Is Hillary Clinton the Next Barack Obama?

Joseph Mulkerin


For quite a while it has become a foregone conclusion to many that Hillary Clinton is Barack Obama’s natural successor and the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2016. Although she was also seen as the frontrunner in the lead up to the 2008 election the sentiment was no means as widespread as it is today.


Her 2002 vote in favor of authorizing the disastrous Iraq War was fresh in the minds of many Democrats and ultimately was probably the deciding factor in the hotly contested primary against Obama. These days, however, that vote is a distant memory and many Democrats, Republicans and pundits alike perhaps for a lack of creative thinking and perhaps owing to the increasingly dynastic nature of our politics operate under the assumption that the 2016 primaries are a mere formality.


Even Markos Moulitsas, a prominent and influential voice within the netroots chastised Democrats eager for a primary battle in a recent diary and proclaimed Hillary Clinton to be the inevitable nominee. To bolster his argument and cite the differences between the current cycle and 2008, he cited polls from 2007 showing Hillary Clinton with only a narrow lead compared to similar polls today that show a 62 point lead over her nearest hypothetical primary challenger Joe Biden. This poll is harrowing no doubt, though it may reflect an ignorance of other options rather then a genuinely intense commitment to Hillary Clinton. The election is still a year off and if an alternative candidate emerged they could still peel off a good deal of support.


The conventional wisdom of Hillary’s inevitability is damaging because (nevermind the fact that there’s no guarantee Hillary Clinton will even run), it threatens to stifle the possibility of a genuine debate within the party on a whole variety of issues including civil liberties, drone strikes, the War on Drugs and income inequity. All of these are issues that the status quo has disappointed progressives on and if an establishment politician like Hillary Clinton ran unopposed in the primary, we can be sure they never would be addressed.


However, with elections still a year away, there’s no reason to believe that a genuinely renegade candidate couldn’t emerge to offer an alternative. Many on the left would like Elizabeth Warren to be that alternative and in some ways she would be the ideal. However, she has repeatedly expressed having no interest in running for president and would perhaps do more good in the senate where she could work intricately on financial reform legislation.

There are others options, though. Enter Brian Schweitzer, former governor of Montana who first emerged onto the national scene in 2008 when he lambasted the “petrol dictators” in a fiery populist speech at the Democratic convention. During his tenure, he established his progressive bona fides. In 2005 he signed legislation creating a statewide office guaranteeing that all Montanans receive a public defender. He is also an unabashed Civil Libertarian, having signed a measure objecting to the Patriot Act as well as the highly controversial Real ID act. He is also a proponent of Canadian-style single payer health care and in 2011 attempted to pass a statewide version of it in Montana. Keep in mind that he governed as a liberal in solidly red Montana and contrast that with reactionary blue state governor Andrew Cuomo (another potential 2016 nominee), who implemented an austerity regime extreme enough to put Scott Walker to shame. A Schweitzer candidacy is not merely the stuff of speculation either; having visited every county in Iowa, he almost certainly is laying the groundwork for a presidential bid.


While laying the groundwork for such a bid he has begun to establish himself as an outsider candidate who, if he ran for president, would offer Democrats a significant alternative to the Obama administration and the country at large an alternative to both Republicans and the Democratic establishment. In a December interview with the conservative Weekly Standard, he lambasted Obama as a “corporatist,” saying “We can’t afford anymore hard right. We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, who I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.”


Schweitzer though could hardly be characterized as a neocon himself. In a November appearance on “Up With Steve Kornacki” he argued that the impending treaty with Iran would allow the US to move away from close relations with Saudi Arabia and become energy independent. In a January interview with Slate Magazine, he candidly articulated his opposition to the war in Afghanistan, correctly pointing out that the US backed Bin Laden in the 80s and then stated, “Six months after we arrived in Afghanistan, al-Qaida was gone. They’d left. So now, in the longest war in the history of the United States, we’re fighting someone called the Taliban—never attacked us, never tried to attack us. They live in the Stone Age. I’ve been there. Even if they wanted to attack us, they wouldn’t find a way.” Schweitzer also expressed his opposition to NSA spying and called for Edward Snowden to be pardoned, another area in which he should receive applause from civil libertarians.


A Brian Schweitzer candidacy and a Schweitzer-Clinton matchup would hopefully bring to the forefront many of the fault lines within the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton would have the backing of the party establishment while Schweitzer would tap into the anger of many Progressive Democrats incensed at nearly a generation of centrist neo-liberalism, begun under the Clinton Administration and only exacerbated under the supposed “game changer” Obama as the governing ideology of the party.

In an age of widespread discontent at economic inequity, when the 400 wealthiest Americans control as much wealth as nearly half the population, there is a hunger for economic populism, an economic populism that Hillary Clinton would never be able to harness. The same Hillary Clinton who formerly served on Wal-Mart’s board of directors and has appeared at several Goldman-Sachs events receiving lucrative speaking fees. In one such appearance she reportedly offered the assembled bankers a soothing message.


There is also a hunger for curbing the abuses of the NSA, an issue which a candidate like Schweitzer with his impressive civil liberties record would surely address in a campaign. This isn’t to say that Schweitzer is a perfect candidate by any stretch of the imagination; politicians frequently disappoint and the sincerity of any one is often a matter of mere guesswork. However, a candidate like Schweitzer would at the very least offer debate on a number of crucial issues and would galvanize progressive Democrats, to the chagrin of establishment pundits who would rather the election remain a mere popularity contest.


Author Bio:

Joseph Mulkerin is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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Cherie Cullen (Wikipedia Commons); (Pete Souza)
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