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Posts Tagged ‘Election 2016’

Way back in March of 2014, I posted on who I thought nominee-presumptive Hillary Clinton’s best running mates might be.  Here we are more than 18 months later, exactly one year away from the presidential election, and maybe 8 or 9 months away from Hillary having to make this decision for herself.  As a recap, back then I suggested:

  1. Mark Warner (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
  2. Evan Bayh (former senator from and governor of Indiana)
  3. Julian Castro (mayor of San Antonio)
  4. Brian Schweitzer (former governor of Montana)
  5. Martin Heinrich (senator from New Mexico)
  6. Tim Kaine (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
  7. Michael Bennet (senator from Colorado)
  8. John Lynch (former governor of New Hampshire)
  9. Sherrod Brown (senator from Ohio)
  10. Tim Roemer (former congressman from Indiana)

What a difference 18 months can make in the world of politics.  Some choices were weak ones to begin with (Roemer, Lynch).  Some prospects have compromised their chances in some way (Schweitzer gave a truly bizarre interview where he implied that Eric Cantor was gay.)  And some new figures have emerged on the scene.

Here are a few considerations that altered my thinking between now and then:

  • The unexpected grassroots momentum of Bernie Sanders.  I knew Hillary would face some competition for the nomination, but I was genuinely surprised at how robust Sanders’ campaign turned out to be.  The hashtag-generating, email-circulating, borderline-trollish behavior of the “Berniebro” notwithstanding, Sanders has successfully pushed Clinton to the left, and demonstrated that democratic socialism was no longer a fringe belief system, but a viable perspective that deserves a seat at the table.  In terms of the veepstakes, that means Clinton cannot pick a “Blue Dog” Democrat as her husband once did with Al Gore.
  • The disastrous 2014 and 2015 elections.  They wiped out the party nationally, particularly in places that might not vote for Democrats on a presidential level, but remained viable on a state or local level.  West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas- dirt poor states which had high numbers of registered Democrats as recently as 2008- just keep getting redder and redder.  This should focus Hillary’s meta-strategy on not just winning but creating a strong ticket nationally, one that can replenish the bench.  Her party will, 10 years from now, need congressmen and state assemblymen, and state attorneys general in 2016 if it wishes to offer compelling candidates in the future.
  • Sit down for this one, ’cause imma blow your mind.  I think it is possible that Hillary might pick a female running mate.  That’s right.  If we pick apart her aforementioned problem about seeming too safe, too much of a known quantity, unable to really inspire people, the prospect of the first all-female ticket on a major party would shatter that preconception.  Some people might think that America isn’t ready for that, or some nonsense.  Since women gained the right to vote nationally, there have been…let’s see here…24 presidential elections, and with two major parties, that’s 48 presidential tickets.  46 of them have been all male.  2 of them had one woman in the less prestigious vice-presidential spot.  There are now dozens of qualified female candidates, more than ever before in American history.  Don’t give me any of this nonsense about America being “ready” for an all-female ticket.
  • Secretary of State Clinton also has to navigate the directions her opponents have gone.  The sideshow that the Republican nomination has become, where at one point the leading three candidates had never held elective office before, means that the Democrats have to not just generate excitement but run on professionalism and competence.  Anecdotally, I remember an old co-worker of my dad’s who hated liberals, but just felt he had to vote for Obama in 2008 because of Sarah Palin’s manifest incompetence and birdbath-deep knowledge of the issues.  That kind of “better the devil you know” thinking can actually help wrack up not only wins but majorities. Even if someone saner like Rubio or Bush is nominated, Clinton’s ticket has to accentuate the “do you really what to put these guys in charge?” mentality.  So, there are no true “Hail Marys,” no generals, no career businessmen, and nobody who is a novice to the art of governing.
  • If at all possible, insofar as Hillary is looking for senators, she will probably prefer those who serve in states with Democratic governors, and thus will be replaced- at least temporarily- with Democrats.
  • Other than that, the basic calculus is in place: avoid oldsters and avoid north-easterners.
  1.  Sherrod Brown: Brown has made a career for himself as a scrappy populist with disheveled hair, traits that should recommend himself to Bernie fans.  Although Brown recently endorsed Hillary, picking him telegraphs to the Bernie Bro that their concerns have been heeded, and views such as theirs will have a voice in a Clinton pt. II administration.  As a known opponent of monied interests and having a strong blue-collar background, he has the anti-establishment chops that Hillary may need to generate extra enthusiasm.  Running for re-election in 2012, Brown ran significantly ahead of Obama in Ohio, which may very well recommend him as a avenue to win the mother of all swing states.  The only real drawback is that John Kasich (who is himself a strong vice-presidential contender for the Republicans) would get to pick his successor.
  2.  Michael Bennet: As disastrous news swept the Democratic party from nearly all corners on Election Night, 2014, John Hickenlooper’s narrow re-election as governor of Colorado made me think: “this is great for Michael Bennet.”  Although Bennet is running for re-election in 2016, if he is somehow picked and somehow wins both the presidential race and his Senate race, a Democratic governor would choose his replacement.  Anyway, Bennet is young, from an important swing state, and has a key trait that assisted the Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign: soccer moms.  That is, Bennet’s stock in trade is in education, having once been the Denver Superintendent of Schools.  Michael Bennet is a figure made to appeal to suburbanites who might favor Republicans on fiscal issues, but are appalled by the global warming denialism and conspiratorial mindset.
