whose memories of deprivation led him to start the War on Poverty and the Great Society. Duckworth has that same sympathy for the less fortunate. As economic inequality divides our nation into aristocracy and peasantry, Duckworth demonstrates that it’s possible for someone who started out at the bottom to rise to the top.
9. Duckworth is a suburbanite.
America’s cities are deep-blue Democratic. The rural areas are red. Elections today are decided by fiscally conservative, socially moderate suburbanites. Yet these voters have never been represented in the White House. Biden is from Wilmington. Trump lived in New York City, Obama in Chicago, Bush on a ranch somewhere in Texas. Duckworth lives in Hoffman Estates, as anonymous a post-World War II highway suburb as there is in Chicagoland.
10. Duckworth’s favorite Eagles album is Hotel California.
In 2012, Duckworth ran for Congress against Rep. Joe Walsh, in a district the legislature had drawn just for her. In a radio ad, Congressman Walsh had used the song “Walk Away,” by the Eagles guitarist of the same name — and changed the lyrics. Rock and roll Joe Walsh was not happy about it. To get back at the Joe Walsh who’d stolen his sound, he played a fundraiser for Duckworth at a Schaumburg nightclub. I was there, and asked Duckworth to name her favorite Eagles album. Hotel California was the right answer, since that was Walsh’s first with the band. I knew right then that Duckworth was going places in politics.