A feather in her cap, or a fire in her belly?

hard-choices

A feather in her cap, or a fire in her belly:

Such are the twin engines of a possible Hillary run.

They won’t both fire, though; only one.

If appetite consumed her, she’d have made her decision.

If a feather is her motive, she’ll surely lose.

 

Mrs Clinton is on tour promoting her book Hard Choices
published by Simon and Schuster.

Kerry and Clinton in 2016

John Kerry Official Portrait 2013No, Kerry isn’t running for president, but he sure looks presidential these days.  The man who was so painfully awkward as a presidential candidate has come into his own as secretary of state, where his outstanding personal qualities shine to an almost dazzling degree.  I have enjoyed hearing his firm voice spell out American views fearlessly, and even call out Dick Cheney as dead wrong on the PBS Newshour the other day.  Kerry’s perspicacity, conviction, and personal power are more evident now than at any point in his distinguished political career.

More than that, he is palpably comfortable with leading.  The stiffness of his patrician face has finally softened into one that’s warm and even smiles sometimes.

Kerry between interviews at the State Department (Monroe Room)As Democrats contemplate an almost certain presidential run by Hillary, they may as well as themselves, why not Kerry?  Or some combination?

Kerry’s amazing grasp of foreign policy, forthright patriotism, and chops in the military, would beautifully complement Hillary’s more charismatic, everywoman style of leadership and politicking.  Both are broadly experienced and command wide respect in their party and beyond.  Moreover, concerns about Mrs Clinton’s health and whether she has the stamina for the top job are not going to go away.  Even I have my reservations, while wishing the best for her should she run.  Kerry’s evident vigor, intellectual maturity, and unquestionable fitness for the presidency make him an ideal running mate, one whose presence on the ticket would silence these qualms.

Text © 2014 Susan Barsy
Images: Courtesy of the US State Department; click on images to go to the source.

Obamacratic Gossip

Michelle Obama during Monday's Inaugural Ceremony (Image taken from PBS Newshour coverage)

I heard it first from the security guard in my office building.  We were chatting about the inauguration, when he grew animated.  “What’s going to happen after this?” he abruptly asked me.  “The Democrats don’t have anyone to come after Obama.  They only have one person.  You know who it is?”  It astonished me to realize he meant the First Lady.

“If that happens, I’ll tell everyone I heard it here first,” I replied, taking his words as a measure of the fervid loyalty the First Family enjoys in some camps.  Whether Mrs. Obama, who has never held public office and was a reluctant first lady, would ever contemplate a presidential run seems doubtful to me.  She’s an entirely different sort than Hillary Clinton, who, since her school days, has been a political animal through and through.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when I ran across this image on a heavily visited website (The Obamacrat) that assumed the same thing: that a Michelle Obama candidacy would be viable in 2016.  If nothing else, this incipient “draft MO” movement suggests how ready citizens of perhaps any nation are to place their trust in established political families, fueling a dynastic element that has been an unmistakeable and constant feature of American politics, as evident during the Federalist era as it is today.

Photograph of Mrs Obama
made from PBS Newshour coverage of Monday’s presidential inauguration.

RELATED:
What will Michelle Obama do with four more years? Yahoo.com

The Incredible Shrinking GOP

Cartagram by Mark Newman showing the relative strength of the Democratic and Republican vote.

The results of Tuesday’s election, in which Republicans failed of their two principal goals, and indeed lost ground even in the House, indicate that the GOP is in danger of becoming a minority party.

The cartogram above, one of a series of maps created by Mark Newman of the University of Michigan to show the real strength and distribution of the popular vote, depicts the limits of the GOP’s popular appeal.

While the Republican party continues to command the allegiance of bands of Americans in southern and land-locked western states, these states are not particularly populous.  In the more heavily populated and cosmopolitan areas of the United States, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama is consolidating its hold.

Voting strength of Democrats and Republicans by county, with purple showing county-level mix

Moreover, many of the counties that the Republicans managed to win Tuesday are actually divided and could readily swing back the other way.  In the county-level map above, only the streaks that are pure red and reddish can be regarded as Republican strongholds.

The Republicans in denial

Interestingly, the Republican leadership seems incapable of grasping the fact that its positions and values are increasingly out of step with those of the nation.  John Dickerson of Slate, appearing on Washington Week on Friday, described the Romney-Ryan campaign’s illusory anticipation of victory: it simply couldn’t imagine there being enough Americans to support the President, though numerous polls had shown that support for him was holding and building.  A contempt for the whole of the electorate, and an inability to embrace its diversity, spelled doom for Republicans in the 2012 campaign.

Look for Republicans to continue to grasp at procedural, legal, monetized, and PR-based tactics to sustain the illusion that they remain a formidable party.  In fact, unless the Republican Party dramatically transforms itself, renounces extremism, and embraces diversity and moderation, its showing will be even weaker next time.

Click here to view all of Mark Newman’s maps and learn more about what they mean.

MORE ON MY TAKE ON THE GOP:
What If They Can’t Take the Capital? September 2012.
A Great White Nation of Self-Made Men, September 2012.
Moment of Truth for the GOP’s Conservative Wing, August 2012.
Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country? June 2012.
Is the Republican Party Dying? March 2012.
2008: The Critical Election That Wasn’t (Part II), January 2012.
Parties Made New: Our Critical Elections February 2012.

