Because there are only 824 days to go before the 2016 Iowa caucus, it’s time to start thinking about who should win the Democratic Party’s nomination—Hillary or Not Hillary? Before you roll your eyes and turn the page, allow me to note that all the talk about the next, next national election isn’t just the idle chatter of bored, twitchy journalists. The world may still be waiting for that white plume of smoke to rise above Chappaqua, but Clinton’s supporters are not. They’ve already started a Ready for Hillary PAC, which has raised over a million dollars in its first six months and secured the services of two key former Obama campaigners, Jeremy Bird and Organizing for America director Mitch Stewart. EMILY’s List has launched the Madam President project, which coyly pretends to agitate for a woman president, but which recently hosted town halls in Iowa and New Hampshire that became de facto Clinton rallies. “Go to the Ready for Hillary website!” urged former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm in Manchester. And a slew of prominent women—from minority leader Nancy Pelosi to Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to Vogue editor Anna Wintour—have pre-emptively pledged their allegiance to HRC. All of which produces the impression that Clinton’s nomination is more than just a likely outcome; it’s an inexorable ascension. As Donna Brazile put it, “If Hillary Clinton gets in the race, there will be a coronation of her."
Can we please hold the crown for at least another day? Or 824 of them? I’m totally behind the idea of electing a woman president in 2016, and I also understand the wellspring of buyer’s remorse that attaches to Obama’s oft-dispiriting presidency. But anointing Clinton now isn’t just anti-democratic; it paints a big sign on the party’s door: No New Ideas Here.
Here’s how I see it: America has a lot of problems, the most acute of which is the yawning gap between the rich and everyone else. According to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the top 1 percent captured 95 percent of all income gains in the so-called recovery, while the bottom 99 percent barely gained at all. And the chances of anyone breaking into that uppermost echelon are dwindling. As a slew of recent studies have shown, America has less class mobility than it used to and less than Canada or Western Europe; an American child born in the lowest quintile has just a 6 percent chance of rising to the top quintile—42 percent will stay at the bottom.
All that anger and discontent that boiled up at Occupy Wall Street two years ago wasn’t swept away with the encampments. It’s simmering, waiting, and even if elections aren’t always the conduit for youth insurrections, it’s hard to see a whole cohort sitting the next big one out as the American dream crumbles around them.
These grim data are more than just an abstraction; they are, as Peter Beinart argues in a Daily Beast article on “The Rise of the New New Left,” the defining condition of the millennial generation, who face scarcer job prospects, lower wages, fewer benefits and a weaker social safety net than those before them. All that anger and discontent that boiled up at Occupy Wall Street two years ago wasn’t swept away with the encampments. It’s simmering, waiting, and even if elections aren’t always the conduit for youth insurrections, it’s hard to see a whole cohort sitting the next big one out as the American dream crumbles around them.
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It’s also hard to imagine a Democrat of national stature more ill-equipped to speak to this populist mood than Hillary Clinton. Yes, her tenure at State gave her the rehabilitating Texts From Hillary Clinton Tumblr and the thickest diplomatic passport the world has ever known, but a taste for class warfare it most certainly did not. To wit: her decision to house her post-cabinet, pre-campaign apparatus at the foundation her husband started, now rechristened the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The organization, and the related Clinton Global Initiative, carries some lofty intentions—planting trees in sub-Saharan Africa, empowering women and girls, treating HIV and malaria, and saving endangered elephants. But as Alec MacGillis captured in a devastating feature for The New Republic, it also serves as a kind of global plutocrats’ social club—a Davos on the Hudson where corporate executives pledge millions for the privilege of rubbing elbows with celebrities and world leaders. They also, according to MacGillis, throw some lucre back to the Clinton apparatchiks who greased the wheels, like Doug Band, Bill’s former body man, who managed to turn his lowly position as jacket holder and BlackBerry keeper into a consulting business that afforded him $8.8 million in Manhattan real estate.
In glittering Clintonland, Band is now on the outs, but he was always small fry. The foundation counts among its major partners billionaires and corporate giants like Walmart, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Mike Bloomberg, Hollywood mogul Steve Bing and Paychex chairman Tom Golisano, who habitually ran for New York governor until he moved to Florida in 2009 because, as he explained in a pique-filled op-ed, he’d save “$13,800 every single day” on taxes. Maybe HRC won’t solicit the advice of all these folks, but she surely will solicit their donations. And once she does, how keen will she be to tell them that their gains are ill gotten, that they’ll need to pay more, not in tax-deductible charitable contributions, but in taxes?
If Hillary wins, it will likely be because she scared off potential insurgents and shut down the debate early. If her campaign gets hold of the Obama small-donor list, the only credible countervailing force to Clinton’s unmatchable war chest and elite connections, it’s game over. And once in office, how can she not reward the loyalists who helped her out? The prospect of a Clinton restoration, frankly, fills me with dread. I want Terry McAuliffe to beat Ken Cuccinelli, because Virginia is for lovers, not cavemen, but can he please stay on the other side of the Potomac? And just how many horcruxes need to be destroyed before Larry Summers is forever vanquished from public life?
It’s certainly possible that in an uninspired field that consists of Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley, Clinton would emerge as the least-worst choice. But at this point, can’t we aspire to do better? Senator Warren, your country calls.
Earlier this year, Jessica Valenti wrote about her plan to vote for a woman—most likely Hillary Clinton—in the next presidential election. In response, Amy Schiller wrote about how being feminist doesn’t automatically demand that one vote exclusively for a woman. And in response to her, Erica Brazelton wrote an article in support of Valenti’s position.