A failed one-term congressman, wishy-washy on his party's most important moral issue, no executive experience, too homely for television — and despite the media campaign to make him out as a simple, honest frontiersman, in reality he was a highly successful lawyer for the nation's most powerful industry. His own law partner noted, "his ambition was a little engine that knew no rest." You know him as Abraham Lincoln.
An elitist intellectual, hotheaded, jingoist warmonger, impetuous and too young to be even vice president. Otherwise known as Theodore Roosevelt. The white privilege dandy who concealed his crushing disability and constant pain, running on a balanced-budget promise but in reality holding no fixed ideology and depending on a coalition that included Southern segregationists. That was TR's cousin, Franklin Roosevelt.
On the other hand, there was "the great engineer," a self-made man, the rightly lionized savior of refugees in World War I — the only man who came out of the Paris peace conference of 1919 with his reputation enhanced, according to John Maynard Keynes. This progressive and pragmatic man seemed ideally cut for his time. Yet Herbert Hoover as president was overwhelmed by catastrophe.
You see how it goes. How the digital age distorts. How contingency and crisis reveal character. Now, with the republic facing its greatest danger since the eve of the Civil War, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton steps forward to claim the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.
Consider me not horrified by the leaked DNC emails dismissing a man who hadn't even been a Democrat until 2015, when he decided the party infrastructure would best suit his presidential ambitions. Some of his supporters would rather see the nation left to the fascism of [the real-estate developer] than vote for Hillary. To hell with them. I would have gladly backed Sanders had he been the nominee (and finally subjected to the full fire of the right).
As for Clinton herself, she carried the wounds of nearly a quarter century of attacks and lies by the well-funded vast, right-wing infrastructure. Even a commenter on this blog seems to believe the Vince Foster fable. She faces real questions about her judgment with the private email server and the machinations of her husband's Clinton Foundation. I am less worked up over her time as Secretary of State, a position for which she mostly won acclaim. She worked for President Obama, who was, as his predecessor put it, "the decider."
Still, we wonder. Can Hillary, for all her experience and intelligence, avoid stepping on the landmines of her own, or her husband's, making?
There is the Clinton drama of her husband's administration, so different from the smooth and upright tenure of Obama. There is the paradox of her leading a Democratic Party with a large segment deeply alienated from the policies Bill Clinton either pushed, such as NAFTA, or tried to "triangulate" against a radical Republican Congress, such as "ending welfare as we know it" and deregulation, especially of the financial industry.
Within the liberal echo chamber, "neocon" is a word thrown around with the same weaponized force as "racist," "white privilege," and "mansplaining." One guilty of such thought crimes is automatically disqualified from even being heard. The original neocons were liberal Democrats who became conservative Republicans, "a liberal who has been mugged by reality," in the famous words of Irving Kristol. In the Bush administration, the term was applied to "the vulcans" who led us into ruinous wars. Now it's used on anyone the Bernie Bros dislike, especially Hillary.
Outside the liberal echo chamber, the reality is that Democrats only reclaimed the White House after the Reagan Revolution by moving to the right-center (and even then, with help from Ross Perot). Democrats also had to appear "strong" on defense issues, or they had no future in national politics. Whether this has changed by the loudness of the left and the right's defeat on several culture-war fronts is an open question. Look at the polling. This is not a liberal-majority nation, especially among the people who actually vote. Wishing will not make it so. Neither will protesting in safely Democratic central cities.
I write this as the Democratic National Convention is just beginning. Elizabeth Warren will give a good speech. Some "activists" seem to be hoping for 1968 redux. Otherwise, I have low expectations. We will have many victorious culture-war tropes brought out. Plenty of words about how we are better together. A fat, juicy target in [the real-estate developer] and his party, at least among the faithful in Philadelphia.
Will we hear substance on what this election should be about: combating and preparing for climate change; building 21st century infrastructure, especially high-speed rail and transit (there's never been a better time to borrow); addressing the coming wave of advanced automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence; identifying the national interest at a time when we are overstretched; bringing the rule of law to Wall Street; pushing forward the laws or constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and reversing the monopolies, monopsonies, and cartels that are damaging competition and killing jobs and communities?
Will we hear straight talk about how winning the White House is not enough? The Democrats need to beat Republicans in school boards, city councils, state legislatures, the U.S. House and Senate. Otherwise, we can expect four years where the GOP's scorched-earth opposition shifts from That (Black) Man in the White House to that Bitch in the White House. They will use any pretext to impeach her. The campaign to unseat her in 2020 has already begun.
Some pundits, notably Thomas Frank, have been thumping the tub about how Democrats need to do more to win back the white working class. I'm not sure it can be done. Their grievances are more cultural and demographic, with the accelerant of Obama Derangement Syndrome. They govern the states of the New Confederacy in our Cold Civil War. They are the Reagan Democrats, long gone. The fact that President Obama saved the nation from a second Great Depression (to be fair, with an assist from W on his way out) and has presided over a slow but very real recovery is an accomplishment the convention should celebrate in full Morning in America style. But this doesn't matter to them. That Obama is black matters a great deal. And all the LGBTQI celebrations in Philadelphia will only alienate them further. Thus, can the Democrats finally get some major Hispanic turnout, switch some purple states blue, and hold seemingly blue states (such as Washington) downticket? This will be the key to success.
Will we hear about the danger of vote suppression? This will mark the first time in 50 years where voting rights are less protected, especially in the Deep South and Arizona, thanks to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Seventeen states already have new vote suppression measures in place, with more to come. Did I say Supreme Court? Anyone who really believes that Hillary and [the real-estate developer] would make the same nominations to the high court — please don't vote, you're a moron.
Outside the liberal echo chamber/firing squad, the Democrats face a formidable adversary in [the real-estate developer] and his extreme party, which denies mainstream science on climate, wants to roll back the New Deal and Great Society (and Nixon administration), and stick us in an Ayn Rand experiment. His rhetoric really resonates with many people — and remember, he says out loud what most Republicans silently believe.
Sinclair Lewis memorably said that "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
This is where one is tempted to say, only Hillary Clinton can save us. But that's not enough. Democrats must retake the Congress, at least the Senate. They must find a "narrative" to overcome the Republican fairy tale that has entranced the majority since 1980. And take nothing for granted. This will be a battle for the ages with everything on the line.