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Monday, June 15, 2015
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I’n not a big fan of the mildly conservative NY Times pundit David Brooks, although every now and then “good old Brooksie” shines a lightbeam thru the word-fog. I think that Brooksie caught some lightening once again in his recent column about Hillary’s “mobilization error”. I could try to sum up what Brooks says, but he says it himself so brilliantly that I’m going to do a fair usage quote here, to wit:

Every serious presidential candidate has to answer a fundamental strategic question: Do I think I can win by expanding my party’s reach, or do I think I can win by mobilizing my party’s base . . . Two of the leading Republicans have staked out opposing sides on this issue. Scott Walker is trying to mobilize existing conservative voters. Jeb Bush is trying to expand his party’s reach . . . The Democratic Party has no debate on this issue. Hillary Clinton has apparently decided to run as the Democratic Scott Walker. As The Times’s Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman reported this week, Clinton strategists have decided that, even in the general election, firing up certain Democratic supporters is easier than persuading moderates.

SO, it looks like Hillary is starting out by doing exactly the opposite of what her husband did in the early 1990s; i.e., Bill Clinton’s famous “triangulation” and move towards the center, which allowed the Democrats to revitalize themselves being critically weakened by the “Reagan Revolution”. The first thing that I thought after reading Brooks’ column is that Bill must be rolling in his grave — and he’s not even dead!!! Is the Democratic Left really that strong today? Would Hillary really face a credible challenge from Elizabeth Warren if she (Hillary) retained the centrist position that she adopted in 2007-8? I realize that Bernie Sanders is making some waves, but you know that he will ultimately remain on the fringes.

Perhaps the Clinton campaign people want to make life easy and avoid any conflicts with the Democratic Left during the primaries. Regarding the danger that Clinton would then appear to the public as a neo-leftie and thus trigger the historic distrust amidst American voters (the people who really go out and vote) against both extreme right and left positions, the strategists assume that the Obama voter-turnout effect and the demographic trends of growing minority populations will carry the day. And anyway, once the primaries are underway in 2016 and its too late for Elizabeth Warren to organize a last minute challenge, Hillary can then tack-back a bit towards the center in preparation for November, and thus not endanger the key states that a Democratic candidate has to take, i.e. Ohio and Florida; Iowa is also a tipping-point state. Sure, she will be called a flip-flopper, but the GOP guys are already getting pretty good at doing the same kind of thing.

If the GOP goes the same “mobilization of the base” route, which basically equals nominating Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, then the November election will become a largely left-versus-right affair, and its outcome will depend on which side does better with turnout and exploitation of demographic factors. In a political war like that, Hillary probably has the advantage. But if somehow the GOP can overcome its own right-wing craziness and put forth a more “expansive” candidate, then a leftie-Hillary could be vulnerable. The two obvious GOP “expansives” are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Both of them could weaken the Democratic’s traditional hold on Hispanic voters, assuming their own campaign managers are at the top of their game.

Under that scenario, Hillary is NOT destiny. But if she and her campaign managers are smart, then perhaps they will bring Bill and his triangulation back into the fold, such that Hillary could attract enough centrist and white non-professional voters to keep a Bush or Rubio at bay.

Brooks makes one more point. If both the GOP and Democrats stick with the “mobilization” tactic, then whoever wins the White House will probably not get a lot done as President. The polarization that is presently locking up the American political system and keeping it from addressing big problems (such as immigration, education and tax reform) will only get worse; even if Hillary wins an ideological race against a Scott Walker, she could not get much done with the GOP dominated Senate and House. It will just be an ongoing war of vetos versus over-ride votes.

If a Clinton versus Bush or Rubio race came down to who seemed to be more reasonable in terms of co-opting the best of the other party’s positions, and showing willingness to compromise and get things done, then the next four or eight years might go a little bit better in terms of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.

