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Like a Good Referee, the Next U.S. President Should Be Measured, Courageous, and Decidedly Not the Story

James Marshall Crotty   |   July 6, 2015   12:00 AM ET


I love basketball. Most Americans love basketball. President Obama loves basketball. So, let's use a basketball metaphor to define the best kind of U.S. President.

In the NBA (National Basketball Association), you have at least two referees, often three. For this discussion, think of them like the President (since one is the lead referee) and Vice-President, with the third being an amalgam of the agency heads within the executive branch.

The "refs" enforce the rules of the game. They do not make the rules. The rules are decided by the NBA's Competition Committee, consisting of two owners, four general managers, three coaches, and one representative from the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). There are no referees on this committee. Any recommendation this committee makes goes to the NBA's Board of Governors for approval. There's no referee on that august body as well.

In the NBA, the referee's job is to consistently enforce the rules, while taking into account the context of play in any given game (e.g., excessively rough play results in more fouls, and even technical fouls, being issued). Moreover, the referee's job is to keep play safe and fair, while maintaining the flow of the game ("let the players play," in basketball parlance).

Above all, the referee's job is to not become the story. When the referee - because of some boneheaded, out-of-character or weirdly timed call - becomes the story, the citizens (fans, players, owners, coaches, et. al.) get upset, confidence in the game declines, and play suffers. What any nation, like any NBA game, like the world economic order itself needs most is predictable and competent rule enforcement. If a ref is calling a game correctly, players and coaches easily adjust. If a President is calling the game correctly, businesses, nations and citizens easily adjust.

The job of a great referee, like the job of a public servant, is to only assert his or herself into a contest when the rules have been clearly broken or the game has gotten out of hand. In this way, the NBA referee's primary role is akin to the Commander-in-Chief role of the United States President. Unless special circumstances warrant, the U.S. President rarely exercise the extraordinary enforcement power invested in his office. Instead, a U.S. President, like a good referee, works to facilitate a game that is neither "too tight" nor "too soft." Like Baby Bear's porridge, he or she wants a game that is "just right," so that the animal spirits of the free market, combined with the creative genius of entrepreneurs, can work their magic.

Unfortunately, in 21st century America, we have this childish idea that our elected referees are the star athletes. They are, thus, supposed to be entertaining, lovable, even sexy, showmen, pandering to least common denominator sentiments, appearing on low-brow talk shows, or worse.

We recently elected a nice family man for two terms to the job of top referee on planet earth. This altruistic Junior Senator had no real world experience running a company. He had studied the constitutional rules of the game, but, in practice, his work history was that of community organizer and professor.

Though Mr. Obama possessed an emotionally intelligent demeanor, he differed in key respects from what this nation - born as it was of the prudent, self-reliant wisdom of Franklin, Jefferson and Madison - needs in a leader. First, he was ridiculously popular. This had a lot to do with his stylistic and lifestyle choices. He snorted cocaine as a teen, smoked a lot of dope too, and continued to smoke cigarettes and play basketball as an adult. Moreover, he was lanky and smooth, and said all the easy, wildly popular things that would get the liberal poor and young excited about his candidacy. He was thus thought to be "cool." He was also, quite admirably, cordial to friend and foe alike.

And, incidentally, he was half-black. So, electing him to the top job would not only be historic, but it would also be an historically symbolic gesture that would make "folks" (our President's favorite term of endearment) feel like they had finally buried the race hatchet that few Americans of any stripe actually want to talk about, despite the President's calls for a "national discussion" on this over-invoked subject.


However, the ultimate referee on planet earth should not be chosen by the color of his skin, his looks, or his suave "just folks" demeanor. He should be chosen because he or she can enforce the rules of the game in a humble, productive and consistent way. A good ref does so in such a manner that the flow of the game - whether in commerce or sports - is not unnecessarily impeded.

Like bankers, Presidents should be somewhat boring. You wouldn't trust your hard-earned income to a backslapping, hail fellow well met fiduciary, so why would you trust your taxes to a similar fellow running for President? If the subprime mortgage meltdown taught us anything, it's that bankers should not be allowed to take outsized risks that threaten the banking system. If you like risk, become an oil wildcatter, not a banker. Same applies to referees in all other incarnations.

Referees are not rockstars. They are supposed to be courageous and disciplined, able to make a tough, unpopular, but correct call when all the fans, players, coaches, managers, owners and commentators vocally hate them for making that decision. They should never be the story.

President Barack Obama has always been the story ever since he embarked on his rockstar run for President. His very autobiography suggested that a vote for him was a vote for a striking narrative. His narrative was the country's narrative.

