The prospects for 2016
Since the Republican take-over of the House of Representatives in 2010--which was clearly imminent when I wrote my critical post in July of that year--Barack Obama has been unable to accomplish anything significant other than to be re-elected. He has given in to the Republicans on numerous budgetary issues, and would have given in even further if they had been willing to compromise. He has not been able to cope with a series of crises in foreign policy, where he has never shown any particular talent or interest. This past week the New York Times reported that Democrats in Congress, led by Harry Reid, are disgusted by his unwillingness to stand with them and fight the Republicans more actively on almost anything. The story also said that the White House has concluded that presidential speeches on controversial topics do his popularity more harm than good. In short, the political initiative remains with the Republicans, who have completely blocked immigration reform. The Democratic Party is lagging in the fund-raising race for November and Nate Silver gives the Republicans the best chance (although by no means a certain chance) of taking over the Senate.
If the Republicans do take over the Senate, we can expect further paralysis, or worse, of the government. Not only will Obama find it very difficult to make any appointments to the judicial or executive branches, but he will probably have to veto attempts to eliminate various parts of the federal government. The possibility that he will be impeached and brought to trial like Bill Clinton certainly cannot be ruled out, even though he would never be convicted. And even if the Democrats barely retain control of the Senate, he will not have any legacy other than the Affordable Care Act. That act seems to have done a great deal of good--but Democratic candidates are too scared to mention it, much less run on it. That is the world we are living in.
Democratic strategists, of course, are counting on demographics to keep the White House in 2016. They think that Hillary Clinton, the almost certain candidate, can rely upon the same coalition of women, minorities, and gays that twice elected Barack Obama. I am afraid that they are wrong, because I do not think that the same people will turn out in the same numbers for 69-year old Hillary Clinton, my exact contemporary. I think she is equally likely to suffer because it looks as if she is going to run as a foreign policy hawk, perhaps to try to prevent the pro-Israeli lobby from defecting en masse to the Republicans. I got a rude shock this week on my favorite facebook page, one devoted to discussions of Strauss and Howe, when one very bright Millennial declared that he would vote for Rand Paul against Hillary because he wouldn't vote for anyone associated with either of the last two administrations. What made this particularly alarming, for a Democrat, is that this particularly Millennial is black.
Although the economy continues very slowly to improve, the younger generation faces tremendous economic problems. The Democratic Party has now lost any claim to be the party of economic reform and full employment. Neither the Boom nor the X generations have produced a solid block of Democratic officeholders dedicated to the values of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. That is why the House and Senate Democratic leaders both belong to the Silent generation, whose youngest members are turning 72 this year. That is also the generation of Jerry Brown, the only Democratic Governor who has done anything very impressive lately. Yes, young people favor women's rights and gay rights, but those battles, for the most part, appear to be won. The ones I interact with on the web page see very little to choose from between the two parties. There is a major choice to make, I think, but it has become a choice between moderate Republicans, known as Democrats, and very conservative Republicans.
Yes, polls still show Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead of any of the major Republican possibilities. She is not likely to face any serious opposition among Democrats that I can see. But she will face a relentless media barrage, and the prestige of her party is likely to have sunk lower in the next eighteen months. If the government is completely paralyzed, I am afraid that significant numbers of swing voters will be moved to vote Republican simply to give the other party a chance and end gridlock. The Republicans, simply put, have gained ground steadily since 2008 because they seem to care so much more about their objectives than the Democrats do. I do not see that changing in the next two years, and I think it may be enough to decide the next presidential election--much as I hope it will not.