  3.  Mark Warner: A Warner vice-presidency will stick a sock into the mouth of those who argue that Democrats are bad for business.  The former cellular executive proves that left-leaning politics and financial success don’t contradict, and his experience as a governor and senator of a major swing state complete what looks like a great resume on paper.  His story could provide a compelling counter-narrative if someone like Bush or Rubio picks someone like Carly Fiorina as a running mate.  On the other hand, Warner dropped the ball a bit as the keynote speaker at the 2008 DNC, and ended up having a surprising glass jaw in his re-election in 2014.  He was expected to win handily even in a terrible year for Democrats, and ended up prevailing by less than a percentage point.  To be sure, 2014 had terrible turnout, but it has turned Warner into something less than the surefire winner he was a short time ago.
  4.  Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in a state Republicans want to win badly.  She consistently receives stellar approval ratings in an age of widespread dislike of government.  And she now has a book out, The Senator Next Door, that has been very well received, and is viewed in some quarters as a clarion call for humbler, more responsive government officials.  She’s made remarkably few enemies and is part of the refreshing culture of teamwork that thrives among women in the Senate.  And senators from Minnesota have made some great vice presidents in the past, as Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale would agree.   Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be an odds-on favorite to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
  5.  Gary Locke: Making his first appearance on my veepstakes list is Gary Locke, a man with a splendid resume who accentuates competence.  He won’t take any swing states off the map for Hillary, but has proven himself capable many times over as governor of Washington, Secretary of Commerce, and most recently as Ambassador to China.  His apparent dutifulness and even dullness show sparks of life, such as when he allowed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to seek refuge at the American embassy in Beijing, and flying economy class on his flights.  He would also make history as the first Asian-American on a major party ticket.
  6. Julian Castro: If you want a new face that can change the political calculus, this one is it.  He was mayor of San Antonio, he gave the keynote address at the 2012 convention, and is currently getting some federal experience as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  He has youth, he has charisma to burn, and now has both executive and federal experience.  Moreover, he could be a long-term investment on making Texas and Arizona, with large numbers of Hispanic youths, purple states down the line, although this may not happen in the 2016 election.  The only problem- and his reason for dropping since the last ranking- is my realization that the San Antonio mayoralty is somewhat symbolic, and involves relatively little day-to-day governing.  In other words, Castro’s readiness to serve as president may come into question–but we’ll see how he does at HUD.
  7. Tammy Baldwin: Talk about a slam dunk for winning leftist enthusiasm.  Baldwin, the junior senator from Wisconsin, is one of the more progressive members of the Senate, where she will have served for four years as of 2016, after several years in the House beforehand.  She would also be the first LGBTQ person on a presidential ticket (well, openly anyway, depending on your conclusions about James Buchanan.)  If you want to make cynical young people in cities care enough to vote, this would be a strong pick.  And having an opponent of same-sex marriage- a near-certainty no matter who the Republicans pick- have to look Baldwin in the eye during the vice-presidential debate could make for some compelling television.  Although Baldwin’s ascendency to the vice-presidency would mean the onerous Scott Walker appointing her replacement, perhaps Hillary will think the risks are worth the rewards, and that Baldwin’s seat won’t determine control of the Senate.
  8. Ron Kind: If we are looking at Wisconsin anyway, let’s turn to the House.  Kind has consistently won in the blue-collarish, mostly rural 3rd district of Wisconsin covering LaCross and Eau Claire- the kind of wavering Democratic voters Hillary must be eager to shore up.  His work as a football player and an ally of William Proxmire, the senator from Wisconsin who famously gave out Golden Fleece Awards for excessive government spending, could make him an appealing candidate.  And he still has more experience in Congress than fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan had in 2012.
  9. Evan Bayh: All right, fine.  Bayh breaks most of the rules I set out, including no dorky-looking Blue Dogs and the obvious rule against two dynasties on one ticket.  But it is hard to find fault with his talent for winning landslide elections in a red state; even Bill Clinton said that one day he looked forward to voting for Bayh on a presidential ticket.  And the poor guy has had his heart broken by Gore, Kerry, AND Obama, according to some accounts the second-or-third choice each time.  He lacks charisma, but if you are Hillary, a flair for avoiding controversy and unwanted attention is probably more desirable.  Nevertheless, this will not excite the grassroots; Bayh went directly to the Fox News Analyst circuit after retiring from the Senate in 2010, and his wife is a corporate lobbyist.  Still, for heartland wholesomeness, Bayh is hard to beat, and since he isn’t a senator anymore, you don’t have to risk forfeiting a seat.  (His father, Birch Bayh, is also one of my heroes, and is the only surviving senator who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)
  10. Jack Reed: Another guy who violates my rules: he is relatively old (almost 70) and is from New England.  What makes Reed different is his military service: the man was a West Point cadet, and has reportedly been asked to serve as Secretary of Defense for the last two vacancies and may have been on Obama’s shortlist for the vice-presidency at one point.  Reed is a no-nonsense, constituency-oriented man who would make mincemeat out of a careless Republican opponent in the vice-presidential debate.