Unfortunately, it appears that Hillary and her campaign are starting out on the wrong foot. The GOP has not yet decided which foot to use (although those mobilizers are coming on strong thus far). Our nation is facing some huge challenges on all fronts, domestic and international, and another 8 years of political bickering and polarization would not be good. American really could lost its world superpower role and go the way of Great Britain, with corresponding long-term declines of wealth and living standards. Even worse scenarios, akin to “the fall of the Roman Empire”, are feasible although not as likely. If over the next 18 months our national politics become a mobilization versus mobilization spectacle, then we are really setting ourselves up for a generation of American decline. It all seems so irrational; and yet, in politics and history, sometimes irrationality prevails. How else do great nations and empires fail?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:18 pm      

  1. Jim, I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I’m beginning to think that a lot of the political talk sound to me like the talk a lot of sports people engage in. By this I mean that when sports people talk about how they won a game (easy pickin’s here with the Blackhawks winning and the Golden State Warriors winning; seems sports is the only thing that can be talked about these days on the news) most of what they have to say is so general and vague that, for all intents and purposes, it means nothing at all.

    That’s about how I feel – not regarding what *you* said – but what the pundits are saying. I find myself wondering just what it means when someone says (quoting Brooks here) that a political candidate has to answer a fundamental strategic question. So, I’m looking for what the “Fundamental” (got to be the foundation I’d imagine) “strategic” (a deliberate, intentional plan) question (well, I’d think we all have the idea of “question”. And the question is: “Do I think I can win by expanding my party’s reach, or do I think I can win by mobilizing my party’s base”.

    Perhaps it’s just me but aren’t both of those things so close as to be about the same? Unless there is some political talk here I just am not acquainted with. It’s entirely possible that I’m showing my ignorance here. However, what is the precise difference between “trying to mobilize existing conservative voters” and “expand his party’s reach”, which I take to mean bring in more people who will vote for him. Sounds the same to me.

    Much of what is being said politically at this point sounds like sports talk to me; I can never make too much sense of sports talk as it always seems to simply beat around the bush and not really say anything. Whether the group wins or loses, it doesn’t make any difference. Those who speak for the group never make much sense as they seem to keeps saying nothing really, yet can talk for long periods of time and look and appear very serious and noteworthy. So that’s where it seems we are at this point in the race.

    To add to the “thrill” of it all, Donald Trump is joining the fray. According to today’s information (I wonder how long this will last) Trump says that if Oprah Winfrey would be his vice-president, they could win, *would* win. Well, at least it’s not being vague and saying nothing. But I can just imagine Oprah Winfrey laughing her head off at home when she heard that. Well, at least that remark has an element of entertainment as I myself even smiled to myself and tho’t, yeah, sure, that’ll happen when hell freezes over. Here’s one of those cases where the “lol” that everybody uses, but really seems to mean “brings a small smile to mind”, really does mean what it purports to mean. I doubt we’ll hear too much about Oprah Winfrey as Trump’s VP.

    I simply have to add that the vision of Jeb Bush in the White House is one I’d rather not see in my mind. We’ve had two Bushes as president already, and the results were disastrous as I see it, anyway. I doubt Jeb Bush will “fix up” his predecessors’ mistakes.

    As I’ve said before, it’s 18 months too early to start talking about who I’d like to vote for. First, let’s find out who the two nominees will be. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 18, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  2. Mary,

    Yes, there is Bush fatigue. But there is also Clinton fatigue too. Going to be interesting, one way or another.

    But as it being too early to comment . . . as to waiting to see who is nominated . . . no way. I’m not taking a vow of silence, given how interesting all of this is. To me, anyway. You are entitled to your interests, and I have mine. I say that with all due respect (and yes, a little tip of the hat to the daily Bloomberg radio program about national politics, which is called . . . wait for it . . . “With All Due Respect”; hosts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann definitely don’t think it’s too early to be discussing Hillary, Jeb, Marco, Rand, etc.).

    Comment by Jim G — June 18, 2015 @ 7:33 pm

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