Politics

12.08.12

Michael Tomasky: Why Hillary Clinton Must Run for President in 2016

The Obama years look like they may end up a huge success for progressives. Which is why they’ll need to ensure that Hillary wins the White House in 2016.

Is it too early to talk about 2016? Of course it is. It’s preposterous. So I’m not talking about 2016. Instead, I’m talking about something much bigger: I’m talking, let us say, about the great march of history, the ineluctable links of causality, the tempora and the mores, the old mole working both underground and above. And in this context, this context of keeping history moving forward, Hillary Clinton has not just the chance to run in 2016. She has the obligation to do so. Her party, and her country, will need her then, to consolidate gains and prevent the backsliding that the backsliders just can’t wait to commence. In other words, if the next four years go the way I suspect they might, it will be of the most fundamental importance that the Democrats hold the White House thereafter, and the burden of so ensuring falls squarely on the shoulders of Hugh Rodham’s rebellious daughter.

If Jeb Bush runs against her, all Hillary will have to ask is: “Okay, America, would you rather extend either Bill Clinton’s presidency or George W. Bush’s?”

Here’s what I mean. I suspect that the next four years will go rather nicely for my side. The economy shows every sign of turning around and, one hopes, going like gangbusters three years hence. Obamacare will be implemented. Taxes—tax rates—will have been hiked. Immigration reform may well have been enacted. With a ridiculous amount of luck, a carbon tax. And all that will have been on top of Dodd-Frank, the equal pay act, and the other first-Obama-term accomplishments. We stand a decent chance, come 2016, of looking back on a pretty darn good eight years.

Well, that’s my “we.” There’s another we—the we on the other side of the ideological parking lot, who’ll be looking back on eight years of unmitigated socialistic disaster that they’ll be aching to undo. They’ll be desperate to get the top tax rate back down as low as they can get it. They’ll be itching to repeal Dodd-Frank, or at the very least eliminate its most visible and progressive manifestation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They’ll be pining to roll back myriad rules and regulations that don’t get much press attention but have certainly helped make a more progressive country in areas like labor, the environment, energy, and more. And they’ll never stop poking at Obamacare’s perimeter fence, looking for weaknesses.

Whatever ooey-gooey, reasonable-sounding verbiage they employ to get to the White House in 2016, the fact is that their agenda will be just as I describe it above. This rapacious leopard won’t change its spots that drastically in a mere four years. They’ll do a better job of hiding it than Mitt Romney did, but they’ll want to take the country in a radical direction and erase the past years the way as Ramses wanted the name of Moses scraped from the obelisks.

So the Democrats collectively will have a job to do in 2016, or several jobs. There will be many gains to be protected. And new gains to win. Obamacare, if anything (listen up, conservatives!), will need to be expanded, given that the original subsidies in the bill are a tad parsimonious. The battle over taxes will continue, as will the fight over the future health of the Social Security and Medicare systems. And—just sayin’—Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will both turn 81 in 2017.

The presidency was once described by some historians as a prize, won in one election by this team, in another by that team. The metaphor suggests that elections are discrete and separate from one another and that the stakes aren’t much greater than those encountered on a game show. But that’s not the case anymore. Prize is the wrong metaphor for how we ought to see the presidency today. Now, we ought to see it as an instrument through which progress can either be advanced or retarded, and rather than thinking of each election victory as a prize, we ought to think of each as a step on a continuum.

This will be especially true in 2016, when a Republican victory would put at mortal risk the gains of the Obama years. So the next election will be no time to leave all this to chance—or to Andrew Cuomo or Martin O’Malley or even to Joe Biden. Hillary has to do it. She could handily beat the whole parade of Republicans. They’re children next to her. None of them is even in her weight class except for Jeb Bush, but he seems to me pretty easily disposed of with one question: “Okay, America, you’re being the given the choice to extend either Bill Clinton’s presidency or George W. Bush’s. Which way do you want to go?”

The circumstances have to be right, of course. I could be wrong about the next four years. But if I’m not, it will be the case not only that Hillary could run—it will be the case that she must run. The Democratic Party’s leaders and money people won’t be able to force others not to run, but they should do everything within their power to signal to the political world that it’s Hillary and just get on the damn bus. As someone I know rather well said back in 2001, it’s Hillary’s Turn.