The passing lane is on the left. It’s empty.
With Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she’s running for president, the last whiff of fuel for every other Democrat evaporated. She expects to spend, according to her campaign, $2.5 billion. She’ll probably do it. If that doesn’t scare off the donors to everyone else, the sycophantic, mewling Hillary worship of the party regulars and much of the press probably will.
Off to the side in this thing is Elizabeth Warren, the compelling ideological siren who could have the nomination but won’t. There’s Bernie Sanders, who can’t raise the money and probably realizes the party won’t go for a 73-year-old, fuzzy-haired, self-described socialist, much as the party core love him.
That leaves Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley. O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, made his interest in the race known many months ago. Still he has not announced, and so he has let slip his best chance of mounting a serious campaign. Webb? He was secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. How does that go down with Democratic primary voters?
Maybe a bit better than one might imagine. Here’s why:
Reagan’s secretary of the Navy is a dove, and Hillary Clinton is a hawk. If Webb doesn’t have the money to buy the platform to make that difference crystal clear, then Rand Paul, on the Republican side, will. Americans are sick of endless war, but Clinton has defended her vote for the disastrous George W. Bush war in Iraq, supported military intervention as often as John McCain, and even now wants to use a military threat against Iran.
Can Webb win? Of course not, unless Clinton screws up terribly, which she is capable of doing. He might, though, draw some attention to her hawkishness, and he will try to do the same concerning her ties to Wall Street, which are many, deep and distasteful.
Already Clinton has hired Gary Gensler, former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to a campaign post. Because he was pretty tough in that post, the Clinton job is widely supposed to signal her acknowledgement of the need to keep an eye on Wall Street. But it’s Warren, not Webb or O’Malley, who so far seems to get credit for pushing Clinton.
It’s interesting that Gensler’s hiring, along with just about everything else Clinton does, is instantly analyzed, not as signifying her position, but as signifying her political needs of the moment. This is more true of her than of most candidates, which means that — familiarity with her name, her husband and her history notwithstanding — the press and most voters don’t really know who or what Clinton is.
Let’s try to sort that out just a bit. Let’s give her grades on the scale the liberal base would use to judge her if the knew her well enough. First, understand that in all these categories, she gets an A+ against any possible Republican nominee. Now let’s see how she scores against the liberal ideal:
Regulation of the financial sector: D. Her husband oversaw and signed lots of deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that separated commercial and mortgage banking. She’s given no indication that she’s inclined to revisit any of that.
Environmental stewardship: B. This grade is provisional. Clinton’s record is actually pretty good, and she talks a good game on climate change, but she can’t seem to make up her mind about the touchstone issue of the moment, the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to bring filthy tar-sands oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast, mostly for export of the products.
Trade: Question mark, until she comes down on one side or the other of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. She was for it when she worked as secretary of state for President Obama. Now she’s not so sure. Liberals hate the deal, along with the whole idea of a deal negotiated without the participation of the people or their representatives, but with full participation by big business.
Campaign finance reform: D. Like her husband before her, Clinton says she’ll take this on. He did it with something less than half a heart. There’s little reason to think she will go after the problem with much more vigor, having promised to use the current system to block everybody else from seriously challenging even her nomination.
Social Change: B-. Clinton is the undisputed world spokeswoman for women’s rights. It is not as impressive a record as it might be if she were not female and the mother of a daughter. Her record on race relations is spotless. On gay rights, she’s been tentative and late to the game.
Foreign Affairs: D. She gets a D in spite of an arguably undistinguished but genuinely unblemished record (Benghazi, by the Republicans’ own official word, was nothing) at State. That’s because her hawkishness gets her the respect even of John McCain and may attract the support of the neoconservatives, from whom she is indistinguishable.
That leaves a very great deal of room for the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” does it not? But she sucked up all the money. So, from 330 million Americans, we’ll nominate the spouse of a former president with a mediocre record. How likely is it that we will have made the best possible choice?