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Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

Twice before, I’ve posted my ten top candidates for Hillary Clinton’s running mate, on the not-unreasonable assumption that she will be the Democrats’ nominee.   And here is my third, and probably penultimate, installment (I’ll try to write one last edition in June or July when the convention nears and when we’ve seen more trial balloons floated that could telegraph her thought process.)

Sanders has had a very good run, but I don’t believe he will win the nomination. Generally, he’s had his best luck in states with caucuses (not too many left, and they tend to be small states) and states with extremely white populations (which doesn’t help in larger, more diverse, delegate-rich states like California, New York, or Illinois.) But he’s inspired a great many people to engage in politics. I hope Sanders supporters will stay in the game and continue to be a force in the Democratic Party and national politics more generally in the years to come. I’m hopeful that a strong speech by Sanders in Philadelphia this summer will convince them to campaign for Hillary just as hard as they would have for him. Moreover, Sanders has fulfilled his destiny, in the sense that while his candidacy was always far-fetched, he succeeded in pushing Clinton to the left. And what’s more, he’s done it in ways that make it undesirable to shift toward the center in the general election. As it currently stands, Hillary’s come out against the TPP and it’s more likely than not that her running-mate will be an olive branch to the Bernie Bros.

One change is that I have not one but three (well, two and a half) potential female running mates lined up for Secretary Clinton.  Every once in a while, I hear someone say that our country “isn’t ready” for that kind of thing. Why is it that an angry, racist billionaire with no political experience becoming president is plausible, and a ticket with two qualified women is not? Let me put it this way- since women earned the right to vote nationwide starting in the 1920 election, there have been 24 presidential elections. With two major parties, and two spots on each ticket, that’s a total of 96 “spots” on a presidential ticket since then. Of those 96 spots, only two were held by women: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008- and both were in the less prestigious vice-presidential spots. Or to put it differently, 46 out of those 48 tickets were all male. Why is one all-female ticket so ridiculous? With 20 female senators, a large handful of female governors, and no shortage of female cabinet members and congresswomen, there’s never been a more qualified batch of female vice-presidential prospects for a presidential candidate to choose from.

In past installments, I set out a number of rules that increasingly don’t make sense any longer: no New Englanders, no women, nobody over 60. The last few months have tossed out the rulebook of conventional wisdom, and the Trump candidacy made a monkey out of almost every political pundit both famous and obscure. So now- these requirements are no longer on the table. Oldsters, Yankees, and other women could very well provide the right temperamental and ideological qualities to the ticket.

