Democratic Stagnation?

04.02.13

How Hillary Would Stifle Democratic Innovation

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images ()

Responding to my weekend column on Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore softens me up with opening compliments, then lays the intellectual haymaker on me.

[Frum's] CNN column on why Democrats should not “settle” for Hillary Clinton in 2016 via some “next-in-line” psychology is really flawed. … HRC’s immensely popular among grass-roots Democrats, not just because she is the last candidate not named Barack Obama who ran an effective presidential nomination contest, but because of the personal capital she’s built up over the years, her performance as a very popular Secretary of State, and the widely shared belief among progressives that it’s far past time for a woman to serve as president. Plus she is crushing every named Republican in early general-election trial heats.

Frum argues that an HRC nomination will inhibit the rise of fresh talent in the Donkey Party, and inhibit helpful intra-party debates. I’m all for fresh talent and helpful intra-party debates, but I’d say what Democrats probably want and need most is a 2016 victory to consolidate the policy achievements of the Obama administration while perhaps convincing Republicans the vicious obstructionism they’ve been exhibiting since 2009 is a dead end.

I'll concede that I'm meddling here outside my jurisdiction. And maybe I'm overtaxing my powers of imagination putting myself into the Democrats' shoes. But just as a matter of intellectual interest, I'll expand the point.

The next Democratic nominee, if successful, will serve into the 2020s at least. That's a long time to spend on "consolidation" - extra long for a party that puts so much emphasis on policy innovation. A Democratic party that wins a third consecutive mandate in 2016 will want to do things. But what things? Here are some important pieces of unfinished business from the Obama years that a re-elected in 2016 Democratic party must resolve:

* Were President Obama's counter-terrorism policies effective and necessary? Or did they over-reach and violate important liberties?

* Is Obamacare a charter for regulated competition among private health insurers? Or is it a deeply flawed half-way step on the way to Medicare for all?

* Should government continue to finance and support industries and firms, as the Obama administration has done? Or should government pull back to a more New Democratic approach of letting the market lead?

* How much should the interests of the native-born working class matter on issues like energy and immigration, vs how much for the party's new constituencies among upper-income professionals and recent migrants?

If these issues don't get discussed in the course of a presidential primary, when do they get discussed? And if Hillary Clinton glides to an easy victory on the strength of name ID, big money, and "it's her turn" sentiment, they won't be discussed at all.