Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hillary Clinton - The Polk Option

A few days ago, I was at an event for Bernie Sanders.  The inevitable subject came up of a possible Sanders run for President, and Bernie said, quite reasonably, "All who say they want to be President are certifiably insane."  This by way of saying that, while he has no desire to be President--and the experience of President Obama, but pretty much any other President, would serve as evidence of the difficulty, and the undesirability, of the Presidency as a lifestyle--he may end up deciding to run, because he would feel the country would benefit from a vigorous discussion of the issues, as he sees them, in the course of the 2016 Democratic nomination campaign.

With all due respect to Senator Sanders, though, his decision is a different one than that which (Secretary?/Senator? which is the more appropriate honorific title?) Hillary Clinton will need to make, because Sanders has absolutely no chance of winning the Presidency and having to serve the country in that awful, awesome capacity.  It has been reliably reported that Hillary is having some trouble with leaving her life as a private citizen to make the run, though we all know that, in the end, she will end up going for it (publishing her book is only the latest evidence of the ultimate decision).  Having run for President once, it would be hard to imagine a hard-core politica like her passing up a gold-plated brass-ring opportunity to take the Democratic nomination--against some token forms of opposition, which may or may not include VP Joe Biden--and to rout whichever Republican loser allows himself most successfully to be shoehorned into the right wing-tip in order to survive his party's ridiculous nomination process.

Clinton would be both a highly popular Presidential candidate and an extremely controversial one. She will face dug-in, fanatical opposition from the day she announces, but also will be able to draw on a broad and deep base of support which any other national candidate could only envy.  If she plays her hand well, she would have the possibility of dealing a mortal blow to her opponents--those who she once infelicitously, if not inaccurately, characterized as a "vast right-wing conspiracy".  She could win a wave election of such magnitude that it would sweep away the current concerns which have dogged President Obama since 2010: those of a divided Congress, of the lack of a filibuster-proof majority.  Her win could even recall the power which FDR had in 1936 after his re-election, when not even a hostile Supreme Court could stand in opposition to his reforms; his threat to "pack the Court" with his supporters caused the cowed Supremos to make peace with the Administration's goals, and a rousing Clinton victory could do the same, either by bringing the Waverer, Justice Anthony Kennedy, over to grudging support, or by inducing despair, an early grave or resignation, to one or more of the hardcore four right-wingers on the Court. Either of those would be all that she would need.

I would suggest that she take as a role model the winner of one of the most heatedly partisan Presidential elections in American history, the 1844 election that elected James K. Polk.  Polk's route to the Presidency was completely different from the presumed Hillary coronation stroll--he was a compromise choice of a divided Democratic convention; however, his campaign had a powerful theme which unified his party and its fellow travelers--in this case, the US' Manifest Destiny, meaning an aggressive approach to settling the dispute over the Oregon Territory, and in particular, an aggressive approach toward defying Mexico's claims and admitting Texas to the Union--and that strength allowed Polk and the Democrats to overcome determined Whig opposition to their aims.

In the event, after some political chicanery involving lame-duck President Tyler and a narrow victory over Henry Clay, Polk's election gained the campaign's aims--statehood for Texas, agreement on the Oregon Territory--even before he was inaugurated.  He went on to pursue with great success the Mexican War, which produced incomparable gains of territory and wealth for the country, and he fulfilled his campaign promise by resisting all appeals and refusing to run for re-election. Historians rate Polk's administration very highly for its accomplishments, even if he himself has become, to the average American, just one of many unrecognized pre-Civil War Presidents.

OK, I'm not suggesting Hillary start a war with our neighbors to pursue Manifest Destiny; that has already been done and dusted, and I will give no credit for the motives, or for any beneficial short-term results, of the slave-owning Democratic warmongers' policies, such as those of Polk or hardcore pro-slavery Senator John C. Calhoun.  The relevant points I want to suggest to Hillary and her entourage as they consider their options are: 1) she should announce that, if elected, she promises not to run for re-election in 2020; and 2) she should have a clear theme and a popular program that can be achieved in one term with sufficient electoral success in 2016.

So, what is the theme and program that Hillary should propose?  My answer is that she should aim at the completion of the task which her husband started, which Al Gore and John Kerry were denied the chance to pursue by Bushite neocon reaction, and which Barack Obama was frustrated in completing due to 18th-century House of Orange-style Tory intransigence:  the transition of this country into a 21st-century model of a multi-racial, non-imperialist, progressive democracy.  The program needs to be both practical and highly political, with sensible economic and foreign policy aspects.   A few basic elements to specify:
1) A Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United*, and support for a variety of measures--such as ease of registration, Federal control over redistricting abuse, absentee or early voting- to open up and facilitate popular (as opposed to elitist) participation in the political process;
2)  A new set of environmental measures suited to addressing the challenge of climate change;
3) Investment in infrastructure, education, and retraining for a competitive future economy;
4) Settling the long-term budgetary issues of the retirement and healthcare programs in a way that deals equitably with each generation's concerns and assures the programs' long-term survival; and
5) Continuing the successful foreign and defense policies of the Obama Administration, which have replaced interventionism with thoughtful, multilateral engagement and reduced the cost in American blood and treasure.
This last one may seem to be a stretch today, as we "watch" Putin mess with the Ukraine, the Arab Spring give way to a seemingly endless long, hot Arab Summer, and endure various indignities from resurgent Chinese and from uncooperative Iranians, Israelis, Iraqis, Afghans and, no doubt next, ambitious Indians. The point is, retaining influence while staying out of direct involvement in conflict is a challenging task.  Based on her record, though, Hillary can enter into strategic debate with a presumed neocon Establishment Republican adversary without seeming wimpy, but she can also (unlike some new Bush, or Bushite, President) govern as a peacemaker, utilizing effectively the many connections she made as an active Secretary of State.   And there will be plenty of opportunities to make peace.

Then, after smashing the glass ceiling--accomplished merely through winning the election--and achieving a definitive defeat of this wayward, schizoid version of a national Republican party--one which will either re-orient it more constructively or seal its doom as a viable national party--followed by a successful re-focusing of the nation's energies on a positive future vision, she can avoid the ugly question of "oldest President ever?"** and yield to a new generation of youthful Democratic leaders who can carry us boldly and proudly into the uncertain times waiting for our future.

 "Vision 2020" is a slogan just waiting for them to take up.  For that matter, it would be a good campaign slogan for would-be President Hillary Clinton.

 *Although the Clintons in particular, and the Democratic party establishment in general,  have done well in this massive fundraising/massive spending political environment, the chance to revenge the Citizens United group which targeted her specifically should be appealing from a vendetta standpoint.   
**Technically, she would end a hypothetical second term in January, 2025 a few months younger than Reagan did, but I hope you get my point about her seeking to avoid the bitter old lady meme as insistently as Obama has avoided the angry black man one.

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