You had to know that I’d get to politics eventually…
Is it too early to be looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election? In a word, no.
Is it going to be Hillary Clinton against Rand Paul? It could very well be. I’ll deal with the GOP some other time, but I want to talk about Hillary and why I’m not quite ready for her.
That’s not to say I’m opposed to her. I’d support her in the general election easily, and depending on the rest of the field, I could support her in a primary but I have misgivings.
Those go back about a decade, and I believe they are directly linked to why she did not get the nomination in 2008. You may remember in October of 2002, the Senate was debating whether or not to authorize the use of force in Iraq. A lot of Democratic eyes were on Senator Clinton, even though she was not even two years into her first term. She ended up voting for the resolution, and (if my memory serves me properly), she was followed by John Kerry and John Edwards, not to mention Joe Biden.
Perhaps it’s unfair to attribute the votes of Clinton’s fellow (and more senior) Democratic senators to her vote. I have to admit that I’m going largely from memory, but it sure seemed to me that a lot of eyes were on Clinton and when she announced her support of the Iraq war, all but the strongest liberals in her party followed. I’ve tried to research who announced their support for of opposition to the 2002 resolution when, and I’ve been unsuccessful in finding a timeline that proves or disproves my thesis. If someone were to correct or confirm, I would welcome that information and own up to it if I’m wrong.
It’s over a decade later, and it’s impossible to know what would have happened if she had opposed the war. Would Kerry and Edwards have followed? Would the choice in 2004 have been less muddled by statements of support before opposition and such? We can’t know. We do know that Hillary Clinton had a moment in 2002 in which she had an opportunity to lead away from the Iraq war. Would others have followed her? We don’t know. We’ll never know for sure. We do know that she did not seize that moment.
In her failure to seize that moment, Hillary Clinton put her chance to become president in jeopardy. Her party’s base became angry with her. There was an enthusiasm gap to be filled, and rising star named Barack Obama was able to fill it. If Clinton had led the way her base wanted her to lead, Obama would not have even considered running in 2008. He’d still be in the Senate eyeing 2016.
So that’s the story of 2008, but my concerns about Clinton go back further. I want to preface this portion by saying that Hillary and Bill Clinton are two different people, and what Bill Clinton did in the 90’s should not automatically be considered indicative of what Hillary Clinton may do in the teens. However, I don’t see Hillary making much of an effort to distance herself from Bill. She certainly is trading on the Clinton association with peace and prosperity. So, while there are two distinct Clintons, it’s reasonable to assume that they do share similarities.
Bill Clinton came out of a group called the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group of moderate Democrats formed after Mondale’s loss in 1984. It’s a group that took a tough on crime, tough on drugs, change welfare and reduce regulation approach to governing. These were positions that were designed to reclaim the Reagan Democrats. These days, we call them Blue Dog Democrats, Red State Democrats, or even Conservadems, although that is more of a pejorative term used among the liberal democratic base.
In any case, the DLC represented a rightward shift on economic and quality of life issues to blunt the Republican attack on Democrats for being “soft on crime” and “tax and spend liberals.” This is the time that “liberal” became viewed as a bad word in the middle of the political spectrum.
The DLC movement worked. Clinton was viewed as a rising star, having given a famously long-winded speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention before his successful run in 1992 and a pretty successful two-term presidency.
I suppose it’s arguable that the DLC was a necessary response to the Reagan Revolution, but I think if Michael Dukakis had been willing to embrace “the L word” label rather than running from it the 1988 election could have turned out differently. Again, we have no way of knowing.
It’s not 1988 anymore, or even 2002. We’ve witnessed the failure of the economic policies that drove the Reagan Revolution. We can look back on the post-9/11 years and the crash of 2008 with clear eyes. We can also see what happens when Democrats successfully rally their base (2008, 2012) and what happens when they don’t (2010, 2014). The interesting thing to look at is what happened to the Democrats who embraced liberalism (they tended to survive) and those that ran away from it (they tended to be defeated).
The story of the 2014 elections is one of abysmally low turnout. Democratic candidates in marginal districts distanced themselves from a highly successful President and they payed the price in low turnout.
The fact is that the American electorate favors liberal policies. They want the banks regulated. They want good healthcare policy and environmental regulation and getting money out of politics and immigration reform and Keynesian economic policies to stimulate the economy. If you do honest polling on policy after policy the American electorate comes in to the left of the Obama Administration and by healthy margins.
Democratic candidates, at least on the national level tend to run to the right of the public in an effort to keep the billionaire-funded super-PAC’s on the sidelines. It never works, of course. If the Koch brothers think they can take a seat from a democrat, they will spare no expense to win it. There’s no making nice with them.
So for Democrats to win, they need to rally their base. Can Hillary do it? That’s what I’m not convinced of. Democrats need the youth vote. Rand Paul actually can make some inroads into that demographic with some of his libertarian views on things like drug policy. Democrats need labor. Paul is leery of trade agreements like NAFTA and it’s successors. Could he pick up voters who were drawn to Ross Perot over Clinton because of NAFTA?
Is another example of the dynastic nature of American politics in the form of Hillary Clinton enough to win over a disaffected electorate? I just don’t know . For all her ability and intelligence and organization, I just don’t know if she is the answer.
So who is?
Who could rally the left the way the TEA Party has rallied the right?
Two names come to mind: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Both these Senators are unapologetic liberals. They are willing and able to articulate a clear liberal agenda and they can pull a broad spectrum of support.
The fact is that the American electorate is ripe to embrace a new liberal agenda, a new FDR, if you will. All it takes is someone who can rally them. The problem is that this would be a risky choice that flies in the face of conventional wisdom and the corporate media narrative that falsely portrays the American public as right of center. The Democrats need to take a risk, to play to win. As I see it, a choice to nominate Sanders or Warren is a choice to play to win. I think to choose Hillary is to play to not loose.
In 2016, I’m not convinced that playing to not lose will be sufficient to win.