Time for Democrats to start rethinking this whole Hillary-is-inevitable thing.
Don't get me wrong: I admire Hillary Clinton. When her supporters claim she may be the most qualified person ever to seek the presidency, they have a point. Lawyer, children's advocate, first lady of Arkansas, first lady of the United States, head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, senator, secretary of State — what else could you possibly want or expect from a first-tier presidential candidate? A stint on the Supreme Court?
When it comes to ideology, her centrist instincts don't repel me. Indeed, they come pretty close to making her my ideal candidate (at least on domestic policy).
But, but, but…
As any number of critics have pointed out since the State Department email imbroglio broke earlier this month, Clinton is a candidate with an enormous amount of baggage, and too many signs of questionable judgment — all of them arising from that distinctive mixture of entitlement, paranoid defensiveness, and petty corruption that are now her family's stock-in-trade. Add in her slightly pissy attitude when faced with unwanted questions by the press, and you have a pretty charmless candidate.
Then there are her myriad entanglements with Wall Street and foreign governments — and the members of both who trade donations to the Clinton Foundation for access to two of the most powerful people in the United States. You know what's the one thing that will inoculate the GOP nominee against looking like a sop to the super-rich? Running against a Democrat who's even more enmeshed with and beholden to the global elite than the most plutocratically inclined Republican.
I can't think of a candidate more out of step with the country's populist mood — or desire for a fresh face in 2016.
Finally, there's international affairs. Everything we know about Hillary Clinton — from her long-term foreign policy positions, to the stances she took while (and after) working in the Obama administration, to the calculations she's likely to make as the first female commander-in-chief — point to her being a very hawkish candidate. Who will almost certainly be running against a typically war-drunk Republican. (Rand Paul's candidacy isn't going anywhere, and even he has backed away from his boldest anti-interventionist statements.) America desperately needs a choice, a debate, about the U.S. role in the world — and someone who can and will push back against Republican warmongering. Clinton certainly isn't going to do it.
It would be one thing if there were no viable alternatives among the Democrats. In that case, I'd join liberals in circling the wagons around Clinton, convinced that, for all of her flaws, we'd be far better off with her in the Oval Office than with just about anyone from the party that produces candidates like the Frank Underwood protégé who chose to announce his presidential candidacy this week at a bastion of Protestant fundamentalism.
But there is an alternative, and a damn good one. Two of them, actually: Elizabeth Warren and Jim Webb.
Jim Webb is a genuinely intriguing candidate — a war hero and former secretary of the Navy who actually views our country's militaristic foreign policy with skepticism, a champion of the American working class against globalization and "boardroom liberalism," and a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform. On top of that, he voluntarily retired from the Senate after one term, showing that he's far less enamored of political power than most people who run for the presidency. If he can get people to pay attention to his message, Webb just might succeed in wooing back a large chunk of the white (Scots-Irish) middle class to the Democratic Party.
But he's unlikely to do so on his own. Webb's idiosyncratic policy positions combined with his bristly unwillingness to jump through the right "likability" hoops give him limited appeal at the head of a ticket.
But as Elizabeth Warren's running mate? In that role he'd be fantastic.
I almost can't believe I'm arguing in favor of Warren jumping into the race. She's at least a few clicks to my left. Her populist rhetoric makes me uncomfortable. And she's said very little to indicate that she diverges from the bipartisan Washington consensus in favor of endless warfare.
So why do I find myself hoping that she'll run? Because she would actually give Americans a choice.
Since the economic crisis of 2008, Warren's been the country's foremost critic of the excesses of the financial sector and the banking industry. She makes a compelling case in favor of regulating Wall Street more aggressively, and speaks with passion about surging inequality and the dangers of privately held debt (especially student loans). She's dropped hints that she favors a single-payer health-care system — which might make a whole lot of sense if the Rube-Goldberg contraption that is the Affordable Care Act comes crashing down.
Yes, I worry that a government with Warren in the White House and the Republicans in charge of Congress just might grind to a complete halt. But would that be worse than four or eight years of Clintonite triangulation and scandal? I'm not so sure.
As for foreign policy — well, let's just say that given her left-leaning preferences in every other area of policy, I don't fully believe Warren's wan statements in defense of the status quo. I think she's probably given foreign affairs little thought, and she's picking her battles. And anyway, in my dream she'd have Jim Webb around to try and convince her to revisit her conventionally hawkish positions.
Purely on ideology, I'd probably prefer a Webb-Warren ticket. But the reality is that Warren beats Webb on charisma and charm any day, and as regular readers are aware, I care quite a bit about the U.S. electing its first female president. Clinton's ambition to shatter this highest of all glass ceilings will give her huge advantages in the race for the nomination and the presidency. If someone is going to challenge her, it needs to be a woman.
And that woman is Elizabeth Warren.
Hillary Clinton has dropped 15 points in the polls since the email story broke. If her numbers continue to soften, she's going to start looking seriously vulnerable. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there's too much at stake for Democrats to put all their chips on a candidate with clay feet. They need to start looking for other options.
And Warren-Webb 2016 is the way to go.