Thursday, February 13, 2014


I'm not trying to turn this blog into a Hillary Clinton fan blog -- I didn't even back her in the '08 primaries -- but damn, some of what's being said about her these days is ridiculous. Here's Alex Seitz-Wald at National Journal:
Is Hillary Clinton Blocking a New Generation of Democratic Leaders?

... her inevitability masks a potential weakness within the Democratic Party: the lack of a deep bench of future national leaders. For a coalition that prides itself on diversity, the list of presidential hopefuls is filled with white men: Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. With Clinton, the party that nominated Barack Obama in 2008 is now looking to the past for their presidential hopeful.

Furthermore, the Democratic dependence on Hillary Clinton hampers the development of a Democratic farm team. With Clinton expected to take up so much room in the post-Obama party, is there much room for anyone else?
One problem with this argument jumps out immediately: Hillary Clinton was "inevitable" in 2008, and a younger candidate beat her anyway. Nothing's preventing potential challengers from doing in 2016 what Barack Obama did in 2008.

But please recall what the 2008 field looked like: apart from Clinton and Obama, there was the (as we now know) ethically challenged John Edwards, there was the quirky Dennis Kucinich, and there were elder statesmen with inadequate star quality -- Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd. Obama aside, that year's field wasn't full of bright up-and-comers, either.

So was that Hillary's fault? No. It's the fault of a Democratic Party that has never developed a noise machine to create serious hype for its potential stars, and to persuade the Beltway that those people really are stars. The Democratic Party is so hapless in this effort that even though the blatant Republican skew on Sunday morning talk shows has been obvious for nearly a decade, Democrats have never done anything to reverse it.

Seitz-Wald writes:
Parties typically develop national leaders and future candidates through the primary process. This is especially true for Republicans, who have famously nominated the runner-up in the previous cycle's primary contests nearly every election since 1976.

By 2016, it will have been eight years since Democrats have had a contested primary, and if Clinton is effectively anointed the nominee and wins the presidency (still two big ifs), it will have been 16 years by the 2024 cycle. That's a long time without the incubation chamber for national leaders that primaries provide.
But then he contradicts himself:
Republicans have developed a farm team of up-and-coming elected officials considering presidential bids. Just look at leaders in their 40s who, if not candidates themselves, can at least serve as national surrogates for the party. In the Congress there's Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, along with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. In the statehouses, there's Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Most have positioned themselves as part of a new generation of reformers.
Right -- and please note that none of these guys have run for president (except Kasich, who briefly ran in the 2000 cycle, but dropped out in the summer of '99). Ryan was a VP candidate, but the others are considered stars because we've been told they're stars -- even Jindal, who's a joke to most rational observers, who has only a 42% approval rating in his own state, and who barely registers in 2016 presidential polls. A Beltway press that's wired for Republicans is wired to accept Republican hypesters' assessments of GOP politicians' star quality. Democrats are lousy at doing this for their own, and they don't even recognize that they have a problem in this area.

Barack Obama pretty much willed himself to stardom; so did Howard Dean in 2004. Elizabeth Warren has mostly done the same thing, as has Cory Booker. But people like Julian Castro and Kirsten Gillibrand and Martin O'Malley aren't managing that on their own -- and aren't getting much help from the party.

If I stick up for Hillary Clinton, it's because I don't think the Democratic Party knows how to turn anyone else on the party's bench into a winner for 2016. The party has allowed the likely nominee if Clinton doesn't run, Joe Biden, to become an Onion-defined laughingstock. The party isn't hyping anyone else. The party doesn't seem to know how. So if Hillary doesn't run, it's the Republicans' race to lose. And that's the Democratic Party's fault.


trnc said...

"So if Hillary doesn't run, it's the Republicans' race to lose. And that's the Democratic Party's fault."

Isn't that exactly what Seitz-Wald is saying?

Steve M. said...

No, he's saying it's Hillary's fault because she's hogging the spotlight. I'm saying it's Democrats' fault because they never try to build a deep bench.

W. Hackwhacker said...

I agree with your analysis. Given the likely GOP field, if Hillary runs, she wins. That's a good outcome in my book. Then it's up to the party to work on it's bench (which will certainly have new faces in statehouses and Congress) after 2016 -- if it can figure out how by then.

Victor said...

To update Will Rogers classic line:
"I'm not a member of any organized party that has any feckin' idea of how to market itself, it policies, and it's political stars.
I'm a Democrat!"

Chris Andersen said...

Political parties exist to advance the political prospects of its members. But the Democrats almost seem to think doing so is beneath them.

Unknown said...

Beltway popularity doesn't necessarily translate to national popularity. The Washington media loves covering Republicans simply because, given their craziness, the stories write themselves. Democrats are just boring policy wonks who actually take governing seriously. There's no story there.
That said, there are still some good prospects on the Dem bench: Brian Schweitzer, Martin O'Malley, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, and a few others. But progressives aren't as likely to fall for false hype as conservatives are. We demand substance rather than flash.
And am I the only one tired of all this 2016 speculation?

The New York Crank said...

Uh, let me see if I get this: Hillary's potential (or probable) candidacy makes the Democrats a party of white men.

Um, okay.

As for the young up-and-comers, please save me from them. I think Obama would have been a much stronger president had he had two or three full terms of senatorial seasoning.

Yours crankily,
The N4w York Crank

sdhays said...

I really think this analysis is just completely ridiculous because it accepts the absurd Beltway premise that people already have to be national stars to be "on the bench" for the next Presidential race. That's just dumb. Nobody nationally had heard of small state governor Bill Clinton in 1990, and George W. Bush could only be considered a household name in 1997 because he had the same name as a former President.

And lets really examine the so-called "deep bench" that the Republicans supposedly have: Kasich, Jindal, Ryan, Walker, Romney(!), Rubio, CRUZ? Are you kidding me? They may have a bit more name recognition, but that's IT. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh can only do so much to get voters juiced for losers. None of those guys is special in a Presidential way. If Hillary doesn't run (and I think she will), none of these fools strikes fear in my heart.

And (on your point about the idiotic assertion that this non-problem is all Hillary's fault) what about the fact that the Democratic Party has another superstar sucking up a lot of attention: the current President of the United States? When you actually have a national leader of your Party, everyone else, by definition, takes a back seat, regardless of Party.

Any real problems with the Democratic "bench" are more tied to state losses in 2010. If those elections had gone differently and there were more successful Democratic governors in large and largish states (not to mention if Congress hadn't been sandbagged by the House Republican Majority since then), the "bench" would look a lot different.

biz5th said...

I agree with Sdhays - the way to build a bench is to win elections. That's the job of the party; most good things will follow from that.

Besides, if I recall, progressives often complain when "The Party" tries to promote individuals as The Next Big Thing - we don't like who the party Establishment chooses to promote.

Procopius said...

I don't believe we're going to get through two years without something changing all the current (stupid) speculation. Just as I don't think the awful Obamacare rollout is even going to be remembered by November. At the moment there's nobody visible except Hillary. Whoever the Republican is, he/she is going to be so toxic I can't possibly vote for him/her, but Hillary is a neoliberal entitlement cutter, anti-labor and anti-welfare. She's another Obama, which means she's another bush. I think I'm going to end up writing in Bernie Sanders. Or maybe Chthulhu. Yeah, Chthulhu, why vote for the lesser evil?

biz5th said...

"I think I'm going to end up writing in Bernie Sanders. Or maybe Chthulhu. Yeah, Chthulhu, why vote for the lesser evil?"

Gosh, why not vote for Ralph Nader? That worked out really well in 2000.