Democratic Regicide

Democratic Regicide
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Come 2016, the fundamental question facing American progressives will be this: in the era of the Tea Party, are you really prepared to have your presidential candidate be Obama’s “more conservative” runner-up from 2008?

Never before in the history of anything, they say, has an American politician faced an easier glide into a major party’s presidential nomination than the one that awaits Hillary Clinton two years from now. When speaking of her inevitable candidacy, media people have to catch themselves saying “when” and soften it into an “if,” but everyone knows this is just a perfunctory nicety; the former secretary of state already has a Super PAC (co-chaired by George Soros, no less), she’s already fundraising, she’s already giving policy speeches — all that’s missing is the bus with the giant picture of her face on the side.

To be sure, this sort of political predestination is not unprecedented. The American party system tends to favour second chances, after all, and numerous presidential (or vice presidential) nominees of the last 40 years — from Nixon to Biden — got their start as yesterday’s losers. As the victim of the narrowest primary defeat in recent history, Hillary’s certainly earned a retry of her own, and her claim to the party crown on the basis of tradition alone seems to have intimidated the press and much of the Democratic establishment into quiet acceptance.

But will the party base prove similarly acquiescent? A bit of skepticism may be warranted.

Beyond the fact that she is obviously highly intelligent, hard-working, and a fierce and loyal partisan, I’ve never quite understood what, precisely, Hillary Clinton can offer Democrats in the year 2016. As an inspiring or revolutionary political figure, her iconic status remains firmly tied to the 1990s; an era in which a career-woman First Lady with a hyphenated last name who participated actively in politics (even serving a couple weeks in Congress while her husband was still in the Oval Office) was edgy and establishment-rattling. Subverting a role as historically anti-feminist as that of the First Lady of the United States — even the title sounds dainty and patronizing — will forever rank as one of the great female-power achievements of the era. But just that.

Hillary went on to serve as New York’s first female senator, true, but even at the time of her election, the idea of being represented by a female in Congress was hardly novel. Hillary was a female secretary of state, yes, but America already had two female secretaries of state prior. It would be historic if she became the Democratic Party’s first female presidential nominee, sure, but any American 25 or older has already seen two female VP candidates in their lifetime. The sight of a woman on a primary debate stage is no longer novel.

Hillary’s well of symbolic importance, in short, has run dry. That leaves only her record, which ain’t that great either.

In contrast to the current president, whose ideological pedigree was solidly left, the Clintons have always been loud and proud in their centrism. Bill was among the most ostentatious backers of the 90s-era “New Democrat” movement, a man whose “third way” politics were supposed to mark a decisive break with his party’s excessively liberal (and election-losing past). Under Bill, all sorts of left-wing pet causes were heaved to the rubbish bin. NAFTA was signed, “the era of big government” was over, welfare as we knew it was ending. Instead of the state, it was a ever-freer free market that would be the rising tide to lift all ships. Wall Street darlings like Larry Summers and Robert Rubin were instructed to lead the charge for banking deregulation at home and neo-liberalism abroad.

To be sure, it’s unfair to saddle Hillary with all the blame — if that’s the word you want to use — for everything that occurred during her husband’s presidency, but as Henrick Herzberg wryly reminded in the New Yorker, the first presidential spouse to have an office in the West Wing “was a full participant in every important political and policy deliberation and in every crisis, foreign and (in both senses) domestic.” In any case, Hil still seems happy enough to serve as a leading ambassador of the big money wing of her party, unabashedly backing corporate hacks like Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe for public office and giving $20,000-a-pop pep rally speeches to the Goldman Sachs inner circle.

Taken together, it’s hard to escape the notion that the presidential viability of 70-year-old Hillary as America’s leading liberal in the year 2016 is an idea that’s a little, well, past its prime.

The 2008 financial crisis has radicalized the American left, just as it has the right. Perennial unemployment and underemployment, are the defining political realities of an entire generation of young progressives, and much of their angst is directed squarely at the Wall Street 1% who prospered so well during the Clinton years. If deregulation was the signature Democratic achievement of those days, the party’s most iconic post-recession accomplishment has been precisely the opposite — 3,000 pages of Dodd-Frank. If Obamacare hasn’t exactly brought the “era of big government” back from the dead, it’s certainly showing some signs of life.

One shouldn’t be surprised, then, that influential voices within the American left — most recently Noam Scheiber in the pages of The New Republic — have begun to champion the idea of getting the robustly progressive Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary for the Democratic crown in 2016, and basically pull another Obama-style revolt from the left against the party’s centrist establishment.

