The People Perish

The trouble with Hilary Clinton’s email is not Hilary Clinton’s email.

The trouble is that the Democratic Party is apparently committed beyond recall to nominating an individual to be President whose entire strategic vision is:

a) I’m owed. It’s my turn.
b) Remember how good it felt to break a barrier to aspiration in 2008? You can feel that way again.
c) Something something demographics.

Particularly c). As long as we’re remembering 2008, remember all that absolute horseshit that progressives were unloading about how the demographics were against the Republican Party, how it was just a bunch of old white people, about the ascendancy of a new American majority? You don’t even need to have a platform, or a vision, or an ideology! It’s destiny!

You can look long and hard to find any other signs of a Democratic idea or vision and not find it. At best, what you’ll see is the same bland technocratic defense of competency that the party has offered since Mondale’s defeat in 1984. We’re not crazy, our guys went to good schools, we make good policy, look at this nice range of legislation we drafted. But at best the Obama Administration is a hodgepodge of good and bad even on technocratic grounds. Eric Holder’s Justice Department lays out the facts on Ferguson? Great, if reactive, but I’ll see that and raise you Arne Duncan’s destructive Education Department, which could just as easily have been Bush’s Education Department.

On vision, though? It’s nowhere. Competency without conviction is not enough. The Republican Party base has a ton of conviction and it is sufficient to produce the outcomes they want whether or not they are actually in power, because they can speak clearly and consistently about what they’re looking for in every single issue they encounter, indeed, on issues they have yet to encounter. Put that up against competency without vision, and it will push the technocrat towards accommodating the only strong, coherent, aligned voices speaking on a particular issue.

The idea that Clinton is inevitable is possibly the most depressing prospect in mainstream electoral politics that I’ve seen in my lifetime. The best I could hope for at this point is that she’s the Millard Fillmore of her party, the last of a kind and a confirmation of the necessity to break up the Democrats as they are and build something new in their place.

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4 Responses to The People Perish

  1. Jerry Hamrick says:

    These two most recent posts, “Practice What We Preach,” and “The People Perish,” for me, are two of your best.

    “Practice” asks for explanations, and mine is that the liberal arts follow the “mind is a blank slate approach.” Anybody can be taught anything. ‘Tain’t so. The liberal arts ignore human nature–real, biologically-based human nature. The liberal arts should be teaching that the human nature of various actors determines their ideas, arguments (really rationalizations), and actions.

    The inevitably of Hillary is not so much frightening to me as it is wasteful of a time-dependent opportunity. George W. Bush was frightening to me. I made myself unwelcome on a couple of conservative blogs by saying that he was a dangerous man–that he “would tell any lie and break any law,” to get what he wanted. It turned out that I was wrong. In truth he would “tell any lie and break any law” in order to get what his Vice-President wanted. Bush, his Vice-President (I cannot speak his name), and the Clintons all follow their biology, their distinct human nature.

    The liberal arts will eventually adapt or die as a funded branch in universities. It must adapt to the biological determinism of human nature.

  2. And she’s backed by many Dems who think she’s “too big to fail,” and say that in part while glancing at their “bench.”

  3. Very true. Hillary Clinton’s “inevitability” hurts the Democratic party on almost all levels. She can go out and speak like a moderate Republican (those used to exist), and dodge issues without challenge from the progressive base. If I were a Koch-level donor, I’d back Bernie Sanders if only to get his populist message out there and keep Clinton honest.

  4. Dave W. says:

    Well, I supported Obama in 2008, but Hillary Clinton was a strong candidate then who has filled in the two biggest holes in her resume since – the lack of foreign policy experience, and a relative lack of executive branch administrative experience*. I think she is likely to be a better President in 2016 than she would have been in 2008, and probably better in terms of being able to use the office as effectively as possible, given the political constraints she may face, than anyone else the Democrats might be prepared to nominate in her place this cycle.