  1. John Hickenlooper: Hickenlooper was suggested by longtime Northumbrian reader Jared. And for a long time, I didn’t take his prospects seriously, largely for superficial reasons (I didn’t think two white candidates both north of 60 would work.) But the more I look at Hickenlooper, the more I like him. As the Sanders candidacy has shown, one doesn’t have to be young to resonate with younger voters. And Hickenlooper won in Colorado in 2010 and 2014- two disastrous years for Democrats- suggesting that he could help Clinton’s shaky prospects in the Centennial State. Under Hickenlooper, Colorado voters legalized marijuana use, and the governor also signed important gun control bills into law. He also ran a brewery in his earlier days, giving him both small-business experience that independents love while paradoxically burnishing his hipster credentials. In terms of exuding competence, bringing a swing state into play, and generating appeal to Sanders supporters, Hickenlooper is the complete package.
  2. 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 himself may factor into the Republican ticket- especially if there is a contested convention) would get to pick his successor.
  3. Elizabeth Warren: At times, I am tempted to see streaks of misogyny among Sanders supporters’ treatment of Sec. Clinton. Sometimes that actually does happen, and lots of Bernie Bros that I know personally have deep problems with female authority or toxic relationships with their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends that they tend to project onto Hillary. And yet, many of them love Elizabeth Warren for her no-nonsense approach to breaking up big banks and rewriting the special privileges the rich and well-established enjoy in our tax code.  Warren has become a darling, a heroine, to those who see deep inequalities in our political and economic system that stack the deck against working families. If Clinton wants a game-changer, a Warren vice-presidential pick would certainly accomplish that.  Massachusetts currently has a Republican governor, but state rules mandate a special election to determine who will ultimately fill the remainder of the term.
  4. 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.
  5. Gary Locke:  Also returning to this 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. Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in Minnesota, 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 evinced by Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.   Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be a no-brainer to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
  7. Mark Warner: Warner’s stock has fallen considerably, going from an odds-on favorite to a more remote possibility. Essentially, the decline in his fortunes is due not to any missteps on his part, but a change in the calculus of a Clinton victory. Right now, Hillary’s problem isn’t being seen as “too liberal,” but “too neo-liberal” if that makes sense- the sense that she is too tied to vested interests, and too tied to foreign trade deals that hurt domestic blue-collar workers.  One of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, Warner strikes all the wrong notes, as someone who became a millionaire in the cellular phone industry. He also demonstrated a surprising glass jaw, winning re-election in 2014 by a shockingly low margin against a hack of an opponent. Still, as an otherwise popular governor and senator from an important swing state, Warner is too good on paper to ignore.
  8. Al Franken: Humor is the best way to take down Trump, and watching Franken read  mean tweets about his endorsement of Hillary shows his razor-sharp wit.  While he has cast his lot with Clinton, he has the same anti-establishment tenor that has bolstered the Sanders campaign. He won re-election in 2014 by a wide margin in a bad year for Democrats. And while he could have been a joke candidate, his already-keen political analysis has become greater from his eight years in the U.S. Senate, making him a viable vice-presidential candidate.  Especially with Trump as the most likely nominee at this point, why not pick another- for lack of a better word- entertainer- except one with actual experience in governing?  This is one SNL veteran who is most definitely ready for prime time.  Like Klobuchar, Franken would be replaced in the short term by Minnesota’s DFL governor, Mark Dayton.
  9. 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.
  10. Republican Surprise: This final pick isn’t so much in favor of a particular person so much as a general strategy.  If someone truly dangerous gets the GOP nomination, it’s not hard to see a number of more moderate, good-governance Republicans peeling off from their party and supporting Clinton, no matter how painful it may be for them. This option is out if Rubio or Kasich somehow pulls off the nomination.  But if a demagogue like Trump or an unlikable jackass like Cruz gets it, this becomes a real possibility. I’d peg Susan Collins or possibly Brian Sandoval as two candidates. Sandoval, of course, was floated as a trial balloon for the Scalia vacancy on the Supreme Court; he is a very effective and often quite moderate governor of Nevada. And Hillary would probably kill to have a moderate, pro-choice, Medicare-expanding Hispanic Republican governor of a key swing state on a ticket with her.  Collins is also an option. It’s another all-female ticket, but Collins is probably the most moderate Republican in the Senate, is disgusted with the Tea Party, and is on good terms with Clinton. (Hillary actually threw her a bridal party when she got married a couple years ago.)  Moreover, Collins is a respected voice on foreign policy, and if Clinton wants to accentuate the dangers of putting foreign policy novices in the White House, a Collins nomination could do wonders.  The optics aren’t ideal- two Northeastern, senior-citizen women who voted for the Iraq War- but politics isn’t about working in ideal situations. The only question is- would the Maine senator even consider it?

So, if you have kept track, we have four new additions to the list (Hickenlooper, Warren, Franken, and Republican Surprise). That means four individuals from my previous list are out.  I dropped the following from the list:

Ron Kind: An implausible pick to begin with, I wasn’t happy with his vote to keep Syrian refugees out of the country.  At any rate, he would be a better candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 2018 to take down Scott Walker on his quest for a third term. He’s proven he knows how to get votes in the Badger State outside of Madison and Milwaukee, a trick few Democrats in that state have mastered.

Tammy Baldwin: It’s just too risky to let Wisconsin governor Scott Walker appoint her successor. But it would be groundbreaking to have the first openly LGBT person on a major party ticket, to say nothing of another all-female ticket possibility.

Michael Bennet: He was a tempting possibility, for sure.  He’s a 51-year-old senator from a key swing state (Colorado), and his emphasis on education would appeal greatly to the demographic Bill Clinton’s ’96 campaign targeted successfully: soccer moms. But Bennet will probably face a competitive race for his Senate seat in 2016, and it could create problems if he had to run for both offices at once. (You can get away with it if your seat is very safe, like Biden’s in ’08, but not when you are running in a hotly contested swing state.)  Moreover, his pedigree is a little too professional, from the Ivy League background to the fact that his brother runs The Atlantic.  In an environment where Ted Cruz’s eligibility is questioned, the fact that Bennet was also born outside the U.S. may be an issue Hillary just doesn’t want to deal with.

Evan Bayh: A moderate’s moderate, Bayh is exactly the sort of professional, central-casting candidate the 2016 electorate is rebelling against on both sides of the aisle.  A scion of a political family with a lobbyist wife, it’s hard to see the upside to Bayh at this stage, even if Indiana was a winnable state.

What do you think? Anybody I left off? Do you think my reasoning is sound? Let me know in the comments below.

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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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