First Lady, senator from New York, 2008 presidential contender, secretary of state. These are the bold descriptors invoked when politicos and observers discuss the bona fides of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The perpetual-campaign mindset of the American media has created an atmosphere of frenzied speculation surrounding the 2016 presidential election. This state of affairs has contributed to the development of an insidious notion that crosses partisan lines —the inevitability of a Clinton run, and perhaps, presidency. This sort of fatalism is dangerous to the democratic process because it discourages the serious exploration of alternative candidates in favor of a narrowly circumscribed contingent of acceptable contenders.
The assumption of Clinton’s ascendency to the Democratic nomination is founded on the nebulous contention that America is “ready for a female president”, and thus women will deliver her to the White House. It betrays a perception of American women as an undifferentiated mass that will eschew thoughtful consideration of her policies in favor of groupthink that employs gender as a litmus test. The final assumption, and perhaps most critical to this assessment, is the overt acceptance of a dynasty in American politics. Many will point swiftly to the Kennedys, the Bushes, and perhaps even the Pauls. While the focus of this piece is on the Clintons, the formers’ attempts at dynasty are no less problematic.
At the time of this writing, two pro-Hillary Super PACs, Ready for Hillary and Priorities USA, are conducting closed-door meetings in preparation for her run. Their highly seasoned staff (many are vets from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns), and ability to marshal vast financial resources, virtually ensures that Clinton’s cloud of inevitability will darken the landscape long before her declaration. Closer to the candidate, unofficial campaign advisers have begun consultations with Clinton about the technical requirements of running a campaign. Maggie Haberman of Politico reports that, “publicly, Clinton insists she’s many months away from a decision about her political future. But a shadow campaign on her behalf has nevertheless been steadily building for the better part of a year — a quiet, intensifying, improvisational effort to lay the groundwork for another White House bid.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine describes the former Secretary of State’s gravitational pull, Politico breathlessly reports on Clinton’s shadow campaign, and Time describes her political momentum as unstoppable. These three rather reputable outlets represent a larger trend towards shaping the political conversation in a manner that presupposes the outcome.
Amongst the 2016 hopefuls, Clinton has attracted the most feverish speculation about a possible run. Thus, it raises a question—does the coverage influence the polls? Or do the polls influence the coverage? I suspect that the incessant speculation surrounding her potential presidential bid may lead some respondents to favor the candidate with the most hype.
Recent polling data from Iowa demonstrate Clinton’s clear lead in virtual matchups with various opponents. The October Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll shows Clinton with strong leads over Governor Chris Christie, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Mitt Romney proves the rare exception and leads Clinton 44-43. However, Romney’s edge is trivial, as it falls squarely within the margin of error.
Other numbers from Iowa demonstrate Clinton’s almost absurd lead amongst dems. According to another poll administered by the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg, 76 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus voters have a “favorable” view of Clinton. The former secretary of state’s horrifying gaffe about leaving the White House “dead broke” clearly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of Iowa dems.
However, in the thick of the horse race, the salient issues remain unexamined. It’s easy to periodically weigh in on current affairs, such as the annexation of Crimea or the emergence of ISIS, without leaving yourself open to questions about what a Clinton foreign policy would actually entail. The complacent acceptance of a candidate simply based on her family name and celebrity, instead of her policies, goes against our democratic culture.
Inevitability and democracy are, and always have been, mutually exclusive. Clinton ’16 is virtually inevitable, and that reality is fraught with dangers to our political future.
“Most of her fellow Democrats are signaling scant interest in taking her on. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a hero of the left, has repeatedly said she would not challenge Clinton in the primary. Likewise, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—who might otherwise vie to be the first female President—have said they would support her candidacy. ‘I think if another woman ran against Hillary, she would bring down the wrath of women around the country,’ said one veteran democratic strategist, echoing a widespread view inside the party that Clinton earned another shot at history when she surrendered gracefully to Barack Obama in 2008.”
The above passage from David von Drehle in Time provides a sharp glimpse into the bloated inevitability surrounding Hillary Clinton’s political future. Democracy at its core is about the people having choice in their political affairs. The notion of Hillary as a foregone conclusion, even before she declares her candidacy, is a toxic manifestation of the intermingling of party politics and the cloying cult of personality that hovers around the Clintons. Much has been written about their vast political network and its sometimes-decisive impact on Democratic Party politics. In fact, the Hillaryland machine has been noted for precipitating the swift death of certain opponents’ political careers.
Nevertheless, viable alternatives to the corporate-lite brand of Clintonian politics do exist. Both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand are serious policymakers that can bring significant value as the first female President. (Let it be noted that Gillibrand’s junior status in the Senate arguably prevents any serious traction in 2016).
Clinton’s obvious inability to effectively tackle the rampant class-anxiety permeating post-Great Recession America came roaring into the spotlight in the wake of her claim that she and former-President Clinton walked out of the White House “dead broke”. A contention that many Clinton observers immediately assailed. Her latest attempt at faux populism came this month while stumping for Boston gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley. In a naked attempt to woo the progressive wing of the party, and align herself more closely to the positions taken by Warren, Clinton heaped praise on the liberal champion, and offered pat critiques of corporate culture and Wall Street excesses.
Senator Warren, in contrast, has been known as a dogged champion of the middle-class since the publication of her landmark work The Two-Income Trap. More recently, her instrumental contribution to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
demonstrates her willingness to take the political hits necessary to reign in Wall Street. Warren’s tenure in the upper chamber has been spent sponsoring strong bills that call for serious student loan reform. The latest bill, officially known as the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”, ultimately failed to pass. Warren was 2 votes shy of a victory. The broader point, however, is that Senator Warren isn’t just hanging out in the Senate waiting for reelection. She’s taking her principles to the table.
Senator Gillibrand, a young upstart from New York, has taken on the herculean task of dragging the scourge of rampant sexual assault in our military into the light. She has deployed her hard-won political capital to shatter the veil of silence on such a dishonorable phenomenon and change the rules of the prosecution game. One would be hard pressed to argue that her status as a woman on the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t have an impact on her decision to champion this issue.
These two Senators, at sometimes-great political cost, have decided to tackle serious issues that have festered in the background of our culture for years. So, why aren’t they stepping to the fore in the 2016 race? Well, according to the received wisdom of our political class, it’s Hillary’s turn. Women are ready for Mrs. Clinton, and woe to the sorry broad naïve enough to challenge her.
At this point, it’s important to reiterate that my personal stance on Clinton is really beyond the point. I’m not attempting to cast doubt on her fitness for the Presidency. Nor am I suggesting a preference. Rather, the critical issue here is the absence of a meaningful, serious choice. Each time another elected representative declines to initiate a healthy competition for the most important office in the world, and each time voters fail to attack this lack of courage and imagination, American democracy dies a little.
The specter of defeat in politics is an immutable facet of the landscape.
Some of our most qualified elected representatives have declined to compete for the chance to forge a future in which America remains the strongest nation on the international stage. This writer, for one, would like authentic choices in 2016. Token candidates need not apply.