And Tim Kaine, Martin Heinrich, and Jeff Merkley just narrowly miss out.  What do you think?  Am I off my rocker, or have I forgotten someone important?  Let me know in the comments below- and I hope to do another one of these for the Republican nominee— once we have a better idea who that nominee is!

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It has been a long time since I have tackled the 2016 election, and I do so with a certain degree of reluctance.  Talking about modern politics in public is something I don’t do very easily unless I am with a very small, very trusted group of friends, usually of similar temperament.  Sometimes, contemporary political situations made me very anxious, trigger my recurring problem of nervous tics, cost me sleep, or compel me to become more withdrawn and avoid social situations where talk of the election might come up.  I am a historian of politics and religion who hates talking about politics and religion.  It’s a paradox, but that’s my life.

So it is with this reluctance and hesitance that I find myself in a rare situation: not knowing which candidate to support.  I know which ones I won’t be supporting.  I won’t be supporting any of the Republicans, for example.  If their party still had leaders of character and perception like Mark Hatfield or Charles Percy I’d give it some careful consideration, but that ship sailed a long time ago.  And I know which Democrats I won’t be supporting.  Jim Webb has devolved from a cagey Iraq War dissident to an angry misogynist defending the honor of the Confederate flag.  No thank you.  Martin O’Malley inaugurated some solid reforms in Maryland, including necessary gun-control measures, but Baltimore’s slow smoldering into a racially charged pressure cooker, and O’Malley’s inability to detect that this was even a problem during his eight years as governor, disqualify him from serious consideration.  Lincoln Chafee?  I like him a lot, and his memoir Against the Tide was one of my favorite senatorial autobiographies, but let’s get real.

This leaves us with two candidates who are running, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and one who ~might~ run, Joe Biden.  As I consider my choices, I find myself weighing a complex mixture of qualifications, temperament, character, chance of success, and the long-term consequences their candidacy might have on the fortunes of American progressivism.

Every online test I’ve taken that shows which candidate you are most in agreement with generated one consistent result: my views on the issues are closest to Bernie Sanders.  We share a similar long-term hope for the United States: we want to see it become a social democratic state more aligned with the Scandinavian countries.  We both interpret the major problem of the last generation or so of American life is a massive maldistribution of wealth in favor of higher earners, and a deterioration of the average American’s spending power and social safety net.  He envisions an America where health care, education, and a clean environment are rights, rather than carefully hoarded privileges.  So do I.

In many respects, he reminds me of George McGovern (that’s a good thing, by the way), a man I have spent nearly 10 years studying.  Like McGovern, he is seen as far too left-wing, even for rank-and-file Democrats, with a fierce antiwar streak, and a finger-pointing, no-holds-barred approach that reminds one of an Old Testament prophet haranguing a wayward people.  Their supporters share plenty of similarities, too.  Both had a strong contingent of mobilized grassroots supporters using innovative new methods to reach voters, but are distrusted by party leadership.  And each of them faced an establishment nominee-in-waiting: McGovern had Ed Muskie, Sanders has Clinton.