To be sure, the ferociously anti-Wall Street, anti-big bank Warren would be aptly cast in the role of Obama redeaux. Like him, she could easily rally against Hillary’s hypocrisy on the left’s signature issue of the day — then Iraq, now the power of the plutocracy — and position herself as the clear darling of the sort of ideological hardcores who the pundits tell us always dominate primary voting. Like him, she has an obvious base of youth support to tap into born from her online omnipresence (I can’t count the number of YouTube videos I’ve seen shared that profess to show Warren “demolishing” someone), and a freshness untainted by too much time in Washington. Like him, she’s a minority candidate running against another, making the “historic” case for voting Hillary suddenly non-existent.

Like him, she has the potential to make something that once seemed so certain, suddenly less so.


  1. Dan

    Nominating Hillary Clinton for President would finalize the Democrat's abandonment of Hope and Change.

  2. Heartright

    Considering the fat amount of good that has done, the sooner that shite is consigned to the dungheap the better.

  3. scribbler

    If I remember correctly, Hillary had the "Change" slogan first. Obama rather cuttingly made his slogan "Change We Can Believe In."

  4. drs

    And that worked out so well in the end.
    –disappointed liberal

  5. Ben

    Difficulty: an almost identical assessment of Mrs. Clinton as the inevitable nominee of the easiest win for the Democratic party in US history was pretty much universal among the pundits… in 2007, with basically the same sets of caveats and objections.

    How'd that one work out for her again?

  6. ComeOnWarren

    Minority candidate? Like, 1/16th native american, something she used to get into her position of now?

    And would americans really be so stupid to elect another "young" leftist senator with no experience, after the disastrous mess that is the Obama presidency? Obamacare and Dodd-Frank included?

  7. J.j. McCullough

    I meant that she's a woman. Though I know women aren't a minority in the US. But I've never seen a better term for lumping racial minorities and females together into one big group of "people who are not often elected to things."

  8. Devil Child

    "Underrepresented" has traditionally been the best term for majority groups who are, well, underrepresented. Like blacks and coloreds in pre-94 South Africa, or the Han in Manchu ruled China.

  9. Devil Child

    Even if she was, we've already elected an actual Cherokee to the Executive branch a century ago.*

    *Charles Curtis, VP, 1928.

  10. Sucros

    I just really love the bomb elephant in the lower right corner.

  11. Simon

    Obama and Clinton's platforms during the 2008 primaries were essentially identical. I followed closely, and I don't recall either attacking the other for being too ideologically moderate or extreme. Obama won not because he had better left credentials overall, but because he had publicly opposed the Iraq War early on (made easier by the fact that he wasn't a U.S. Senator at the time). If Clinton had won in 2008, I would have expected the last five years to be mostly the same in policy terms.

    It's also questionable whether Warren will actually have presidential ambitions. She certainly doesn't seem to at the moment, having privately urged Clinton to run[1]. That could change by 2016, of course, but given that it's still true at the moment, it's a little soon to sign Clinton's death certificate.


  12. J.j. McCullough

    You're right that the platforms were largely the same, but identical platforms don't matter if one of the candidates has a reputation as a phoney who will say anything to get elected. I mean, all the 2012 Republicans had basically the same platform, yet were perceived as being widely different based on their records and temperament.

  13. Rachel Bush

    Well, Obama was more to the left during the primary. For example, he said during a debate he would be willing to personally meet with the President of Iran or Hugo Chavez for discussion. Even I thought that was going too far, but I expected a rightward shift and figured that the odds that would seriously come into practice would be really low. At least, I figured that Obama delivering on that promise was more favorable than Clinton delivering on this one:

    While that message was underway, Clinton was running the "3am phonecall" ad. Because the "national security" attack was so common in 2000 and 2004, in 2008 this added to a perception of Clinton as "conservative lite" and did little to assuage fears instigated by the Iraq vote. The overall perception of the candidates was painted by these mini-stories that, in the long run, turn out to be bupkis.

    During his 2008 campaign, he refused to accept SuperPAC corporate donations and most of his donations were in the $50 or under range. While Clinton's campaign chair was linked to Goldman Sachs, McCain's campaign co-chair Phil Gramm was a lobbyist for a Swiss bank being investigated for tax fraud.

    It was only after election that Obama did a 180 on the whole "experience doesn't matter much if you've got a bad track record" thing and appointed Timothy Geithner and other banking industry veterans for their, you know, experience. And promptly had one of his first scandals about him not paying taxes.

    When it comes to electing a candidate that risks the possibility of a belligerent foreign policy, and thwarting the dominance of corporate campaign contributions (see: the many articles correlating the way Congress members vote and their contributions), is it really so wrong to elect people based on what they're saying?

