NEW GEOGRAPHY-With her massive win last month in New York, followed up with several other triumphal processions through the Northeast, Hillary Clinton has, for all intents and purposes, captured the Democratic nomination. And given the abject weaknesses of her two most likely opponents, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, she seems likely to capture the White House this fall as well.
So the question now becomes: How does Hillary govern? She may win a decisive victory over a divided, dispirited Republican Party, but she will not return to the White House with much of the aura that surrounded President Obama. As feminist writer Camille Paglia has pointed out, she is widely distrusted by the majority of Americans, including younger women. Older feminists may worship her as the incipient queen, Paglia notes, but few others seem ready to kowtow.
Instead, Clinton will enter the presidency more disliked and distrusted than any incoming executive in history. Her trajectory, notes Paglia, has more in common with that of Richard Nixon, whose persistent scheming and ample intellect allowed him to win in 1968, another year marked by intense political divisions.
Alternative one: Obama third term
When Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1992, he did so as the standard-bearer for “New Democrats” of the Democratic Leadership Council, a pro-business, pro-individual responsibility faction that captured control of the party from its labor and grievance industry old guard. When I worked for the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s think tank, in the early Clinton years, many powerful interests – greens, feminists, minority advocates, trade unions – opposed many of the Arkansan’s policy innovations, ranging from welfare reform to NAFTA.
But the party that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now inherits is not hers, it is Barack Obama’s. In the Clinton years, Democrats competed, and sometimes won, in Republican strongholds in Appalachia and the South. After Obama, these areas are, for the most part, solidly GOP, while the Democratic Party has become increasingly dependent on its heavily minority, and young, urban base along the coasts. As a result, there is little need for, or interest in, appeasing the less urbanized, more conservative voters across the country.
Energy and land use are two areas where Clinton may be able to pick up the Obama mantle. Despite Clinton’s fundraising among fossil fuel firms, which has netted some $3 million, she has continually won established environmental support from groups like the League of Conservation Voters. She can be counted on to advance Obama’s green agenda.
In effect, she will be tempted to support the mounting Environmental Protection Agency onslaught on power generators. This will hurt many Rust Belt economies but won’t do much damage to party strongholds like Manhattan or the Bay Area. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s escalating campaign to force middle-class suburbs to accept more poor people and high-density housing may undermine the dreams and aspirations of millions of middle-class Americans, including many minorities, but could appeal to the urban developers who now can continue their ethnic cleansing of attractive inner-city areas.
Hillary, no stranger to following the political breezes, could simply serve as the heir to the Obama legacy, in effect, giving him a third term. She could prove to play Stalin – ruthless, unlikeable but politically savvy – to advance the president’s progressive program. There are signs of this, for example, in such things as her turn against the Keystone XL pipeline, after tentatively embracing it as secretary of state, or her rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She might, under pressure from the Sanders forces, also agree on the platform plank for a ban on fracking, which would end our drive toward energy self-sufficiency, as well as deeply wound many economies, particularly in Texas, Oklahoma and Appalachia.
Triangulation: Clinton third term?
Hillary Clinton has been forced left by the growing radicalization of her party. It’s as if John Kasich and John McCain suddenly decided that they needed to sound like Donald Trump on immigration and Ted Cruz on religion. Yet, the big question is whether she will shift to the center, as her husband did, when she actually holds the reins of power.
But triangulation requires a strong and determined opposition, as Bill Clinton faced after 1994 with a GOP controlled House run by Newt Gingrich. In states where the Republican Party has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist as a serious political force, such as here in California, moderation tends to be drowned out by the incessant yammering from the social justice warriors and environmental zealots. Gov. Jerry Brown, for example, is most often challenged not by Republicans but those from his left who want, if anything, more extreme economic and environmental policies.
If this year’s election ends up with a total wipeout of the Republicans, Clinton would have little reason to move to the center. After all, you cannot triangulate between Right and Left when the Right has all but evaporated. If Hillary wants to reprise Bill, she should hope the GOP does not completely disappear as a political force.
One other, and particularly troublesome, barrier to triangulation could be the growing concentration of power in the executive branch under President Obama. Clinton has already made it clear she happily will rule by decree if the recalcitrant Republicans in the House refuse to go along with her ideas. With the bureaucracy allied with the progressive cause, and a judiciary that also increasingly embraces a centralist ideology, she may not need to appeal to Republicans or moderates at all, at least to get her program through.
Ultimately, this may all depend on the economy. President Obama’s ratcheting up of federal housing and environmental powers has taken place amidst a gradually improving economy, particularly in his base coastal states. This has also been key to Gov. Brown’s ever more draconian environmental stance. Prosperity, at least among the gentry, tends to let regulators ignore the economic consequences of their decisions.
What matters most may be expediency – and money
Hillary Clinton is often castigated for her supposed lack of basic principles. Yet, her opportunism could benefit the country more than the kind of narcissistic posturing that has dominated the Obama years. If the economy weakens, for example, she might not want to put more screws on businesses, and certainly will not threaten to persecute the financial interests who have financed her campaign, not to mention the Clinton Foundation.
Unfortunately for her, many of the consequences of Obama’s policies may force her hand. The president has delayed many of the more challenging parts of Obamacare, leaving it to Hillary to cope with cancellations, rising fees and other problems. Clinton will also be forced to deal with rising suburban resistance to HUD policy which, under the principle of “disparate impact,” will try to force diversity and density on communities which do not discriminate but remain not dense enough or diverse enough to meet the demand of regulators.
She will also have to cope with other residues of the past eight years – for example, rising crime, growing race tensions and a rapidly deteriorating foreign environment. The new President Clinton may have to cope with mass unemployment in the energy belt and among manufacturers, as the administration’s greenhouse gas policies begin to get implemented. Whereas Obama benefited from the fracking boom that he never quite embraced, Clinton may reap the full weight of the political and economic ramifications from ending the practice.
Whether these realities – a direct threat to Democrats in many states and districts – will lead Clinton to adopt more pragmatic approaches is not yet knowable. But at the end of the day, arguably, our best hopes for the first woman president revolve around her profound opportunism and political common sense, which could lead her to a more pragmatic, and ultimately far less damaging, approach than now seems all too likely.
(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” This was first posted at newgeography.com. Photo: AP/Ron Frehm/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Matt Rourke/Toby Talbot. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.