You might think all of this would mean Sanders is a slam-dunk choice for me, but he isn’t.  One lesson I learned from McGovern is that someone can have the same position as yourself on every major issue and still not be the best candidate.  As much as I admire McGovern’s visceral hatred of the Vietnam War and the carnage it caused, I am not yet completely convinced he would have made a very good president.  Performing this challenging job successfully requires more than avowing the correct position.  George had virtually no executive ability; he refused to deal with administrative details during the two years he was in charge of the Food for Peace program in the Kennedy presidency, and in his retirement, he managed a Connecticut hotel so poorly that it folded in a couple of years.  McGovern couldn’t run anything with visible competence. While his passion and his advocacy and his moral vision made him an exceptional senator, I doubt very much that he would have been an effective president.  If I could change one presidential outcome of the 20th century, I’d probably take Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or Walter Mondale in 1984– both are less purely progressive, but both were significantly better managers who could have shepherded their agenda through a skeptical Congress.  Frankly, I am not convinced how well Bernie Sanders would do once he had to stop campaigning and start governing.  Watching President Obama these last seven years reminded me that executive experience is not unimportant, and Sanders hasn’t run anything more than the city of Burlington, a small and in many ways deeply idiosyncratic city that might be called the Wasilla of the northeast.  And, of course, like McGovern, he would start the general election as the heavy underdog; and all the vision in the world can’t help if you are unable to win.  It might be best for Sanders to remain the “conscience of the Senate” and advocate from that office, rather than the presidency.

So what about Hillary, then?  In 2008, I watched every debate from both major parties, and while I started out quite anti-Hillary, she slowly wore me down.  Her performances at almost every debate were careful, insightful, and knowledgable.  She was clearly competent, and while she stayed in the race long after it stopped being possible for her to win, she was ultimately gracious in defeat, and gave an outstanding convention speech for Obama.  She might also be the most broadly qualified candidate in recent memory.  She gained a knowledge of how the White House works as the most politically engaged First Lady in American history.  Although I considered her a carpetbagger when she became my senator in 2001, Hillary did a surprisingly great job, spending plenty of time doing constituent outreach, even in hostile Fulton and Hamilton counties.  And finally, she has the foreign relations chops from 4 years as Secretary of State, brokering the opening-up of Myanmar, facilitating trade agreements, and working as a roving ambassador for women’s and children’s rights.

The rap against Hillary has always been in her persona, and how she carries herself.  She often comes across as shrill, imperious, and calculating in a country that generally wants warmer, affable candidates with a self-depricating sense of humor and a natural flair with the common touch.  She’ll never have her husband’s charisma, but she does have a focus  and an internal discipline that always eluded the first President Clinton.  And of course, there is the ongoing, unfolding email scandal.  In the grand scheme of things, I am not convinced that this is much more than a cooked-up faux scandal.  It’s the kind of thing where you have to be told it’s a scandal in order to perceive it as such.  Let’s be honest, how many of us would have thought before all this broke that it would be that troubling for a cabinet member to receive and send emails on her own terms?  If you are a Republican and someone told you Condi Rice used a private email server under analogous circumstances, would you have been that upset?  Given the rules that existed at the time, the private email server issue was, at worst, an injudicious choice out of step with the Obama administration’s “best practices” policies.  But there is not very much that I find unethical, and certainly nothing illegal, about it.  Here’s the thing: you can’t serve in politics without making mistakes, even big mistakes.  But you learn from them; you cannot be an effective leader without them.  What scares me is that the latest polls show Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina collectively polling about 54% of the Republican vote.  To put this differently, over half of Republicans’ first choice for president has never served in a political office before.  Yikes.

But maybe my biggest reason for looking more closely at Clinton comes from a spiritual and ethical place, as strange as this might see at first.  In my own spirituality, I am a proud, social-gospel progressive Christian.  I see the gospels as not only pointing the way toward greater communion with God, but also a greater sense of interpersonal responsibility toward each other.  The Christ I encounter in the New Testament said not a single word about abortion or same-sex marriage or illegal immigration, but weighed in heavily against the larger social sins of poverty, neglect, and hunger.  As she told one crowd recently, “”I have always cherished the Methodist Church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the great obligation of social gospel…and I took that very seriously and have tried, tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity.” Sanders, while Jewish in background, is in some ways the most secular presidential candidate in living memory.  As much as Sanders is upset about plutocratic politics in the U.S., it comes almost wholly from economic determinism and class politics, divorced from any real ethical or spiritual concern.