Yet, despite all the orchestrated fanfare, in comparison to the intemperate Mr. Clinton, the measured Mr. Obama had all the makings of a great referee. He certainly was a breath of fresh air after the preemptive recklessness of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Indeed, in many ways, over the course of his scandal-free tenure, Mr. Obama has nobly done what any good referee should do: nimbly and fairly enforced the rules of the game.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama's us vs. them, rabble-rousing demagoguery undercut the enormous promise he at times showed. He demonized business people who used private jets, even as he rode the world's most expensive non-commercial jet. He slammed Wall Street investment bankers, even as he took sizable donations from them. He routinely called out absentee fathers in America's inner cities, while refusing to back legislation that would mandate personal responsibility as a condition of government assistance.

Most intemperately, he called for "immigration reform," while deliberately - and for transparent political gain - failing to thoroughly enforce our immigration laws, and then proactively preventing states from picking up the slack. Ever the politician, he oversaw just enough deportations to keep conservative naysayers in his own party at bay, though his goal was never to end illegal immigration. That conscious and unconscionable dereliction of duty is akin to an NBA referee taking bribes to throw games that manifestly affect who wins an NBA championship.


A true referee would have shut the border down to all illegal immigration and sent most of those here illegally back home in the most compassionate, but forthright, way possible. Mr. Obama, too needy for adulation, too cowardly to speak truth to fawning members of his liberal base, was not interested in that sort of tough love. It was if the President had a secret tape of Cleveland's Matthew "Delly" Dellavedova admitting that he purposely went out on the basketball court trying to harm opposing players, but decided not to prosecute because he wanted the long-suffering Cavaliers to finally win a championship. That's how this President rolled on immigration. And it was a disgrace that clouded his genuine achievements: opening up Cuba, offing Bin Laden, raising fuel efficiency standards, fostering LGBT civil rights, passing credit card reform, improving food safety and school nutrition, and at least trying to solve, however imperfectly, our nation's health care crisis.

Indeed, despite the refreshing balance and decorum be brought to this country's dealings with our allies after the knee-jerk bellicosity of Mr. Bush, Barack Obama lacked the steely fortitude needed in a world game increasingly dominated by a series of Ron Artests. For these reasons, he is a cautionary reminder of what we don't want in our next commander-in-chief.

A wise leader, like a wise referee, does everything in his power to not be the story. Moreover, he actively blocks all machinations that make him or her the story. Finally, because it's good for the nation, good for the game if you will, he has the courage to make the tough call, even when it might cost him an election.

This coming year, when you select our next President, please look for the person who gets these principles in his or her DNA. Though your baser instincts tell you otherwise, avoid the person (e.g., Obama, Bill Clinton, Reagan) who makes you feel good because of their preternatural need to be loved. Such candidates usually had an absentee, often alcoholic, father figure in their childhood.

Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, noted that the best leader, the true leader, eschews elective office, eschews popularity in all its forms, and thus eschews appeasing the masses in order to get ahead. The true leader eschews promotion or recognition, unless it is fully justified.

For these reasons, the true leader must be begged to lead. Only when a nation is desperate for wise, courageous, "high-minded" (in Aristotle's words) leadership will it stop falling for the usual demagogues. We are clearly not at that point in America, as the cavalcade of bombastic fools, charlatans, and opportunists currently running for President suggests.

What we need in our next President is someone who eschews the limelight, who is fully dedicated to the protection of the constitution, and who consistently calls plays the right way, despite enormous pressure from players, fans, coaches and owners.

And we need someone who knows when to call the game tight. For example, when rogue players (narco-terrorists, smugglers, illegal immigrants, looters, rioters, Wall Street cheats and other white-collar criminals, ISIS, Putin and his ilk, the financially derelict leaders in Greece, Argentina and Venezuela) threaten to destroy the game itself, you need to call the game very close indeed, lest you send a green light to further destructive behavior.

In 2016, fifteen years after 9/11, we do not need another people-pleasing co-dependent. Or someone who feels that is their time, their turn, their birthright, even as they couch it as "our turn." We don't need someone who says all the things that will make his or her base giddy with joy. We need a steady enforcer of the rules of the game. And those rules apply equally to Wall Street hedge fund tycoons, to cops in and out of uniform, to those who violently riot and loot because a court decision does not go their way, and to those who persistently and cavalierly cross our borders illegally.

