Saving President Hillary

At the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, Seth Meyers famously quipped that Trump was running as a joke. Though the smoldering remains of the GOP testify to the seriousness of what he is capable of, the conservative movement seems to have been vulnerable to him in a way that the general electorate is not. 2016 may be a blowout on par with 1984, 1972, and 1964. Indeed, Hillary Clinton stands a good chance of retaking the Senate on her paintsuittails, and potentially even taking the House as well.

The question is how to avoid a backlash like 2010 in 2018.

The ARRA that Obama signed a month after he was inaugurated was woefully inadequate in addressing the economic crisis in front of him, and if HRC hopes to forestall a similar implosion, she will have not to triangulate—in the mold of her husband and Obama—but to achieve a legislative record on the scale of the New Deal. She must show her opposition that she cannot be intimidated into compromising halfway between her own policy preferences and the GOP’s ever-shifting goalposts. A good string achievements, should she win a democratic congress, would have to include free public college for family incomes up to $125,000; immigration reform; ban on assault weapons, handguns, and high-capacity magazines; mandatory training prior to receiving a gun license and mandatory training for renewal at regular intervals, as well as a national database of gun ownership; a young, female replacement to Justice Scalia (preferably of color, though Michelle T. Friedland is my top choice); major tax incentives covering >75% of the cost of solar cells and batteries for green energy production and stationary storage, as well as energy storage in vehicles; levying or increasing taxes on sugary drinks, cigarettes, and alcohol; and an Attorney General who would prosecute officers who murder unarmed black men with greater tenacity than Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. Like Obama, they seem to have let their race hamstring their efforts to advocate on behalf of the black community; they have become worthy symbols, but almost entirely symbolic in their advocacy for racial justice.

If she really wanted to galvanize a movement into propelling her into gaining seats in 2018, she would expand food stamps, school lunch finding, and Social Security benefits (and remove the cap on the tax that funds them); repeal the Hyde Amendment and fund birth control and abortions nationwide through a dramatic expansion of Planned Parenthood medical centers; levy a tax on financial transactions, increase the capital gains tax and income tax on single earners above $60,000 (with brackets reaching 50%; pass a massive infrastructure spending bill including an “interstate highway”-scale high speed rail network.

These plans are the stuff of Bernie Sanders’s campaign, but centrism does not, and will never, excite her base. Furthermore, as Barack Obama has learned, she will be painted as a socialist no matter how pure and undying her legislative allegiance to Goldman Sachs and the billionaire class. I smile as I imagine her two years hence (with a much grayer minority leader Paul Ryan) declaring to her supporters: “If free college for the middle class, food stamps for families in poverty, and taxes on Wall Street recklessness are socialism, then join me, comrades!”

Unilaterally, she could end military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, make peace with the unsavory dictators who are our only hope in stabilizing the Middle East, and shift her attention to making peace with the Russians (possibly only if she pulls back NATO from eastern Europe and allows Putin to install a neutral or Russia-aligned government in Ukraine) and containing an ascendent China. These actions are Realist fantasies, and bear no resemblance to her foreign policies to this point. However, they would deliver her a mighty victory in the generally isolationist electorate of her country.

The GOP has poisoned compromise, has made it analogous to weakness. If HRC is to avoid the fates of the two most recent democratic presidents, she cannot concede policy to them, cannot tacitly agree that the golden mean between the center-right and far-right is best for America. She must stick to her guns, lead from a position of strength, and dare her opposition to stick it to hurting families desperate for their government to help them.