War & Peace Can Be Confusing
Scanning the amateur work at Daily Kos last week a diarist unabashedly proclaimed that President Obama had “earned” his Nobel Peace prize by the imminent nuclear energy deal soon to be signed with Iran by John Munich Kerry, Secretary of State.
He did? That seems rather strange, usually one earns a significant accomplishment and the Nobel committee duly crowns the recipient with laurels of fame, money and prestige, but comprehension of foreign policy can be difficult at times.Continue reading "War & Peace Can Be Confusing"
President, or Party?
Which is more important: preserving a Democratic president’s legacy achievement even if it costs the Party its hold on one house of Congress and perhaps sinks its chance to capture the other house? Or is it more important to have a strategic retreat to preserve those opportunities and refocus the debate onto more favorable terms? Despite Nancy Pelosi's brave pronouncements publicly today, she and Harry Reid need to put the party first when it comes to 2014.
Obama has lost the necessary political support within his own party to hold onto Obamacare in its current form. Of course there will be no opportunity to “fix” it with the current Congress, but that doesn’t mean Congressional Democrats should walk the plank once again to support a lame-duck and frankly incompetent White House. And note that we’ve been here before: Obama hung congressional Democrats out to dry by pushing health care reform ahead of financial reform and a fully functioning economy back in 2009, which led to Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms and the Tea Party cancer we have today.
I have no idea why the administration didn’t plan ahead for all bad contingencies like the industry sending out millions of cancellation notices, or know months ago that the website wasn’t ready for launch, but those facts on the ground now are imperiling the Democratic Party’s opportunities. Republicans are assuming that Democratic incumbents will fight to support the White House and go down with the ship next November. What the GOP isn’t counting on are Congressional Democrats signaling that health care reform needs to be redone and perhaps not under this president. Sure, the GOP will chortle for several news cycles about how Obama lost his own party, but that will be a short-lived high when Democrats confront their Republican challengers with “so what is your plan? Why weren’t you this concerned about people keeping their insurance until recently?” Obviously, the GOP has no real concern about people losing their coverage, and of course Obamacare is the GOP plan – from 1993.
To those who say you can’t go back, that rethinking the mandate and how to cover the middle class can’t be done now that we’re this far down the road, I respond “not so.” Obama has already achieved an expansion of Medicaid that would have been unthinkable a short while ago. Millions of Americans below 133% of the federal poverty level will now have health care coverage, for not only medical but also mental health needs. And for those GOP governors that still refuse the expansion, HHS can allow them to submit waiver requests to implement state programs that achieve the same overall goal but tailored to suit local preferences.
As for the middle class going uncovered if the mandate and federal exchanges are suspended pending congressional action to “fix” health care reform, Democrats can let the GOP face pressure from voters, hospitals, and the HMOs, who still would have to abide by the pre-existing condition and age-26 reforms without the benefit of the wider risk pools envisioned by getting healthy younger people covered through the exchanges. Would insurance rates go up? Sure, and the GOP and HMO’s can be accountable for that result with the right Democratic messaging, while Congress makes sure state insurance commissioners have broader latitude to regulate rate increases. What the GOP doesn’t want is for health care reform to be re-litigated for another presidential cycle, where a libertarian “you’re on your own” GOP message would lead to another electoral drubbing.
Clearly, the GOP expects to hammer Democrats next year with the Obamacare hammer. Democrats should remove that hammer from the GOP tool bag now, and instead pivot to the threat that perhaps we need to run the 2016 presidential election on health care all over again, plus jobs, immigration reform, and financial responsibility – four issues where the GOP loses big with the likely 2016 electorate. Progressive Democrats were never big fans of Obamacare and the deals made behind the scenes with Big Pharma and the HMO’s to get it done, and a replay of this debate with the lessons learned from the first one may lead to better results like single-payer or at the least the public option. The GOP has nothing to offer in dealing with voters’ ongoing concerns about health care, and their shortsighted strategy of taking down Obama and Democrats with Obamacare makes them vulnerable in 2016 when the electorate sees once again that just like 2012, the GOP has no solutions on health care or any of the other issues voters want action on.