- James Marshall Crotty

No Whistleblowing for David, Only Goliath

Sue Veres Royal   |   June 23, 2015    1:55 PM ET

"You will never work in nonprofits again"... "You have to look out for your family"... "You're throwing away your career and your connections"... "You will be sued"...or worse yet, "You could be Fosterized!!"

These, along with many other thoughtful, caring and understandable cautionary words have been spoken to me and, I am sure others, who have come forward regarding what they consider to be unethical practices in their work place - no matter the field. And yet, here I am, like many others now and before me. In the midst of the chaos, in the midst of a scary endeavor, in the midst of something I think is the right thing to do.

In 2013, the New York State Legislature apparently thought that oversight and transparency of nonprofit organizations was so important that they enacted The Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, which took effect on July 1, 2014. To note, New York's nonprofit sector is the nation's largest - so the New York legislature should lead the nation in laws and protections. A critical new requirement for all organizations is to revise or adopt a whistleblower policy. The Act dictates that whistleblower policies must prohibit retaliation against any director, trustee, officer, employee or volunteer who reports illegal or fraudulent activities - or even suspected activates. However, there is a caveat - only people that belong to an organization with 20 or more employees and an annual revenue in the prior year of at least $1 million are afforded this protection. Does that sound like you? Well, you are one of the lucky ones.

I worked in an organization who fell about 14 people short but whose income was about four times that of the minimum requirement. This organization is not an anomaly. According to a report by the Urban Institute only 23% of nonprofit organizations nationwide have a budget larger than $1 million. And, according to a Philanthropy New York/Foundation Center report, organizations in New York City with budgets over the required $1 million (those with income between $1 million and $5 million) had a median staff size of 17 in 2009. Nonprofit employees, overall, may seem like a "fringe group" but in reality, it is a significant part of the economy; the same report notes that the nonprofit sector accounted for 14% of the workforce in New York City in 2000-2001.

So, what does this mean? This means that in the state with the largest nonprofit sector in the country whistleblower protection is not afforded to those employed by or involved in the majority of organizations. Why then would the New York Legislature require a certain number of employees and a budgetary requirement that circumvents the majority of nonprofit organizations? WTF? But I guess things could be worse, the whistleblower policy was originally only going to apply to organizations with 20 employees who had purple hair, nose rings, and were five-foot-three-and-a-half inches tall, but that would have been arbitrary (wink, wink). 

This sets up a system in which basically the majority of organizations could skirt the law's reach, if they so choose - not unlike the healthcare legislation. Nonprofits can assumingly be comprised of the following, for example, and still not have to enact whistleblower protections:
- Organization A: $100 million budget, 1,000 volunteers but only 18 employees
- Organization B: A celebrity, a hedge fund manager and a politician on the board, $5 billion budget and only two employees

This is unfortunately an inherently unfair situation for people at most organizations--who purposefully keep small staffs so that the most money possible can go directly to their missions.

I have worked at larger nonprofit organizations - and perhaps with irony - when I needed help (although I never encountered any illegal or unethical practices at them), I could turn to my supervisor, the human resources department, my supervisor's supervisor, and so on. In a small organization, it is far more difficult to report issues and find support. As an employee you have your Executive Director; if you can't turn to s/he, then you might be lucky to have a board member to whom you can go - but not often. And, as an Executive Director of a small nonprofit, you only have the board. The way in which the law is written now is leaving behind the people who are perhaps in most need of whistleblower protection - and it makes no sense.

If you have read these and The New York Times articles, then you know I was fired and I have been threatened with a lawsuit for filing a complaint with the Attorney General. So this lack of protection has and is affecting me. A revised law can help the person feeling stuck, feeling scared, feeling like they want to do what is right but who is currently being forced to weigh real personal responsibilities against those of the greater good.

We know that nonprofits make enormous contributions to society. To protect the integrity of the sector, a revision to this law is needed. In the meantime, nonetheless, I hope you will step forward if you find yourself in a situation in which unethical practices are taking place. And, remember if you don't see my blog for a while it's not first and ten at Hoffa -I mean Giants Stadium, I am probably just on vacation!

Solar Jobs: Growing at the Grassroots

Bill Ritter, Jr.   |   June 11, 2015   12:54 PM ET

For nearly a decade, first as governor of Colorado and now as the director of a clean energy policy group, I have been one of the many people working with state and federal officials to shape more sustainable energy and climate policies. It is a mission filled with the glacial pace of governments and constant competition with other priorities.

From time to time, however, I am reminded that much of the best work on America's necessary transition to a sustainable energy economy is being done at the grassroots level. The solar energy revolution is progressing community by community.