    You say that competency without conviction is not enough. Whether or not I agree with that would depend on how broadly you are prepared to define “conviction.” Certainly, a presidential candidate must have some idea of what he or she intends to accomplish beyond just getting elected. That doesn’t mean it has to be an agenda you can boil down to a slogan that will passionately excite low-information voters, though it is obviously helpful to getting elected if you can. Here is one goal that I think is entirely worthy, if not super-exciting: preserving and extending the legacy of the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda since Johnson’s Great Society in the face of continued Republican efforts to turn back the clock and destroy many of the key elements of that agenda. Playing defense may not be exciting, but it is important.

    Given the current makeup of the House and Senate, I don’t think any Democratic president will have much opportunity to achieve major new legislative goals over the next few years, unless she or he can either get 60 Democratic seats in the Senate and control of the House in 2016, or electorially punish the Republicans in the 2018 midterms for obstruction, which might cow a few Republicans into cooperating with the Democrats. Both are theoretically possible, but neither seems likely to me. (For example, Democrats would probably have to capture all the seats listed in this table of possibly competitive seats to get to 60 votes in the Senate in 2016.) Most of what any Democratic president can accomplish will be achieved through executive branch appointments, judicial appointments, and foreign diplomacy. Those are important, but they don’t easily lend themselves to broad sweeping visions that can actually be achieved.

    Elizabeth Warren as President (if she were interested in running) would be subject to those constraints every bit as much as Hillary Clinton, and would likely be further marginalized by the media as a radical whose vision need not be taken particularly seriously. To accomplish more progressive goals, what we need is more Elizabeth Warrens in the House and Senate, more than this Elizabeth Warren in the White House.

    You also say that the Republican base’s conviction allows them to achieve the outcomes they want whether or not they are actually in power, because they can speak clearly and consistently about any issue they encounter. I would question that consistency, e.g., with respect to immigration policy, where the incoherence of Republican views kept them from passing any immigration reform through the House in the last congress, despite their leadership having named that as a major policy goal. But more to the point, most of the positive policy goals achieved by the Republicans in recent years have come either in states where they control all the relevant veto points (e.g., Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Indiana), or where they could muster the votes of five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court (Citizens United, Shelby County, Hobby Lobby, etc.). The evidence that they can achieve positive change (as opposed to just obstructing the Democrats’ agenda) when out of power due to their clear vision seems decidedly thinner.

    Has the federal government privatized Social Security when I wasn’t looking? Is Roe v. Wade no longer the law of the land? Has the Affordable Care Act been repealed? Are we facing inevitable war with Iran? Has Marriage Equality been banned throughout the land? Have the top bracket of taxpayers had their Bush tax cuts made permanent? These are among the most memorable elements of the Republican “vision” from the last decade or so. None of them is currently law, though some are threatened should the Republicans gain control of the federal government in the next election.

    And while we are discussing partisan visions, how about this one: we believe that every American should have access to good quality affordable health care, even if you lose your job? That’s been part of the Democratic vision since the time of the Truman administration. It’s one that the Democrats were able to make a historic advance towards during the four months they had 60 votes in the Senate. It’s been under continuous attack from the Republicans ever since, providing a clear differentiator. And it’s certainly part of Hillary Clinton’s vision, given her history. That history makes it unlikely that she could be fooled into accepting a poison-pill amendment to the ACA as part of some other legislative “compromise.”
    How well Hillary Clinton articulates her vision for America remains to be seen, once she launches her official campaign. But many key elements of what she is likely to do are already well known. Given how much any Democratic President will have to play defense, I think there’s a lot to be said for the experienced candidate who has a good grasp on what is possible in this political environment.

    *These holes, of course, were also shared by Obama at the time, although I was encouraged by his collaboration with Lugar on the “loose nukes” bill and other bills with international implications. The whole Tuzla fiasco occurred in response to her perceived relative weakness on foreign policy. Also, while Hillary did have executive branch experience with chairing the Clinton health care task force, that’s not the same as showing that she could run an existing federal bureaucracy, and it was not seen as successful experience at the time. Those doubts have now been put to rest. Indeed, I saw Obama’s choice of Clinton as Secretary of State as a peace offering to her and her supporters that effectively positioned her as his heir apparent, given how directly the position could address her weaknesses that had been exposed in the primary campaign.

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