  14. Rachel Bush

    Ah, let me clarify that. I didn't mean we shouldn't totally obliterate Iran if they attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. I meant that it was a little premature to say that when they don't even have one yet, and implied to me that war could be on the table in lesser circumstances. Speak softly and carry a big stick, right?

    I think in 2013, her Iraq War vote wouldn't be an issue. I think her association with the possibility of intervention in Syria would allow the Republicans to paint themselves as non-interventionist should they select a candidate with the right track record.

    I don't think she would appeal to moderates and independents as much, partly because of her "political aristocracy" reputation such that her last name alone carries that weight with some. I don't think someone running as a moderate could defeat her in a primary, though. As long as the "Super Tuesday" debacle doesn't repeat.

  15. Devil Child

    The Clinton Years are hugely popular already. By 2016, they'll be seen equal to the Reagan Era, and people will give anything to return to them.

    It won't be possible. The conditions that created the 90s are gone forever, but by 2016 things'll be so bad even moderate moves upwards'll be seen as miracles.

  16. Jake_Ackers

    Problem is people don't like Hillary's personality. Christie is likeable especially in a place where Washington is seen as do nothing.

  17. Jake_Ackers

    That Governor of Maryland (O'Malley) could be a surprise. Evan Bayh on the other hand would do well but he won't run against a Clinton. Depending on who the Republican nod is, I would vote for Evan Bayh. Frankly would of voted for him over McCain or Romney. The Dem Party on a political high note and I doubt they would take any other moderate than Hillary.

  18. J.j. McCullough

    There's also the fact that Obama, as a community organizer whose political awareness was forged in Chicago during the Reagan-Bush years came from a background more robustly left-wing than the Clintons did being southern Democrats in the 1970s. I mean, part of this is just generational, younger people are always more liberal than the generation that preceded them.

  19. drs

    I don't see meeting with the President of Iran or Hugo Chavez as "going too far". Especially not the latter!

  20. drs

    I mean, I didn't like Chavez that much, but I see no reason for the US president to boycott him.

  21. Colin Minich

    I'm actually going to go out on a limb and say that as not only a registered Dem and a resident of MA, Warren has appeal but she doesn't have the legacy of the Clinton influence at all. Combine that with some of her rather kooky quips about Native American heritage and other more than liberal leanings and you've got issues. Also, she doesn't possess the sort of backstabbing nature that we saw with the 2012 GOP primaries and the 2008 dogfight between Obama and Hillary. The 2016 election isn't in the bag, by no means, but Hillary is more than likely going to be the leader of the pack because as compared to the schismatic GOP, Dems at least know how to concede to a sure thing.

  22. drs

    Yeah, the bomb elephant is cute. Can't complain about the art here.

    "the current president, whose ideological pedigree was solidly left" Uh, how so?

    As Simon says, their platforms and positions were nearly identical. Obama had opposed the war earlier (cheap for someone not in Congress at the time) and opposed the individual mandate, something he sensibly went back on. Edwards would talk about unions without having to be cornered. Otherwise the 3 of them were peas in a pod. And hey, Obama's presidency has borne out the truth of that.

  23. Devil Child

    Obama significantly toned down his personal beliefs for the campaign, but even then, he was still campaigning for a single payer system, a swift shift in direction leftwards in security and foreign policy matters even towards longtime national enemies like Iran, as well as other policies.

    Not all of those policies were implemented, but he was definitely more left than Clinton personally, politically, and in the campaign.

  24. drs

    Not really campaigning for single-payer. He apparently said he'd go for it if starting from scratch, but his actual plan was Obamacare without the mandate.

  25. Nikki Andrews

    Don't forget the predicted big fight between Christie and Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries. The base does not want a repeat of 2008 and 2012. If Ted Cruz wins, he can position as the anti-establishment candidate and portray Hilary as a representative of the establishment. Plus, we don't know what the reception of Obama will be over the next three years. If he is unpopular for whatever could happen in the future, it will damage Hilary's chances like bush's unpopularity did for McCain.

  26. Dryhad

    If Ted Cruz wins the Republican nomination it's as good as a Democrat victory no matter who the Democratic candidate is. Tea Party candidates have achieved they victories they have in strongly Republican areas; looking at the key states in the Electoral College or the nation at large suggests a repeat of the much publicized cases of Tea Party candidates overthrowing establishment Republicans only to lose decisively in the main election.

