I had a good exchange on Twitter with Gerry Canavan this morning about the Hillary Clinton email kerfuffle that's got me thinking about the next election from the Democrats' point of view. It's been easy not to, with the whole GOP circus happening and all the attention of Trump. I am beginning to think that the Democrats are quite possibly headed for some major problems.
This is usually what happens after the Democrats are in a good position. They take such a passive approach to politics, and often just seem to sit back and hope for the best when the climate appears to benefit them. Right now they are probably thinking "The Republicans are being such troglodytes on immigration that we'll automatically get a big Latino vote and therefore are assured of victory." That's the kind of passive thinking that lost them a Senate seat in Massachusetts (of all places) to Scott Brown, and which has contributed to midterm shellackings in 1994, 2002, 2010, and 2014. Winning midterms requires getting the vote out, and the Dems try to hard to appease donors and corporate interests that their base has little motivation to come out. When the president is elected the stakes are too high to ignore, but that again is the Democratic party trusting that conditions and political climate will carry them forward.
When it comes to this year's presidential race, Democrats and others have just assumed that Clinton is going to win it all. The email scandal around Clinton has not been taken too seriously on the left, most likely because all of the many, many fake Clinton "scandals" over the years. Those were bullshit, so why not this one? I am beginning to think, though, that Clinton did something that could result in an indictment, even if her malfeasance was rather minor. It might not be jail worthy or anything, but it could certainly make it difficult for her to win with a legal cloud over her head. I don't know enough about the accusations to know how this will turn out, but I think there is a significant risk that it could be bad, a risk that the Democrats simply can't afford.
In years past this might not have been an issue, because traditionally Democrats have not just nominated the obvious candidate and have always had a big (sometimes too big) slate of candidates. This year, the roles are reversed. The Republicans have a wide range of candidates contending, and the Democrats are just hoping to nominate the obvious successor. What happens if that doesn't work out?
Right now the alternatives are Sanders, who is much too far to the left to have a chance in the general election, and O'Malley, who has zero name recognition and whose support of mass incarceration alienates much of the base. Biden is thinking of jumping in, but it is very rare for siting vice presidents to win (George HW Bush was an exception, not the rule), and he has too long been -justified or not- the butt of jokes to be taken seriously by many Americans.
Even more worrisome, there does not appear to be a "bench." It should be noted that Clinton is 68, Sanders is 73, and Biden is 72. This is telling. The Democrats elevated Barack Obama, but since then have not managed to sustain a new generation of national politicians. Much of this is the fault of their inability to win in the midterms, meaning that "blue" states like Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, and Wisconsin now have conservative governors, effectively cutting off their farm system (to use a baseball metaphor.) If you look to the big states, Jerry Brown of California is too old, and Andrew Cuomo would be selling cars in Massapequa if his father wasn't Mario Cuomo. Deval Patrick now works for Bain Capital. The Dems do have some promising younger pols, but they are either too young or too uninterested in the big time. (I am thinking Julian Castro for the former and Kristen Gillibrand for the latter.) Elizabeth Warren, the one real new star in the Senate, is (tellingly) 66, and appears to be sitting this one out. I'd give her my vote over anyone (including Sanders, who I will have more to say about later), but it looks like I'll never have the chance.
The Democrats have benefitted wildly from the ideological extremism of the Republican party. Their professions of hatred against immigrants have shielded them from criticism on deportation. Attempts by conservatives to suppress the votes of African Americans have motivated black voters while the Democratic party has done little to help them. Walker and others have made unions the enemy, so union members then vote for a party whose president supports free trade. Teachers are being made into a target by conservatives nationwide, and so they vote for the party of Rahm Emmanuel and other ruthless education "reformers." The Todd Aikens of the world say horrible things about women's health, leaving Democrats off the hook for actually having to push for new initiatives. The Democratic leadership still cozies up to corporate interests, but has maintained its base because the alternative is too much to bear for them. While this has worked somewhat in the short term, in the long term it has robbed them of a slate of interesting candidates and of any sense that they ought to be actively trying to win, rather than passively letting events play themselves out.
So yes, I will continue to vent my spleen about a Republican party that has become a mere vehicle for the extremist beliefs of an ideological movement. That does not and should not absolve Democrats from their sins. Get off your asses and fight, for crying out loud. The rot is already setting in.