Saturday, August 22, 2015

I have a dream. The first time as history, the second time as farce.

My dream is this. The disaster that is Hillary Clinton’s email server lies not in what’s on it, although that may turn ugly down the road as well, so much as it lies in what that box tells us about Hillary Clinton. That she was totally paranoid after decades of abuse on the part of the GOP and did not trust even the State Department to protect her appropriately so that she felt compelled to totally control – as in wildly micromanage – her information environment. We have had that in a president before. His name was not Bill Clinton. It was Richard Nixon.

I believe that some of the national Democratic elites have realized this and recall Nixon’s capacity for self-destruction and are terrified that Hillary will do likewise – may already be doing likewise – before she has a chance to install another Democratic administration in the White House. They are looking around frantically for Plan B and this is what is currently fueling the Joe Biden boomlet in Florida and elsewhere, hawking polls that show that Joe beats Trump in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The elites don’t believe Bernie can win because – like Pope Francis – Bernie thinks that the big problem facing the world isn’t ISIS or immigration, but global capital. And the Democratic elites are totally, one thousand percent, indebted to big capital. Just ask Wall Street’s personal US senator, Chuck Schumer.

But although Joe Biden may well have been the nicest guy in the US Senate, and one of the most progressive not named Bernie Sanders, Paul Wellstone or Teddy Kennedy, Biden in this scenario does not look like the Joe we know, even at 76. He looks like Hubert Humphrey, stepping in for the elites in order to protect their prerogatives, put out the fire, save their cookies.  

In 1968, with the war in Vietnam in a state of collapse, the GOP nominated the only Republican whom the Democrats might have beaten – Richard Nixon. The Democrats responded by nominating the only northern Democrat whom Nixon could beat: LBJ’s water carrier, Hubert Humphrey. The rest, as they say, is history. If Hillary Clinton is not the nominee, the likes of a President Bush III, Kasich or Walker becomes much more plausible, even likely. Unless Trump can be converted into a Ross Perot and run on a third-party ticket.

The scarier alternative is if the conservative movement decides to live with the hot mess that is under that comb-over and present Trump as Reagan Redux. At this point in 1975, I was convinced that nobody in their right mind would think that Reagan was qualified to be president. And I recall what happened next.

The Republicans right now are reaping what they sowed when they decided that the right strategy for an Obama presidency was to make the US ungovernable. Their own bases is vomiting over the idea of establishment Republicans as the future of the party. Trump at least is not that.

All of this is a bad scenario with nothing but awful choices forthcoming, and I think everyone knows it. I will be voting for Bernie if he still matters when the too-late-to-mean-anything Pennsylvania primary takes place. But I think it’s clear that he can only show the deep flaws in Hillary’s game plan, not beat her. Although she may well be in the process of beating herself once again. In 2008, she knew that post-Iowa the race was going to come down to her and the anti-Hillary alternative. Her presumption was that she would look like the new politics against any white male in the field, especially Christopher Dodd, John Edwards or Joe Biden. But her hawkish Goldman Sachs version of the Democratic Party could not stand up against someone who recognized that the party was no longer just white men in bad suits and that the base was even then well to her left. Hence Barack Obama.¹

Her politics are even more of a problem in 2016, and her attacking them as if she were Richard Nixon is not the solution. The obvious alternative – Elizabeth Warren – is, I believe, serious when she says she does not want to run. Warren appears to believe that if she stays in the US Senate for a quarter century or more, she can do more good tackling the Goldman Sachs problem there than from the White House. And she may be right. There is a reason Chuck Schumer is not running for President.

Which leaves what? If you are a Democratic centrist, Claire McCaskill suddenly looks very good. If you are a progressive, Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin might make a far better choice if you believe that the national electorate is ready to vote for an out lesbian. Either might be stronger than a Joe Biden-Julian Castro, Joe Biden-Keith Ellison or even Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket. As an already-on-board-for-Hillary US Senator, Baldwin might just be acceptable to the Goldman Sachs wing of the party without succumbing to it.

But all of this grasping for silver linings presumes that we are heading for a train wreck, and that is what my dream tells me. I recall that the very same dismissive thoughts that I once had about Ronald Reagan – whom I’d met and seen up close & personal in his role as governor of California – I now have about Donald Trump. And I know how that turned out.

¹ The tragedy of the Obama administration is that it has not governed as it campaigned. Instead of offering a new politics, it simply offered Clinton’s third and fourth term with a better face. Even its belated support of basic civil rights for the gay community took a serious prod from, who else, Joe Biden.