  27. Nikki Andrews

    I know this will get me laughed at, but what about ted cruz makes him unelectable? He's probably the most charismatic republican senator, and he is said to be a great debater. His dad is insane, but maybe cruz is smart enough to change he rhetoric style to make himself appear normal to swing voters,

  28. drs

    I won't say anyone's unelectable but he's pretty much responsible for the shutdown and almost-default; unless he can wiggle out of that he's anathema outside the Tea Party. Even the Chamber of Commerce may avoid him; business was *pissed* at the shutdown, which showed the GOP has shifted from being the business party to the anti-government party.

  29. Bill Stephens

    The very fact that Cruz was born in Canada. The U.S. Constitution says that the president and vice president must be "natural-born citizens." Obama was born in the STATE of Hawai'i, and his mother was also a natural-born citizen. Cruz's father was born in Cuba (and fought at Fidel Castro's side in the 1959 revolution). Where was Cruz's mother born?

  30. Monte

    Cruz's mother was born in delaware. Since only one of his parents was an american citzen and he was born in canada, its questionable whether or not he would be considered "natural born". Its a complicated mess, but what i have been able to find, it seems that there is a good chance he would qualify.

    Here's one take i managed to find on the subject…
    Its kinda ridiculous how messy it can get.

  31. Jake_Ackers

    Cruz is American. Why? Because otherwise it would make all children of service members non -American. Especially those born to German mothers or German fathers being a prime example.

  32. Monte

    His charisma pretty much only exists amongst the tea party. Really, its only enough to get him elected in a red state, but on the national level he would get grilled in every moderate state. You can't win without the swing states and he would never be able to carry them. Really the democrat's would have to find someone really incompetent and unlikable to loose to him.

  33. Jake_Ackers

    100% or bust attitude. He thinks the laws should be as he wants even though there are 300 million of us. Not going to get 100% of what you want.

  34. Devil Child

    Cruz definitely isn't getting anything earlier than 2020. Even if he didn't make a complete ass of himself this year, nobody from the Legislative branch stands much of a chance after all the bullshit we've put up with on their end.

    The only people from Washington who stand a chance are the ones who worked in the Executive branch as their last job.

  35. Jake_Ackers

    Hillary is unpopular and unlikeable. Furthermore, Cruz will cause Christie to look like a lib. Thus being to bloodied up by in Nov. If Cruz doesn't attack Christie like Santorum and Gingrich attacked Romney, they should be fine. Christie is teflon especially since Cruz will be blamed for contributing to Washington's incompetence. Rubio will be the deciding factor. Rubio can take votes away from Cruz. And plus Rubio will want to warm up to Christie. Rubio isn't that far right but looks like he is.

    As a result Christie can lose Iowa or even finish 2nd/3rd. Win NH go into SC and just place their and have Rubio either take FL or take enough away from Cruz to let Christie look like the comeback kid. Nevada might be more influential and if Michigan is included early Christie can take 3 states (NH, NV, MI).

  36. truteal

    Warren is much too inexperienced for the highest office in the world (But then again, I said the same thing about Barry O and his presidency isn't as bad as I thought it would be)

    Cruz has too much of a bad rap for the whole goverment shutdown fiasco to be a possible candidate for president

  37. Nikki Andrews

    Will people even remember the shutdown in 2016? The shutdown of 1995 didn't stop the GOP from controlling congress from another 12 years. Anyway, am I the only who tired of the talk of the 2016 election when we just entered the second term of Obama? The last election just happened a year ago, and the media was already talking about the next election a month after.

  38. drs

    Don't know if voters will, but big donors probably will.

  39. Monte

    People won't remember it, but you can bet the democrats will be quick to remind everyone especially if its one of the major players in the shut down who is running. They know that the shutdown is poisonous.

    Though i do agree; i am tired of 2016 talk… way too soon for this. Really i have found it ridiculous how much time and energy we spend on elections. Yes they are important, but we have people campaigning a full year ahead of the elections. The result is billions being spent on what amounts to candidates advertising themselves… honestly the waste of money alone seems like a sad state of affairs since it seems like so much more good could be done. Makes me wish we could find a way to get the money out of elections and adopt a more efficient and streamlined approach to pre-election campaigning, just to get rid of the enormous waste. Something that can inform people on the issues of the candidates without wasting billions in the process.

  40. Jake_Ackers

    The shutdown attempt was in a way validated by how horrible Obamacare is turning out. It wipes the slate clean especially considering how Obama said you would get to keep your plan. It makes the Dem seem like liars and Reps seem like "I told you so."

    Frankly most of the money spent is not toward the candidate but rather put on the issues. If there was no McCain-Feingold the money wouldn't be a problem. It would go down or people spend it on the issues rather than the candidate. Plus it's their money, if people want to spend it fine with me. Better than using taxpayer money and then having people spend the money in sneaky ways.