Spinning the Storm

An October 29 image of Hurricane Sandy (NASA satellite image via Reuters)

Brace yourselves for one of the weirdest days of analysis we’ve seen in this election cycle, as pundits and pollsters parse the political effects and meanings of Hurricane Sandy.  A major natural disaster one week before the election is the one thing the campaign season lacked to make it truly harrowing.

The fact that high winds, driving rains, and surging seas are even now imperiling lives and physically rending the fabric of the nation isn’t going to deter anyone from spinning the storm.  On the contrary, the timing of this freakish event, coinciding as it does with Halloween and a full moon, seems intended to arouse our interpretative instincts, sending an unnerved body politic on a quest for cosmic meaning.

Don’t be too surprised if the lines of analysis fall mainly along party lines.

My own first reaction was essentially a pro-federal one.  Disasters, whether natural or man-made, bring out our natural sympathies, heightening our sense of interconnectedness and reminding us of the bonds that have long knit us up into one political body.  Disasters arouse patriotic and charitable feelings, prompting us to value customs and institutions that protect us collectively while enabling us to repel threats from outside.  I imagine President Obama benefiting from the gratitude and relief that a threatened and vulnerable populace feels, when it rediscovers the national government as a source of safety and strength.  Yes, Sandy could really benefit the Democrats—as long as all those East Coast voters can get to the polls.

Yet the historian in me can readily envision how Sandy could be spun from the other side, by the more religious, evangelical side of America that has a tendency to see natural disasters as divine judgments, expressing God’s displeasure with wayward man.  Are there, in some far reaches of our country, fundamentalist voters unaffected by the storm, rejoicing in an event so perfectly designed to cast Democratic strongholds into confusion and deliver an electoral victory to the other side?  At the end of a hard-fought campaign in which Republican forces have seldom been confident of a preponderating victory, is it possible that this massive storm, crippling the northeastern corridor and its media, has given them the lucky break that they so desperately need?  Between professions of sympathy, Republican operatives will be doubling down in the hope of churning meteorological chaos into political victory.

At the end of this long campaign season, when every American is being called on to get involved and work to secure partisan victory, the storm is at the very least a reminder of vast impersonal forces at work, and of the maelstrom that American democracy is today.  Sandy may have passed over, but sit tight: we may be in for more stormy weather next week.

Image: Hurricane Sandy over the eastern US, from this source.

RELATED ARTICLES:
Could Hurricane Sandy Delay the US Election? The Telegraph

Woodrow Wilson Casts His Ballot

Woodrow Wilson Casts His Ballot, 1912 (Courtesy Princeton University Library via Flickr Commons)

I’d been looking for an excuse to write about Woodrow Wilson when Monday’s presidential debate, with its exchange over “horses and bayonets” and the WWI navy, came along especially to encourage me.

An interesting cache of photographs put online by the Woodrow Wilson Library includes this one of Wilson casting his ballot in the presidential election of 1912.  Wilson, then governor of New Jersey and the Democratic candidate for president, won the election in a landslide.

The photograph, with its mesh ballot receptacle, handwritten records, and air of social intimacy, casts doubt on some time-honored political verities.  How free and fair were the elections conducted with this “technology”?  Did our elective process, so often derided as “broken,” really work better in an earlier day?

In 1912, most black Americans were barred or discouraged from voting.  Community norms and party interests inflected how election rules were applied.  Until the ‘Australian’ ballot was universally adopted, casting a vote was a social act, not granted any privacy.  And party loyalty was the grease that kept the machinery running: for much of the nineteenth century, “voting” typically meant nothing more than delivering to the poll a ballot that your party had already completed for you.

Wilson’s ascent coincided with a move toward a more participatory democracy.  In 1912, US senators were still elected, not by the populace, but by the state legislatures.  A Constitutional amendment changing that would be ratified the next year.  The nominating conventions of 1912 were historic, because they were the first to include delegates chosen, not by party operatives, but by popular votes cast in the nation’s first presidential primaries.

*     *     *

A scholar-statesman not unlike Barack Obama, Wilson, a noted professor of political science and former president of Princeton University, spent just two years as New Jersey’s chief executive before catapulting to the presidency.

His path to the White House was more than a little unlikely.  The 1912 election pitted him against three other candidates: the Socialist Eugene Debs, incumbent President William Taft, and former president Theodore Roosevelt, the latter two representing the Conservative and Progressive wings of the Republican Party, respectively.  Only deep divisions within the Republican Party enabled Wilson, the first Southerner to be elected to the White House since Zachary Taylor, to succeed.  Wilson had been a dark horse in the fight for his party’s nomination, triumphing over the favorite, James Beauchamp Clark, a popular House Speaker, in the eleventh hour.

Wilson’s agenda was progressive and sophisticated, but the fractious political environment prevented him from realizing many of his cherished visions, dealing him some notable humiliations instead.  In 1913, John McCutcheon drew this cartoon drubbing Wilson’s first-year performance, yet in the succeeding years Wilson presided over many liberal reforms (e.g. women’s suffrage) and fiscal innovations (e.g. the income tax) that shape our political landscape today.  While Wilson’s approach to the Great War was adroit, he suffered a rebuke heard round the world when a Republican-controlled Senate jettisoned US participation in the new League of Nations and refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.  (Unbelievably, Wilson was the first US president to make an official trip abroad when he traveled to Europe to negotiate the Treaty in 1919.)

Image: Wilson voting in New Jersey, from this source.

Stephen Colbert on the recent attacks against the 17th Amendment here.

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