Before I launch into the meat of my argument, I must take a moment to preface with a drop of journalistic reality. The 2016 Presidential elections are a LONG haul. Political fortunes will be won, lost, regained and quite possibly, lost again before the first voter casts a ballot 21 months from now. The presumed front runners of late 2013 (Democrats: Hillary Clinton, Republicans: Chris Christie) have experienced a seismic shift on the right side of the political spectrum with an alacrity that caught even the most overstimulated among us by surprise. Truly at this point, anything is possible.
That said, it’s kind of fun to be a loyal Democrat right now. There was a really dispiriting moment in late 2004, after the super dull but well-meaning John Kerry lost to a resurgent George W. Bush, when it seemed that the White House might never welcome a Blue occupant again. Because if the unraveling scandal of fictional WMD intelligence and the mismanagement of the war in Iraq wasn’t enough to get Dubya tossed; if the expensive, seemingly objectiveless Afghanistan quagmire couldn’t produce regime change; and if the unpaid for tax cuts for the wealthy and a tired attempt to leverage gay marriage as a base-appealing wedge issue couldn’t galvanize a solid liberal opposition – well then it seemed nothing could upend the prospect of a permanent conservative majority.
It was with this sense of defeated resignation that many idealists observed the commencement of the 2008 Presidential races. The only upside appeared to be the lack of a Cheney candidacy. The New York Times Jonathan Martin alludes to that period and other recent transitions before it, this week in a piece entitled, Stability and Chaos, Hallmarks of Presidential Races, Swap Parties. Martin opens the article by observing, “Republican primaries usually amount to coronations, in which they nominate a candidate who has run before or is otherwise deemed next in line, while the Democratic contests are often messier affairs, prone to insurgencies and featuring uncertain favorites.”
This was true in 2008, when it seemed that Arizona Senator and erstwhile maverick John McCain might be rewarded for his patience and perseverance with the Presidential oath of office. This appeared even more likely when the “inevitable” campaign of former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton foundered under a challenge from young Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Really, were it not for the timeliness of a late-2008 economic collapse that can only be tied to eight years of Bush leadership, and the Hail Mary nomination of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, we might be playing “Hail to the Chief” today for another in a long string of old, white men.
But it turned out that Yes, We Can sometimes ask the voting public to make a statement for change. And though the last six years of Obama leadership has been marked by dogged opposition from the GOP, the public has yet to shift its allegiance, in large part because “Just Say No,” makes a better drug abuse prevention slogan than a party platform.
Though the shenanigans related to Congressional redistricting (aka gerrymandering) has awarded the Republicans a virtual stranglehold on the House, the right has utterly failed to offer plausible alternatives to the initiatives put force by the President’s team. October’s disastrous government shutdown finally disabused Team Right Wing of the notion that obstructionism alone represents a path to Washington. Turns out that voters prefer imperfect government to no government at all.
The following quote from Martin exemplifies why Democrats are, for the moment at least, relishing the prospect of another long campaign season, “the Republicans are acting like the Democrats of yore, anticipating a free-for-all primary that highlights the competing and at times fractious constituencies in their coalition.”
Ah yes. Who can forget the freak show that was the 2012 Republican primary series of candidate debates? Good times that almost succeeded in making Rick Santorum look like a palatable, centrist alternative to the other crazies. And folks, we’re just gearing up for the fun of 2016. I’m literally performing an impatient two-step, desperately awaiting the first time (because you know it’s coming) a flustered member of the establishment upbraids Ted Cruz in front of a live audience.
Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Bush (Jeb), Walker, Christie, Jindal – this is a just a smattering of the unelectable names being thrown about in Republican circles. Possibly the least offensive member of this group, Jeb Bush, can’t even secure the endorsement of his own mother.
For the moment, the grass is looking a lot greener on the Democratic side of the fence. Martin quotes Bill Clinton’s former chief strategist, James Carville, as saying, “My party is in a little bit of a just-don’t-blow-this-thing mode…The idea that we’re now consistently winning presidential elections isn’t lost on us.”
As I noted in the first paragraph, there’s miles to go before Decision 2016 sleeps. But for the first time since 1996 really, that encroaching feeling of dread is at bay.