Take away the hammer. Outflank the GOP and make them fight on terrain better suited to Democrats. Sadly, Obamacare may end up being stillborn, but the administration’s inability to do basic governance and policy does not require the Democratic Party to walk the plank once again.
A Real Challenge, or a Tone-Setter?
The counter-argument to Noam Scheiber's New Republic piece arguing that Elizabeth Warren is Hillary's nightmare for 2016 has started. Although Politico mined the same terrain, it also noted that Wall Street would be alarmed if a Warren candidacy ended up forcing Hillary to move leftward and focus even more on income inequality and the middle class than she already does, at a time when the Street is facing heat from the right as well.
For his part, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post's Wonkblog on Monday noted that differences between the two are not as pronounced as some may believe.
But concern for the middle class doesn't, by and large, differentiate her from Clinton, who got her start in Washington working for the Children's Defense Fund and spent the early 90s trying to pass universal health care. They have differences on individual laws, including the noxious bankruptcy legislation that passed in 2005. But broadly, they agree: Clinton, like Warren, believes in higher taxes on the rich and universal health care and higher-education costs and universal pre-k and so on.
In fact, in many of these cases, Clinton understands the underlying policies better than anyone else in the party, and has a longer history fighting for them, certainly, than Warren. So long as the primary is about bread-and-butter policies to help the middle class, Clinton will be nearly unstoppable.
Klein notes the real danger for Clinton is that a Warren presence may shift the Democratic primary debate into an emotional frontal attack upon Wall Street with all the plusses and minuses that go with that.
And this comes against the backdrop that even in the midst of Chris Christie's media fluffing, Hillary still beats him by double digits, with a large majority of her party united behind her, unlike the war zone that awaits Christie.
A 2016 Democratic Intraparty Battle?
While we watch the GOP play out its civil war right before our eyes, many Democrats take comfort in the knowledge that their party seems to be a model of unity. We're focused on holding the Senate next year, and even picking up 10-20 seats in the House to make that body more functional. And yes, Hillary currently seems well-positioned to run and obtain broad support among the electorate for her candidacy in 2016.
But what if there was an intraparty battle awaiting the Democrats? What if Hillary's possible ascension alarmed the progressive wing of the party enough to want an honest debate about what the party really stands for before handing control back to the Clinton wing of the party for 4-8 years? The New Republic's Noam Scheiber thinks such a battle may be in the offing, with none other than Elizabeth Warren as the progressive standard-bearer, if she feels that Hillary is not sufficiently committed to saving the middle class and going after Wall Street.
All of which is to say, if Hillary Clinton runs and retains her ties to Wall Street, Warren will be more likely to join the race, not less. Warren is shrewd enough to understand that the future of the Democratic Party is at stake in 2016. At 64, she knows that if Hillary wins and populates yet another administration with heirs to Robert Rubin, it will be at least eight years before there’s another chance to reclaim the party. “She has an immense—I can’t put it in words—a sense of destiny,” says a former aide. “If Hillary or the man on the moon is not representing her stuff, and her people don’t have a seat at table, she’ll do what she can to make sure it’s represented.”
Warren refused to tell me what would happen if the likely 2016 nominee is wrong on her issues. “You’ve asked me about the politics. All I can do is take you back to the principle part of this,” she said. “I know what I am in Washington to do: I’m here to fight for hardworking families.”
These words may be soothingly diplomatic, but her methods usually are not—and that should be terrifying for Hillary. An opponent who doesn’t heed political incentives is like a militant who doesn’t fear death. “Yeah, Hillary is running. And she’ll probably win,” says the former aide. “But Elizabeth doesn’t care about winning. She doesn’t care whose turn it is.”
Hillary's game plan is clear enough. She will talk just enough of the progressive language to keep the base with her while she assumes the GOP civil war pushes the party so far to the right with its 2016 nominee that she can capture the center and some traditional GOP voters as well. But with Barack Obama letting down so many hope-and-change progressives, and with the Clintons seeming more corporate than progressive to many in the party, why shouldn't the party have an open debate about its true commitment to the middle class and Wall Street accountability before handing her the car keys?