However, Clinton is also decidedly hawkish.  She voted to authorize the Iraq War, which Sanders opposed from the very beginning.  While supportive of the recent accords with Iran, her language is decidedly more bellicose than President Obama’s.   I cherish peace and abhor unnecessary war.  But I remember that even McGovern voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that inaugurated the Vietnam War.  Again, people make mistakes, the question is what they take away from them, and how it transforms them.

Finally, we arrive at the man who waits in the wings, Joe Biden.  I actually supported Joe Biden during his run for the Democratic nomination in 2008.  If you go back to my college newspaper archives, you might even find a guest editorial I wrote called “Don’t You Be Shy Then: Vote for Joe Biden.”   During the Democratic debates during that primary season, Biden was always the most collected, the most knowledgable, and self-controlled candidate in a way that belied his reputation for gaffes.  It’s actually comical to look back and watch every other candidate say “I agree with what Joe said,” and “Joe has the right idea.”  But then-Senator Biden didn’t win.  With little cash and coming from a small state, he just couldn’t match the expensive, high-octane campaigns run by Clinton and Obama.

Since then, Biden has continued to impress me.  While he still does foolish things like put his arm around dignitaries’ wives in public, I think he exceeded most peoples’ expectations.  And given his G.O.P. opponents, Biden’s foot-in-mouth disease is much less of a liability.  Biden’s gaffes tend to unintentionally show respect for people.  When he said, “you can’t walk into a 7-11 without an Indian guy running the place,” it was an inartful way of showing the work-ethic and entrepreneurship of the South Asian community in America.  Compare that to mean-spirited and patently dishonest comments by Trump about Mexico sending rapists over the border, or Jeb Bush talking about anchor babies as “frankly more related to Asian people.”  He’s been an excellent vice-president; in fact, I think he was one of the three best in American history, alongside Walter Mondale and, believe it or not, Eisenhower-era Nixon.  Biden has enjoyed a warm and collaborative relationship with Congress where Obama’s has been distance, cold and combative.  Even moreso, he has decades of experience that we dismiss at our peril: 36 years as a senator (including time as the chair of the Foreign Relations committee) and eight as vice-president.

More than that, Biden has an ideal temperament for the office.  He is a reluctant candidate right now: ambitious, but not craving power.  In a Lincolnesque way, his life is defined by working through tragedy, via the loss of his wife and daughter as a young senator-elect, and the recent loss of his son.  While Hillary comes across as distant from everyday Americans’ concerns (having not, for example, driven her own car in decades), Biden is still very much the working-class Irish guy who commuted home to Delaware on Amtrak.  He communicates in a way that ordinary Americans resonate with, and his University of Delaware/Syracuse University education is a refreshing change from the obnoxious Ivy League dominance enjoyed by the upper echelons of American power for decades.  While President Biden would be 74 on Inauguration Day, 2017, the oldest ever sworn into office, I have been, in the last few years, constantly gobsmacked at the amazing things older people can do.  I am reminded of my dear friend Neil, who taught marketing classes in Singapore and even visited North Korea (!) in his early 80s with more stamina and vigor than I had at 30.  With a clean bill of health, there is nothing to suggest Biden couldn’t serve as ably as anyone.

Moreover, Biden can help the Democrats with their single biggest electoral problem: the hemorrhaging of working-class white voters from their ranks.  As a scrappy Scranton kid who still speaks that language and still understands that perspective, Biden could stem the tide with that demographic while continuing to improve strong performances with female, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters that will be the bedrock of any successful Democratic coalition.  I’ve seen cases where my brother walked by while I watched Biden on Meet the Press and say something like, “that’s the first time I’ve seen a politician explain that in a way that makes sense.”

All this is to say: I’m still of a divided mind, especially if Joe Biden gets in the race.  With that in mind, I hope that any reader will reconsider if they think the two major parties are just the same: they’re not.  One party has candidates that stand for an increase in the minimum wage, an acceptance of global warming, greater college affordability, and a robust health care system that doesn’t leave the poorest and the sickest behind.  The other does not.  So, if you are cynical toward the political system as it stands today, you’ve every right to feel that way, but I hope that your cynicism drives you toward a greater engagement and a greater motivation to get involved personally in facilitating a change and demanding a government responsive to your needs, rather than withdrawing in disgust.  While I have trouble choosing between canny but surprisingly spiritual Clinton, the social democratic ethos of Sanders, and the authentic, affable, and overqualified everyman of Biden, I look forward to making a sound decision that I can stand behind in the months ahead.

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