Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's Hillary Clinton's Time

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a presidential nephew talk about the importance of mental health reform in the United States, so I unfortunately didn't get to see the debates, but I managed to read a number of the reviews and also hear them this morning.  As expected, they seemed light on fireworks and more policy-inclined (for all the talk about the Republicans' 17-wide race, it's been far more burden than blessing so far considering the tedious debates and rise of bombastic candidates).  My favorite moment was a lot of people's favorite moment, when Bernie Sanders, instead of scoring a political point off his rival Hillary Clinton, decided to tell the Chris Cillizza's of the world that we're tired of hearing about the damn emails.  It was a moment that seemed pretty genuine for the Vermont senator, and I think Clinton was taken aback but touched by the classiness.  Yes, he did it for political reasons (making him seem like the atypical politician and scoring nice guy points), but name me another debate where the morning after was the media talking about a positive development and not an attack or a barb-it's refreshing.

The debate, however, posed a challenge for me as I was pulling together a list of where everyone on the list of the Democratic candidates for president ranked, because, well, there really isn't a list after last night.  Hillary Clinton has had a terrible year, there's no question about that.  Between the Clinton Foundation scandal to the more recent attacks on her email server, the former First Lady has had a lot of challenges, and I think only a crazy person would have assumed a year ago that Bernie Sanders would be her chief rival for the nomination.  But the reality is that Clinton proved something yesterday-she's better than this field.  While the others were trying to prove that they were worthy to be on the same stage as her, she was in a class by herself.

The rest of the field just doesn't compare.  Sen. Sanders is a nice guy, someone that I think has had a positive effect on this race.  He ensured that Clinton actually debated last night and not just made it there in a walk, and he generated genuine excitement in this race.  Sanders is someone that clearly cares deeply about the issues, and is going to continue to press Clinton on issues that perhaps the progressives have been too soft on her for, particularly her connections to Wall Street and a push to end Citizens United.  Sanders and his supporters deserve a lot of credit for forcing Clinton to take early, progressive stances on these issues and for getting her to take liberal stances on the TPP and the Keystone Pipeline, stances perhaps we wouldn't have gotten from her without his improving polls.  It also, quite frankly, kept her from going into Mitt Romney territory with her campaign-she had to get back to the trenches much earlier and got practiced as a result.

However, Sanders just isn't ready to be president.  Forget for a second that he's entirely unelectable, that someone who identifies as a Democratic Socialist cannot possibly win a general election.  The reality is that I don't think Bernie Sanders thought he'd do this well.  Lots of people have talked about how Donald Trump doesn't want to be president, he just wanted to prove that he could be, and I think they're right but I also think Bernie Sanders is in a similar, if more noble situation.  Sanders wanted there to be a conversation about economics, campaign finance reform, and climate change.  That's why he ran-I don't think he thought he would do this well, and the amount of support has taken him by aback.  He has succeeded in framing the debate for the primaries and for getting Hillary Clinton's verbal signature on a number of different issues and that's excellent.  And I don't expect with his current polling for him to disappear from the stage, but I do think he's reached his high-water mark here in terms of viability to take down Clinton.  Last night sort of proved that when he didn't go for the jugular with the former New York senator, but instead aided her on some of the toughest issues.  He's not gunning for her VP slot (he's not that naive), but he has earned her respect and since she's the likely nominee his issues will be front-and-center in the next administration.  That's an accomplishment; it might not be the White House as some #feelthebern supporters are hoping for, but it's very important.

The rest of the field, of course, doesn't compare.  Martin O'Malley has accomplished nothing in this race other than becoming a shirtless meme for gay Twitterers to drool over for the next 48 hours or so.  Lincoln Chafee was embarrassingly bad yesterday, and I think hasn't realized that Rhode Island isn't the national stage, and quite frankly he wasn't that great at Rhode Island politics anyway.  Jim Webb's running in the wrong primary, and while I don't doubt he's a Democrat (he has a Senate voting record to back that up), his ideas aren't presented coherently and if he truly wanted to be president he would have run for reelection in 2012.  None of these men are worth spending more time on and I suspect we'll see a couple drop out of or not even qualify for the next debates.

I think had the rest of the field known that Hillary Clinton would have the year she did, perhaps they would have shown up.  Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Cuomo, Julian Castro, and a dozen other names that will abound in 2020 if Clinton loses didn't catch the hint that there might still be a race (missing a lesson from one Bill Clinton in 1992).  Elizabeth Warren, Al Gore, and John Kerry didn't realize that a celebrity Democrat might have had a shot in 2016 since the biggest celebrity Democrat was already running and skipped out on their last chances at the Oval Office.  Joe Biden is still entertaining the idea, and theoretically if something truly awful comes out of Clinton's emails or the Benghazi hearings, he would be a feasible alternative, but it feels like that would have happened by now and both those issues appear to be headed Clinton's way, at least with Democrats.  It's quite clear after last night that Biden has missed his last opportunity to hold a job he's wanted for decades.  Clinton's low point was almost certainly already reached, and from here he's unlikely to take her mantle.  He got dealt an impossibly hard year to deal with such an underdog undertaking, but politics is rarely just about skill and mostly requires a solid amount of luck, and Joe Biden's presidential ambitions have never been particularly good at the latter.

A lot of Democrats will read this with fear in their eyes, and I understand it.  Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure in our nation, and while Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were also polarizing figures, she is more so in some ways, both fairly and unfairly.  Clinton is not the personable, calming force her husband is and doesn't instill the easy gravitas that Obama does, this is true.  Her retail politicking is so much poorer than them that it's hard to remember she debates like a champ.  But it's clearly time for Hillary Clinton in 2016 the same way it was time for Richard Nixon in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, and John McCain in 2008-she's earned this and this has been decades in the making both by she and the Democratic Party (and that includes the voters, not just the DNC).  The reality is that the Democrats are going to get a slightly more moderate version of Obama with Hillary Clinton-that's true, but she brings a different set of issues to the forefront.  I am certain that her first 100 days won't be spent on signature issues like healthcare and immigration, but instead on economic populist issues, climate change, and gun control.  Her administration would prove the power of holding the Oval Office for longer than eight years, and perhaps even make the GOP realize that it's time to reckon with itself and the clear schism that has permeated its party in the wake of a President Obama.  Those worried she won't be the progressive champion that Obama was are probably right, but she might be the one who actually scores more overall baskets for the left.

As for her electability, it's a worry worth having.  I listed both winners and losers above for a reason, as people whose time has come don't always win.  Marco Rubio, the likely Republican nominee, is going to be a tough candidate to face, there's absolutely no doubt about that, but it's not like Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders won't face similar odds.  And the reality is that all of those "trustworthiness" and "cold" tags that get levied toward Clinton are the same attacks that have gone to Margaret Thatcher and Condoleezza Rice and Nancy Pelosi and any other trailblazing woman in power.  You don't break a glass ceiling without a couple of risks, and Democrats need to start sucking it up because Hillary Clinton is about to be your nominee-and you can't afford for her to lose.

And you don't want her to either.

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