Tuesday, April 02, 2013

David Frum raises a crucial non-issue for Democrats

I love David Frum's diagnoses of what's wrong with the Republican party (for many years now, he's had the no doubt unsettling experience of being admired more by his political adversaries than by his putative allies). But as he now takes a turn at prescribing a healthy political evolution for Democrats, he's spinning his wheels.

Frum warns (or concern-trolls) Democrats that if they simply anoint Hillary Clinton in 2016, they'll miss a revivifying debate on core elements of the party's future direction, defined thus:
* Were President Obama's counter-terrorism policies effective and necessary? Or did they over-reach and violate important liberties?

* Is Obamacare a charter for regulated competition among private health insurers? Or is it a deeply flawed half-way step on the way to Medicare for all?

* Should government continue to finance and support industries and firms, as the Obama administration has done? Or should government pull back to a more New Democratic approach of letting the market lead?

* How much should the interests of the native-born working class matter on issues like energy and immigration, vs how much for the party's new constituencies among upper-income professionals and recent migrants?
In my view this list includes one decent question -- about civil liberties and counterterror -- and three non-issues or false choices. If Obamacare does prove a half-way step toward Medicare for all, that's a feature not a bug -- but the law could conceivably also produce decent competitive choices, and I'm sure Democrats would be receptive to either.  It is fundamentally an experimental and incremental law. As for Frum's version of Solyndra hand-wringing, I think Obama's support for alternative energy industries and high speed rail is a matter of consensus for Democrats (though tax favoritism for manufacturers may be more of a disposable bit of campaign candy)   Finally, I think Frum is ginning up tensions between native working-class economic interests and upper-income professionals and immigrants that don't show much sign of becoming unmanageable for Democrats. Tensions between popular policies and corporate interests are much likelier to clash, as Democrats are far from immune from corporate influence.

More fundamentally, we needn't worry that Clinton's strong position will forestall vigorous debate in 2016. There was near-consensus on policy in the Democrats' 2008 nomination battle. In the event of continued near-consensus, Hillary will probably glide in.  If someone challenges her in really creative ways -- as, say, Gary Hart did Mondale --  then there may be a contest. In other words, Frum has cause and effect backwards  Policy differences will enable a contest; policy consensus -- this time  -- will probably anoint Hillary.

Personally, though like most Democrats I admire Clinton, I have lingering doubts about her judgment and execution, the chief exhibits being  her support for the Iraq war, her support for the military's surge plans in Afghanistan, her mishandled '08 campaign, and, perhaps, her handling of the process of developing and unveiling a healthcare reform plan in 1994 (though it occurs to me as I write that I really don't have info good enough to judge the extent of her responsibility for the effort's collapse). I could see myself going for a governor of proven executive effectiveness.

Update, 4/3: Alex Pareene reminds me of one element in my standing mental question-Hilllary's-judgment list that I forgot to include yesterday: Dick Morris and Mark Penn.

1 comment:

  1. If there's one thing we have learned from Obamacare it is how fantastically difficult health care reform is to get through even a heavily Democratic Congress. In 2009-10 it barely passed--and even this was possible only because Democrats had learned the lesson from 1994 that failing to pass it would not save them.
    So I would not be too harsh about the failure of Hillarycare in 1993-4. The votes weren't there for single-payer, and in 1993-4 a lot of liberals would not support an individual mandate (and the Republicans who pretended to support it as an alternative to Hillarycare would have come out against it as soon as the administration came out in favor of it).

    She did make some mistakes in her 2008 campaign but so did Obama--that's one reason why the campaign for the nomination lasted so long.

    Anyway, as long as polls show Hillary beating Rubio and Jeb Bush by double digits in Florida, I want her to run. Winning is more important than the real but relatively small differences in policy between the most plausible Democratic candidates.