Democrats Face the Republicans' Familiar Dilemma in 2016

In 2008, Barack Obama rode the crest of anti-war sentiment, an economic downturn, and opposition to an unpopular outgoing president all the way to the Oval Office.  Now, his approval rating among the American populace is dismal, and Democrats are running for the hills to distance themselves from his flagship legislation and foreign policy debacles that have destabilized the globe and weakened American influence abroad.  He has reached out to our enemies to no avail, snubbed our allies, and is among the leading suspects (to put it mildly) in a number of scandals: Fast and Furious; broadly enhanced NSA snooping upon ordinary Americans, Congress, and our foreign allies; the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS in an election year; and the willful subversion of border security protocol defined by federal legislation. 

He is so toxic, in fact, that his all-but-anointed successor, Hillary Clinton, is now seeking to distance herself from the Obama administration’s extremely unpopular foreign policy, despite playing an integral role in shaping that policy and having played a key role in yet another scandal in which this administration became embroiled -- the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, during which four Americans died only to have Hillary deliver lies about the nature of the attack amidst coffins draped with the American flag.      

The problem with all of that (aside from the fact that the aforementioned facts signify an ethical dexterity and disingenuousness which should be disturbing) is the fact that Hillary doesn’t seem to be getting the expected traction today with the base that chose Barack Obama over her in 2008 -- a phenomenon dubbed “Hillary fatigue.”  Shocking, I guess. 

But the reality is that she’s just not exciting to the base anymore, as her woefully disappointing book sales suggest.  She’s just more of the same in the eyes of the Democrat faithful which recognize that there is nary a shred of difference between her and Obama, and they cannot help but tie her to his administration which she served as Secretary of State.

Looking ahead to 2016 may seem trifling, as myriad factors can change the shaping of the field between now and then, but it seems safe to say that though Hillary is the clear front-runner, Democrats may have reason for reservations about her headlining the party ticket two years from now.  Especially when a much more exciting Democrat has emerged to steal some of Hillary’s thunder, and one who may be able to capture some of the potentially successful attributes of a Hillary campaign (namely, being a woman that can run on the political gravity of electing the first woman president) without the same cancerous alignment to the Obama administration.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D - MA) has the progressive left optimistically atwitter with her bold proclamation reinforcing the fundamentals of their creed. Of the progressive left, Politico announces that “their heads may be with Hillary Clinton, but their hearts are decidedly with Elizabeth Warren.”  And with good reason.  Where Barack Obama and Hillary have sought to imbue their platforms with elements of FDR’s New Deal era, which is a progressive’s Golden Age -- Elizabeth Warren has tattooed the FDR legacy on her forehead. 

Her “11 Commandments of Progressivism” clearly hearken to FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights.”  Among the tenets of FDR’s proposed destruction and reformation of America’s foundational principles in 1944 (and it was truly nothing less than that) were the “right to useful and remunerative job,” “adequate medical care,” education, and “economic security” via wealth redistribution filtered through an all-powerful government effectively tasked with seizing property from each according to his means, and providing that property to each according to his need.  

This is radical departure from American principles, and a giant step toward socialism and the strangling of free markets and American enterprise, to be sure.  It was thus blocked, much to the lament of radical leftists to this day.  Granted, the left has worked tirelessly to engrain in our culture that these ideals are indeed “rights,” but they still long to chisel their doctrine in stone on the American foundation.

Elizabeth Warren seeks to reclaim that lost dream of the radical American left with her own dogmatic scripture, which effectively repackages FDR’s desires for a 21st century audience.  But in some ways, it’s even bolder than FDR’s platform.  There is something marvelously telling about her use of the word “commandment” to describe the tenets of progressive faith.  Even FDR had the good sense not to package his proposed ideas as “commandments” to a populace that values individual liberty and freedom, but instead as “rights.”  “Commandment” signifies coercion -- it is not an expression of the desire to exercise “rights,” but a “command” to conform to the philosophy of the progressive’s faith, willingly accepted or imposed.  There is no wiggle room.  This is what you must believe. 

That’s a simple, but fundamental distinction.  Even radical Roosevelt felt obliged to somewhat disguise that his intent was to force Americans into submission to an ideological standard.  Elizabeth Warren, in 2014, doesn’t feel compelled in the slightest to do so. 

William L. Anderson of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute brilliantly dissects and destroys each of her “commandments,” exposing her ignorance to economic reality and the hypocrisy inherent in her positions.  I certainly suggest reading it, linked here, but the substance is of little importance in appraising her currency as a Democrat presidential candidate.  The reason she “energizes” the left isn’t because there is viability in her assertions.  It’s because she reinforces the long-held, yet constantly refuted and disproven beliefs of the radical zealots that comprise the base of the Democratic Party.  

Her radicalism may certainly energize the base, but in so doing, Democrats would energize only the radicals while potentially alienating the moderate vote that was integral to recent Democrat successes.  That is a particular conundrum with which Republicans are quite familiar.  The Republican establishment, with the cadence of a broken record, has trumpeted the necessity of a balanced candidate who will not alienate the moderate vote while simultaneously energizing the base.  Equilibrium between the two, however, has been difficult to identify.  Hence, Republicans nominated John McCain in 2008, who was trounced by a socialist who vehemently denied that he was a socialist, presumably because Americans so broadly detest the prospect of socialism.  The ambition to “spread the wealth around” was a slip-up that required significant spin, not an open policy platform for Barack Obama.

Yet Democrats now face this familiar Republican dilemma.  In 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton represented a change from the unpopular status quo, and had the luxury of presenting their positions as bridge-building or moderate.  Today, they represent the unpopular status quo, and while Hillary may garner moderate votes, she will not energize the voting base, just as McCain did not energize the conservative base in 2008.  For a Democrat candidate to separate him or herself from that perception requires a broad leap from the perceived centrist positions which won the Democrats the independent votes in the first place, as Elizabeth Warren’s vocal invocation of radical progressivism has seemingly done. And while that may energize the radicals in their voting bloc, it will undoubtedly turn off the moderate vote. 

It represents something of an ironic twist of fate.  Democrats are now seemingly ensnared by the same dynamics that presumably plagued Republicans these last two presidential election cycles.  However much the media wishes to ignore the fact that Barack Obama is a toxic liability for Democrats, it cannot be denied that it appears they have two options: run a representative of the unpopular status quo, like Hillary, who will run on rectifying the mistakes of this administration, or run a more openly radical socialist, like Elizabeth Warren, who promises even more government power-grabs to energize the base, which would broadly alienate Americans fearful of more government power-grabs beyond what we’ve experienced under Obama.   

Barring sweeping legislation of amnesty and the instant suffrage of voters with a vested interest in supporting taxpayer funded entitlements and an expansive welfare state, Democrats may have a tough road to hoe in 2016.

William Sullivan  blogs at: and can be followed on Twitter.