Having been dragged into the 2016 presidential debate a year early by the unexpected candidacy of George Pataki, I feel obliged to acknowledge the presidential ambitions of another "New Yorker," Hillary Clinton.
Unlike Pataki, a Republican who carries the baggage of a man looking for a political party to support his aspirations, Clinton has long worn the cloak of inevitability as the Democrats’ likely candidate in 2016.
She may not want to get too comfortable with this bit of political apparel.
History suggests why. In 2008, the so-called conventional wisdom made Clinton a heavy favorite to capture her party’s nomination. All she had to do, it was suggested, was relax and let nature takes its course. After all, she had a well-respected Bill by her side in a reversal of roles, all the money they had amassed since he left the White House, a long list of wealthy Democratic donors and she had even won an election to become New York’s junior senator.
What more did she need?
As it turned out, a few things: 1.) a populist message with which voters could identify; 2.) a campaign persona that projected sincerity, clarity, energy and the possibility of real change; 3.) a little warmth; and 4.) a way to defeat Barack Obama, who, it turns out, had plenty of the first three.
In 2008, the inevitable was overcome by the unexpected.
Enter Bernie Sanders, 2015. The conventional wisdom -- and even major news media, who should know better -- are writing him off as an eccentric, under-funded, liberal -- socialist even -- senator from a small, New England state.
All of which is true, except for the eccentric part.
Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, is running for the Democratic nomination for president. Unlike most of the Republican presidential candidates, he is no crackpot. He has a dedicated -- and rapidly growing -- constituency, fueled by the most synergistic form of communication yet created by man -- social media.
In 2008, Barack Obama had it. In 2015, Bernie Sanders has it in spades. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites offer a non-stop, 24/7 recitation of Sanders’ positions on issues that resonate with so-called average Americans:
Protect Social Security and Medicare. Don’t raise the retirement age. Raise the minimum wage. Decrease the wealth gap by taxing the rich more. Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that allows the super-rich to control elections. Fight global warming. Make college affordable, not a road to lifelong debt. Rebuild the nation's infrastructure.
Furthermore, Sanders recently introduced legislation that strikes at the heart of Republicans’ so-called dedication to family values. His Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act would guarantee 10 paid days of vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least a year. Sanders is also co-sponsoring, with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, The FAMILY Act, which allows 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave. This could be used to take care of a newborn, a seriously ill family member or to deal with serious medical conditions. Republicans are nowhere on this.
Sanders has also publicly criticized Clinton for not taking any position on President Obama’s TPP trade act, which Sanders has strongly opposed for its lack of transparency and a provision sidestepping congressional approval of new agreements.
This is not the agenda of a crackpot.
One of the knocks on Clinton has always been that she seems to feel entitled, that she should get people’s votes just because she is Hillary. That she should be New York’s senator just because. That she should be the first woman president of the United States just because.
Perhaps prompted by Sanders’ energetic campaign, which is drawing crowds and money to his cause, Clinton has called for universal voter registration -- a knock at the numerous Republican efforts to limit voting rights in the name of fighting voter fraud, a phony issue. It’s a populist issue, but not one on the front burner.
Mostly, her campaign seems to be focusing on setting up a coast-to-coast organization to recruit workers and attract votes and money for the campaign against whoever the Republican candidate may be. That’s because the Clinton team doesn’t expect much of a challenge from Sanders or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination.
O’Malley is also no dunderhead. He would shine among the GOP field of dreamers. Like Sanders, he has an air of believability. Sure, it takes a lot of ego to run for president, but beyond the ego -- even the sense of entitlement -- many voters like to feel the person who gets their vote really means what he or she says and will work like hell to make it happen.
Then-Sen. Obama projected that in 2008. Young voters, women and minorities especially rallied to his side. In 2012, he had a record that was strong enough to validate that commitment one more time.
So the question is, what would a second president Clinton stand for? Would Hillary be a second coming of Bill? In some ways, that might not be bad, given his management of the economy. But Hillary is no Bill, at least when it comes to campaigning. She can’t realistically change her personality, but she can articulate some views that demonstrate an awareness of the issues of concern to many Americans. Sanders has spoken on some, but women’s issues appear to be there for Clinton to claim. Also bias. Immigration. And she needs to challenge Sanders on the others if she disagrees with him.
Like any Democratic candidate, she enjoys the luxury of not having to appease the ignorati of the right, who distrust science, detest non-Christians, deny evolution and dismiss the poor. She is free to say what she really believes and, if it is in line with Democratic Party principles, she can do so without fear of losing primary votes. But she’ll need to take that comfortable cloak of entitlement off and show that she’s interested in more than wooing major campaign donors and renovating the family quarters in the White House.
Why does she want to be president?
Clinton has said, much to her regret, that she and Bill were broke when they left the White House. No one believed her, but, good for them, that’s apparently not a problem anymore. Her problem appears to be that every time she sets her sights on the Oval Office, some man gets in the way. First Bill, then Barack … now Bernie? B-ware, Hillary.