Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Madam President?

“As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I—I don’t even want—why would I ever want to do email? … Can you imagine?”
 —Hillary Clinton, in a home video shot at a Hollywood fundraiser in 2000

“I am all about new beginnings. A new grandchild, another new hair style, a new email account, why not a new relationship with the press? So here goes, no more secrecy, no more zone of privacy. After all, what good did that do me?”
 —Hillary Clinton, in a press awards keynote address on Monday

The other day one of my Facebook friends wrote a post asking people to imagine it was 2017 and that “Madam President and the First Gentleman are in the White House.” It was not clear if she was referring to President Clinton or to President Warren, but I’m pretty sure anyway it wasn’t President Fiorina.

The subsequent comments were all generally supportive and agreeable, but one in particular caught my attention. That person proposed (with no apparent sense of irony) that the following is what should happen: “Obama invokes Executive privilege and declares that there will not be an election next year. Hillary will be the next President of the USA (with Elizabeth Warren as VP). We will save about a trillion dollars, which will be put back into the economy in the form of mandatory Infrastructure expenditures in transportation, bridges, highways, reusable energy, education, and healthcare. So the next year and a half, doesn’t have to happen.”

Of course, we all get sick of the seemingly endless campaigning and political mudslinging. And all politically engaged people get frustrated with the idea of the “other” side holding sway over government policy and the taxpayers’ dollars. Still, it kind of gobsmacks me that anyone would publicly express a desire—even in jest—for the Constitution and elections to be suspended so that a huge portion of the country he or she doesn’t agree with no longer has any political voice. But that seems to be the way things have gone.

Whether it comes to the White House or Congress or the courts, everyone is more interested in the result rather than the principle. In a Supreme Court case, the justices are no longer treated in the press as impartial interpreters of the Constitution but as advocates for either the Republican or Democratic position. If the president seems to exceed his constitutional authority, it is justified by saying simply, well, he got tired of waiting for Congress to act. Not only are Congress and the White House seemingly locked in a never-ending cycle of tit-for-tat snubs and insults, but Congress is actually sabotaging the president wherever it can. I can actually remember a time when politicians could disagree politely. Now many of them are intent on de-legitimizing the other point of view entirely. No wonder some citizens would just as soon see the whole election thing done away with while their guy is still in power.

There may be a subconscious reason for the visceral aversion to future elections which, frankly, is more prominent among my Democratic friends than among my non-Democratic ones. Despite two clear and triumphant presidential election victories by Barack Obama, the leftward tide seems to have been receding since the beginning of his term. And this in spite of vaunted demographic shifts that were supposed to be relegating the GOP to a minor regional party. Between 2008 and 2014, Republicans had a net gain of 68 seats in the House of Representatives and 12 seats in the Senate. Furthermore, in the last election the GOP also made huge gains at the state level. When President Obama is not on the ballot, Democrats have had major losses. And even when he was on the ballot in 2012, Democrats gained a mere two seats in each house of Congress.

What does that mean for 2016? Maybe voters will be good and sick of Republican congressional antics by then. Or will that even matter since it is very unlikely that the Republican nominee will be a member of Congress? Will voters be more influenced by press coverage of the president, whose approval rating has not exceeded 50 percent for nearly two years?

One reason for the impulse to move straight to the coronation may be that Clinton is currently way ahead of any her rivals in the early polling. But there are disadvantages to being the prohibitive frontrunner so early in the process. Eight years ago Obama came out of nowhere and was a new, fresh face when he took the nomination away from Clinton, who was supposed to be inevitable that time as well. This time around there is not only plenty of time for people to get tired of Clinton but she has an extensive public record for her opponents to dissect and and revise. And, frankly, given the state of Obama’s foreign policy—which she oversaw for four years—she has plenty of criticism coming.

Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
reset U.S.-Russia relations in 2009
The irony is that Clinton was arguably the most qualified presidential candidate of either party back in 2008, but Democrats opted to ditch her for the younger male Obama in spite his astonishingly thin résumé. That certainly worked out for the party in the form of two presidential terms, but one cannot help but wonder if the party would not now be in a better position going forward if they had decided otherwise.

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