  41. Jake_Ackers

    The candidate that appears more conservative wins. Hence Warren will run to make Hillary appear more moderate/conservative than her. Christie will get nailed by Santorum or Cruz or someone else on the right as too liberal.

    McCain and Romney both were attacked for being too liberal. They avoided talking about faith. Obama had to pretty much hug Jesus to avoid being labelled a Muslim. Plus the whole "cutting taxes for 98% of working Americans" helped too.

  42. Ben

    Might be more accurate to say "the candidate that appears to be closer to the center wins". The trend is for the most right-leaning candidates to do the best in Democratic party primaries and the most left-leaning candidates to do the best in GOP primaries… at least at the presidential level.

    More local elections get more ideological, but things like 2008 coming down to Obama or Clinton (by far the most conservative folks in the race) and 2012 being Romney's easily despite him being barely a Republican by 2000s standards are hardly surprising: at some point you have to ditch ideology to a degree to have a chance at winning, and all the votes you weren't guaranteed to begin with are in the middle.

  43. Jake_Ackers

    Primary yes but in the general no. Dole, McCain, Romney, HW Bush (appeared as liberal in 1992 versus 1988) even Ford, all lost. Liberal to moderate Republicans don't win elections. Moderate to Conservative ones do, Reagan, W Bush, Nixon, HW Bush (in 1988).

    It's all about appearance was my point. You don't have to be conservative only appear as such in the general. The Santorums and Cruzes of the world won't ever win but they will make people like Christie appear too far to the left. Christie could win the primary but he will be attacked so much he will seem to left for a Republican. Thus meaning a ton of Reps will stay home. Happened to McCain and Romney. While liberals tend to be a smaller part of the electorate, thus being a more conservative than Warren gets her more independents.

    All in all, Reps cannot lose their base as right-leaning voters tend to be a greater part of the overall electorate than left leaning ones. It's a 20% lib, 40% mod/ind and 40% con. Thus meaning that a strong Conservative candidate needs only a few mod voters to win. While a Democrat needs a lot more moderate voters. As was the case with Gore v Bush. Moderate Dem with a Conservative Republican, very competitive.

    Best example is HW Bush versus Dukakis in 1988. Bush was viewed as the 3rd term of Reagan. So he was viewed as conservative. "Read my lips, no new taxes." Okay the public bought that. By 1992 he raised taxes and paid the price for it. Clinton ran on a promise to cut taxes for the middle class. Thus appearing more conservative. Although the whole Perot thing did help.

  44. James

    Then explain 1964!

  45. Trenacker

    Christie probably has enough folksy charm and faux-accomplishments (in terms of net outcomes, New Jersey is in a bad spot) to muscle through a primary challenge. Almost certainly he will have the war chest to do so, on account of backing from Big Business.

    I don't see Cruz overcoming his association with the Tea Party. Romney's problem last time wasn't so much getting out the far-right vote, but surviving association with other Republican candidates for elected office. Cruz will face the same raft of problems. Besides that, I think that the Republican agenda is simply less appealing to the country today than it has been in the past.

    The appeal of an "anti-government" party hinges on whether or not the "private sector" can provide all of the goods and services, tangible and intangible, that we as a society believe that people need. Republicans don't actually propose the end of welfare per se; they simply expect that the family unit and the church will provide most of those things more efficiently, and more ethically, than government. The problem is that the Republicans haven't proposed a feasible replacement or solution for the weakening family unit or church community. I suspect that a silver-tongued moderate or Rockefeller-style Republican could sway a lot of values voters by offering an agenda that backs (softly) away from issues like abortion and evolution but talks about promoting the two-parent home and the civic institution.

    I suspect that Obama has done nearly as much damage to the Democratic brand as George Bush did to the Republican during the election cycle before last. Still, I think that Hillary could succeed, if only because many people will regard her as a proxy for Bill Clinton, who is still held in high esteem. A lot of that appeal owes to nostalgia for the 1990s, but there you have it.

  46. Jake_Ackers

    Agreed. Although Obama is teflon but Hillary is a bit unlikeable. So it depends if Hillary is running or if Mrs. Clinton is running. If it's Hillary then the Reps will tack everything bad Obama did on her. Chris Christie seems to have the right amount of balance to nail her to the wall successfully without appearing like a sexist pig. Plus if he does win NJ in the General, it's pretty much over for the Dems. Hillary could put Booker on the ticket and save herself that way, and she is from NY so Christie might not even win NJ but still manage to win the election.

    Either way it puts NJ in play meaning more resources to the Northeast for the Dems (he could get some support from PA as well) and he pretty much doesn't need to put any resources into NJ.