Joe Biden’s prospective presidential candidacy is in danger of becoming a joke. Every week, some new Democratic bigwig pledges himself to Hillary Clinton. Pro-Hillary groups have already assembled to fend off hostile campaign press. At last weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner, President Obama added to the air of inevitability by teasing Fox News, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone. It’ll be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”
If there’s any suspense left about the Democratic primary in 2016, it largely revolves around whether an economic populist will challenge Clinton from the left. The prospect of Elizabeth Warren entering the race tantalizes many liberals. But since Biden’s not an anti-Wall Street crusader, his potential candidacy sparks barely any interest at all. That’s too bad. While a Warren candidacy would spark one valuable debate inside the Democratic Party—about government’s role in the economy—a Biden candidacy would spark another: about America’s role in the world.
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Consider this post another installment in the series: “Rand Paul could win the Republican nomination. Please stop laughing.”
In previous installments, we’ve argued that Paul will inherit from his father a preexisting campaign structure in Iowa and New Hampshire that few, if any, of his rivals can match. We’ve argued that Paul is showing the ability to raise real money, both from GOP insiders and via small donations over the web. And we’ve argued that, at least so far, Republican primary voters in key early states see Paul as a mainstream conservative, not a libertarian wacko bird.
Which brings us to Paul’s other great, unnoticed, strength: Hillary Clinton. While things could always change, the 2016 Democratic nomination is so far shaping up as the least competitive, non-incumbent presidential primary contest in memory. It looks increasingly likely that if Clinton faces any opposition at all, it will be from a Don Quixote like Bernie Sanders or Brian Schweitzer, not a challenger with any genuine political base or ability to raise substantial money.
For Rand Paul, that’s fabulous. It means lots of Democrats and independents will cross over to vote in Republican primaries, where the action is. And most of them will vote for him.
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Few issues these days set Democrats apart from Republicans more than income inequality, and the Democratic leadership has made it a signature issue. Can we trace back some of the divergence to the surprising fact that Democrats—especially senior Democrats—represent the districts with the most inequality?
A few days ago, the Associated Press ran a short piece noting, “Of the 10 richest House districts, only two have Republican congressmen.” Later in the piece, the reporter, Stephen Ohlemacher, noted that although Democrats represent many of the richest districts, the overall difference in per-capita income between Democratic and Republican districts “is relatively small because Democrats also represent a lot of poor districts, putting the average in the middle.”
That alone might lead us to draw a reasonable conclusion about the party leadership’s focus on income inequality: If their caucus is made up of members who disproportionately represent the poorest and richest districts, Democratic leaders—taking a bird’s-eye view of the party’s overall constituent base—might be quicker to recognize the yawning gap between the rich and poor than their Republican counterparts. The Democratic rank-and-file, comparing districts, could reason the same among themselves.
But while we know there is income inequality across the party’s districts, is there also inequality within the party’s districts?
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The Tea Party has become a convenient scapegoat for both the left and the establishment right. If it weren’t for these nasty reactionaries, both groups fret, Washington would not be gridlocked, Republicans (nice, sane ones) would be able to win some elections outside the most rock-ribbed, gerrymandered districts, and our political climate would not be beset by so much nastiness and vitriol. Contemplating the imminent defeat of Barry Goldwater in the fall 1964 issue of Partisan Review, Richard Schlatter of Rutgers University (quoted in Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm) wrote that it had “demonstrated that we are all part of the American Establishment.” Today’s Tea Party has created a similar sense of solidarity, as the writers of the “Is the Party Over?” symposium show.
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Florida’s ex-governor is running for his old job—now as a Democrat. Is he a craven opportunist or a voter-pleasing pragmatist for a time of ideological exhaustion?
When Americans think about government in the big picture, they can seem like a nation of Ayn Rands. People want to lay waste to the Leviathan. But when Americans consider specific aspects of government, a curious thing happens. People rediscover their love of Washington. On issue after issue, Republicans are winning the argument in general, whereas Democrats are winning the argument in particular.
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In the middle of his in-your-face pre-Super Bowl interview, Bill O’Reilly picked up the dreaded “L word” and began wielding it menacingly in the direction of the president of the United States.
“Are you the most liberal president in U.S. history?” O’Reilly asked. Obama quickly initiated evasive maneuvers. “In a lot of ways, Richard Nixon was more—more liberal than I was,” the president replied, before insisting that “I tend not to think about these things in terms of liberal and Democrat—or liberal and conservative”
It wasn’t always this way. In the first half of the 20th century, “liberal” enjoyed a certain prestige. When Franklin Roosevelt began using it to describe the ideology of the New Deal, for instance, small-government types accused him of linguistic theft, claiming that since the expansion of state power threatened liberty, they—and not the New Dealers—were the true liberals.
But by the 1960s, the American right had stopped claiming “liberal” and begun demonizing it. Over the next two decades, being a liberal came to mean letting criminals terrorize America’s cities, hippies undermine traditional morality, and communists menace the world. It meant, in other words, too much liberty for the wrong kind of people. Fearful of its negative connotations, Democratic politicians began disassociating themselves from the term, and as the Obama interview showed, they still do.
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Time magazine’s cover this week asks, “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” The answer to that question is yes, but you’d never know it judging by the overwhelming belief among Democratic insiders that the party’s 2016 presidential nomination is simply Hillary Clinton’s for the asking.
For all her popularity among party power brokers, the sense of invincibility that currently surrounds Clinton reflects a kind of suspension of disbelief by Democrats that a more detached reckoning should dispel.
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The tragic news that forces linked to al-Qaeda have retaken Fallujah is just the latest reminder that George W. Bush’s war of choice was a historic, catastrophic misjudgment. “Any Republican seeking nomination for the 2016 presidential election should at a minimum be willing to admit Iraq was a mistake,” Jeremy Lott writes at RealClearWorld. “It was an error that cost us upwards of $1.5 trillion, thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, while seriously hindering our efforts to track down the real culprits of September 11, 2001.”
The issue is going to be tough for Republicans to navigate, given that public opinion has turned against the war, even as powerful GOP factions still support it. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are probably already gaming out their strategy. What’s less remarked upon is the challenge Iraq will pose for Democrats. The war was foisted on America by a propagandizing Republican administration, and Democratic hawks have been better than Republican hawks at acknowledging error. But as Daniel Larison notes, “Virtually none of the politicians mentioned as 2016 candidates in the GOP were even in national office during the Bush year,” whereas several prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, all have pro-war votes on their resumes. (And it’s hard to believe that any of those three were hoodwinked by Dick Cheney.)
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In his inaugural address Wednesday, incoming New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to establish an intellectual pedigree for his focus on economic inequality. He invoked Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Al Smith, Frances Perkins, Fiorello La Guardia, Jacob Riis, David Dinkins, Mario Cuomo, and Harry Belafonte. It reminded me of when Democrats, eager to prove their national-security bona fides, tell audiences they hail from the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy. As if there wasn’t some other Democrat after Kennedy who dabbled at war and peace, some guy from Texas.
De Blasio’s speech was a bit like that. He left out the politician who more than any other kindled the Democrats’ renewed interest in economic inequality because that politician has been airbrushed from Democratic Party history. His name is John Edwards.
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