Now that the 2014 midterms are behind us (albeit just barely), the professional prognosticator class has set their sights squarely on the field of 2016 contenders. The press—as is usually the case with this sort of thing—are way ahead of themselves. They already treat it as a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will announce a run for the White House sometime in the coming months. They are just shy of treating her eventual victory in the Democratic primary as equally assured. And then, of course, they are only slightly less bullish on her chances of obliterating the GOP nominee come November 2016. Now, I find these assumptions to be rather premature—not just the latter two, but the first one as well.
There are more than a few good reasons why Hillary could (and, in my opinion, should) decide not to run in 2016. Health and age would likely be foremost among those concerns. Clinton will be 69 years old on Election Day 2016, and she’s already had a few medical scares in the past few years. But surely she must also realize how much she stands to lose from a public image standpoint. Hillary ended her tenure as Secretary of State as the most admired woman in America, but has seen her approval numbers drop steadily since stepping down from that post and inserting herself into the world of partisan politics. After 20 consecutive years in the national spotlight, Hillary Clinton might want to ask herself if she’d rather retire as America’s undisputed queen bee or have her name (and her past) drug through the mud on the way to a presidential election that she just might not win.
So let’s say Hillary does decide to pull the biggest political shocker of the 21st Century and sit out 2016. Who then should take up the Democratic Party’s banner? The activist Left, as far as I can tell, has already answered that question for us. The populist fringe of the Democratic Party has begun to rally around Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the anti-big-business crowd and probably the most articulate voice in Washington when it comes to defending redistributionist policies. I particularly enjoy listening to less ideological Democrats clumsily attempt to imitate her rhetoric during speeches that are supposed to fire up their party’s liberal base. President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comments come to mind, as does Hillary’s horribly bungled speech from two months ago in which she told her audience, “Don’t let anybody, don’t let anybody tell you that, ah, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.” Compare the video of that speech to Warren’s and tell me which one would last longer in a Democratic primary.
If it sounds like I’m advocating for an Elizabeth Warren presidential run in 2016, it’s actually because I am. I know this may sound shocking at first—after all, I’m certainly no friend to progressive economics and any populist tendencies I have are of the free-market variety, not the planned-economy utopian dreams of leftists like Warren. No, I want to see Elizabeth Warren run because I want the United States to have a presidential election in which we actually engage in a real debate about how to move forward from the economic calamities of the last seven years. Too long have we lollygagged while our economy refuses to grow in any substantive way. As wages remain stagnant, as the middle class continues to be squeezed out of existence, as more and more people drop out of the workforce, as GDP growth remains under 3% annually, and as high-paying jobs remain absent from the so-called “recovery,” we continue to fall back on meaningless platitudes and divisive, distracting social issues. Our president, rather than do anything at all to help the recovery gain some steam, merely trumpets the falling unemployment rate and the soaring stock market—two data points that are largely meaningless to average Americans and conceal the underlying stagnation in the labor market. I want to see someone run for president who is actually brave enough to acknowledge these very serious issues, even if the proposed solutions are the exact opposite of what I would do.
David Harsanyi at The Federalist hails Elizabeth Warren as the face of the modern Democratic Party, saying that “Her hard-left economics—what the press quixotically refers to as ‘economic populism’—propels today’s liberal argument. It’s the default position of nearly every grassroots constituency on the Left. The center of the Democrats’ agenda.” Conversely, he compares Hillary Clinton to Mitt Romney, likening her to a plutocrat lounging in her New York penthouse and kowtowing to her big-business supporters while her party’s grassroots focuses its energies elsewhere. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but what I think Harsanyi gets right is his assertion that a Clinton candidacy would do nothing to forward an economic platform that actually benefits the middle class. On the subject of a potential Warren candidacy, he hits the nail on the head: “Warren, hopelessly wrong as she is, is liable to offer the country a better class of political debate than the one we’ve lived through the past eight years. There’s no doubt hackneyed wars on women, minorities, and common sense will remain. But it’s fair to say that Warren’s histrionics are often built atop genuine policy beefs rather than straw men.” I include that quote because I couldn’t say it better myself.
Peter Beinart, writing over at The Atlantic, bestows upon Warren the title of “The Rand Paul of the Democratic Party.” He makes this comparison largely because both Warren and Paul (supposedly) have the potential for crossover appeal between the parties. Warren, Beinart argues, could attract the attention of some grassroots conservatives who share her loathing for bank bailouts and the too-cozy relationship between the federal government and Wall Street. Paul, on the other hand, has attempted to make inroads among African American voters with his support for criminal sentencing reform and has excited some young liberals with his vehement opposition to America’s growing surveillance state. Although I have very serious doubts about either of these politicians being able to peel away the other party’s votes in today’s hyper-polarized climate, I think Beinart is right to compare these two non-establishment figures. Mostly because of the spiritual similarities between those two very different people, I would love to see Rand Paul as the Republican nominee opposite Elizabeth Warren in 2016. I will admit to having fantasies about a presidential debate between one candidate who has a philosophical objection to a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and another who wants the Post Office to be able to give out loans. Talk about a choice.
As Harsanyi very astutely says, “[Warren’s] presence in the race might impel Republican candidates to engage in a worthwhile conversation about corporatism and free markets.” And this, essentially, is the crux of my argument. If the American people were actually presented with an election in which they could decide how to move our country past the two disastrous presidencies we have been asked to endure, we would be so much better for it. With energetic, policy-driven candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul atop the major party tickets, we could actually engage in a constructive, fact-based debate about the state of our country’s economy and the direction of its future. Diversionary issues like contraception and the Koch Brothers could take a backseat to much more vital discussions about how to let future American generations prosper. The last thing we need in 2016 are out-of-touch establishment types like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Come on, Liz. Come on, Rand. Let’s give them something to talk about.