Reaping The Harvest of 2016

by George Kennedy on December 8, 2012

Reaping The Harvest of 2016


Should the Democrats plant the right seeds in 2013, they may well reap the presidential harvest of 2016.  Polls reflect a growing confidence in our soon-to-depart Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  A decision by Clinton to seek the nomination would be welcomed by most Americans according to a Washington Post/ABC poll released several days ago.  This story has legs because its secondary tentacles could touch the lives of Senator John Kerry (D.Mass.), Susan Rice, our UN Ambassador, and others yet unnamed.

Meanwhile, the beltway media is consumed by the showdown on the fiscal cliff.  Perhaps it should be more appropriately labeled “a step off the fiscal curb.”  The struggle between the White House and the Speaker of the House is the kind of story that titillates the national media because it is easy, local, and it highlights the daily dynamic between a re-elected and politically- strengthened President Obama and his Republican nemesis, Speaker John Boehner.  The shelf-life of this story is limited given the December 31st deadline and the advantage shifting to the President.

The electorate has a major stake in the fiscal cliff negotiations but, to preserve the integrity of middle class gains over the next four years, it has to invest heavily in positioning the right Democratic candidate in 2016.  It is in 2016 that the Democrats will reap what they sow now – or fail to do so.

In an earlier piece, I tried to make the case for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.  It is a well known fact that the Clinton name continues to evoke strong sentiment, both pro and con, among Democrats, Republicans, and progressives.

Some voters, including Democrats, already ask if Hillary is the best the Democrats can do?  Fair question and always pertinent; that is the effect the Clinton name has.  In the July/August 2012 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Susan Glasser, Foreign Policy editor in chief, makes the salient observation, Hillary Clinton talks nuts-and-bolts details with world leaders who understand they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

American presidential politics since the passage of Roberts vs.  Citizens United has to be about realism the closer we get to the political trenches.  President Obama’s reelection attests to this assertion.  The Democrats in 2016 will need a presidential candidate familiar with trench warfare; someone with an ability to climb into the trench with a determined, organized, and well-funded Republican and the steel to exit the trench victorious.  The Republicans have now lost two presidential election cycles and the country better be prepared for perhaps the dirtiest and most expensive campaign in decades.

Yes, Senator Bernie Sanders (I- Vermont) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D – Mass.) are strong progressives.  Both names are touted as possible Democratic candidates for 2016.  Sanders is wise, committed and experienced.  Warren is new and well-positioned in the Senate – at least for the life of President Obama’s second term.  This President will need allies in the Senate if his legislative agenda stands any chance of success.  Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, also a Democrat, would strengthen the Senate’s Democratic Caucus should he decide to contest – and win – the exiting Frank Lautenberg Senate seat.  Booker, too, will be presidential timber in the not-too-distant future – just not 2016.

So, let’s focus on 2016.  The question for the Democrats is, do they want to win in 2016 or just field a fresh face?  To improve the odds of winning, they will have to nominate the candidate with national name recognition and the ability to raise two billion dollars to fund his/her campaign.  There are also the requirements that the nominee’s candidacy evoke the level of passion of candidate Obama in 2008, and a willingness to do what it takes to win.  Thus far, Hillary meets all of the requirements.

The Democrats will need a candidate psychologically and intellectually equipped to resist the worst plutocratic impulses of the GOP; someone that could manage the big issues in foreign policy, and capable of attracting a team worthy of the domestic portfolios that will await a new administration.

A Democratic “dream team” in 2016 might include Elizabeth Warren at Treasury, Michele Flourney, former senior Pentagon official, at Defense; and a woman providing strategic direction for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Early December polls overwhelmingly support Hillary as the preferred Democratic candidate.  However, once the spotlight shifts to a Hillary candidacy, should she decide to run, the poll numbers will reflect shifts in the mood of the electorate.  Not all of those that would be encouraged by her campaign would likely vote for her.  Some of them encouraging her to run are Republican and any support from them is likely to be minimal.  That is to be expected; it is the nature of presidential politics, especially when you, as a Democratic candidate, are the recipient of a billion dollars in negative campaign ads.

Earlier, I wrote that the tides of history compel Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency, not the mayorship of New York City or the Supreme Court – as attractive as the latter may be.  Hillary is on the strong side of the issues that galvanize women and the Democratic faithful into action:  healthcare, the strength of the economy, the state of public education and the affordability of higher education for the middle class.  Hillary has a daughter of childbearing age and would want to preserve a woman’s right to choose and  retain control over her healthcare.

Another advantage of a Clinton candidacy is that her campaign could build on the momentum that swept President Obama into his second term while keeping intact the coalition of African Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, women, and young voters that represent the majority of the Democratic Caucus.  Moreover, there is greater likelihood of policy and program continuity between the current administration and a new Clinton Administration given the role Hillary and Bill played in securing a second term for President Obama.

A Republican Administration in 2016 is highly unlikely to preserve President Obama’s legacy on healthcare – a hallmark of his presidency to date.

This country cannot afford Republican rule for the foreseeable future.  Only a strong Democratic candidate stands between that possibility and a continuation of the policies and values that built this country.

Let’s prepare for the 2016 harvest.  The country cannot afford to let this harvest pass.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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