Democrats are looking for a phenom. They may have found one—if they can handle it.

by Bob Schwartz

“Phenom” is a fascinating English word. It was first used in 1890, to describe an inordinately talented young baseball player on a trajectory to be a superstar. Short for “phenomenon,” it has mostly passed out of usage, but remains an excellent descriptor.

Democrats have had recent experience with a presidential phenom. Obama was just 43 when he started to go supernova at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. A few years later, his talent and person would take him, against all odds and history, to the presidency, and also against all odds and opposition, keep him there for two terms.

In baseball and elsewhere, everybody knows what can happen with phenoms. Some shine and succeed beyond imagining. Some burn out and never make it past their first season.

Democrats would love to find and run another phenom, but are justifiably skittish about losing a precious, one-time-only opportunity to preserve American democracy. They are ambivalent about a phenom like Pete Buttigieg. He has all the right stuff—young, brilliant, accessible, charismatic, articulate, war veteran, Rhodes Scholar, speaks six languages, plays piano at a symphony level, etc. But will the American people elect a married gay man as president?

If the Democrats were confident the answer was “Yes,” we might be at the early stages of another phenomenon. If they are unsure or have already decided the answer is “no,” then we are in uncharted soul-searching territory. But in politics 2019, uncharted soul-searching territory is the name of the game.