One of those moments occurred this week during a meeting convened by the Clinton Global Initiative (GCI), the entity best known for securing concrete commitments from business leaders, philanthropists and private organizations to invest time and money on initiatives that address pressing needs around the world.

At their fifth annual CGI America meeting -- held in Denver and focused on strengthening the U.S. economy -- CGI received commitments from several organizations for grassroots projects that demonstrate how solar energy creates good local jobs, alleviates energy poverty and cuts carbon emissions.

The solar-powered jobs engine is working across the United States. The latest census by the Solar Foundation found that the solar industry has created more than 705,000 jobs in companies that build, install, service and support solar energy equipment. Over five years, solar-related employment has increased by a remarkable 86 percent. More Americans work in the solar industry today than in the coal industry.

The latest commitments created through CGI focus particularly on giving low-income households access to community solar energy systems. For example, the Southeastern Ohio Public Energy Council committed to organize community-scale solar power generation and household energy efficiency programs in the heart of Appalachia.The project will operate initially in the city of Athens and in Athens County, OH, and serve households, businesses and schools. The Council anticipates that the program will serve 2,600 families while creating 120 permanent and 180 temporary jobs in Appalachia.

To make energy efficiency and solar power affordable, the Council will use a state program that allows homeowners to organize "power buying groups" with leverage to negotiate prices with suppliers. As a result, the Council expects that homeowners will install a variety of energy efficiency measures that will reduce their energy bills by 25 percent, on average. The energy savings will more than offset the cost of the efficiency improvements, giving families an immediate monthly savings on their bills, the equivalent of a tax-free monthly paycheck.

The Council was one of several organizations to step up with a plan to bring solar to underserved communities. Based in Pine River, MN., the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance pledged to train 120 people to deploy solar energy systems for low-income households where families often have to choose between paying their energy bills and affording other essentials. The Alliance calls it the "heat or eat" dilemma.

In two tribal areas and five economically depressed rural counties, the Alliance plans to show how community action agencies can become solar power producers that serve low-income households. The goal is to liberate 750 households from federal energy assistance and serve as a model for other communities.

Likewise, the National Housing Trust committed through CGI to help the owners of multi-family affordable housing units install and own solar equipment on buildings. That approach will make solar energy available to 10,000 residents. Where multiple buildings are located, the Trust will help establish shared solar energy systems, starting in Washington D.C., California, Minnesota and Maine.

And yet another organization, Standard Solar Inc., has demonstrated its commitment to moving Americans toward a clean energy economy by pledging to invest $52 million in innovative local applications of solar energy storage.

The projects mentioned above share two exceptional features. First, they focus on families who pay a disproportionate amount of their income for energy and who are unable to afford solar energy on their own. Second, they demonstrate an important way to make solar energy available to virtually everyone. In 2008, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that fewer than one-third of the residential rooftops in the United States are suitable for on-site solar systems. As governor in 2010, I signed the nation's first legislation to make community solar systems -- often called "shared solar" -- available to utility customers. These systems avoid the limitations of rooftop systems; they are sited where the sun shines and distributed close by to consumers.

These are the types of power systems the American people want. A Gallup poll in March found that 79 percent of Americans want more solar energy -- in fact, their preference for solar and wind energy ranks far ahead of coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power.

The growing interest among utility customers to become power producers is challenging the 20th century utility business model of big central power plants and hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines. Utility executives tell me that the clean energy revolution is 10 years ahead of power companies while power companies are 10 years ahead of regulators. With projects like those presented to the CGI, local organizations and the communities they serve are ahead in the lead.

For those who work to spread the energy revolution to Washington and to state capitols, it is inspiring to see clean and renewable energy taking root in communities around the country. The deeper those roots grow, the less vulnerable American families will be to the "heat or eat" dilemma and to a lack of good local jobs. And the less vulnerable all of us will be to the risks of power outages, rising energy prices and global climate change.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of the latter's fifth meeting of CGI America (June 8-10 in Denver). This week, nearly 1,000 leaders from business, government, and civil society are coming together to develop solutions for economic growth, long-term competitiveness, and social mobility in the United States. For more information on CGI America, read here. To see all of the posts by authors in the series, read here.

Hillary and Undocumented Immigrants

Ryan Campbell   |   May 13, 2015    6:27 PM ET

As far as immigration rhetoric goes, Hillary has created what can be called a seismic change in the rhetorical field on the issue. This has sent everyone from other candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, to even the current White House, scrambling as they attempt to either change, clarify or reinforce their current position.

While there was much said, and most of it was the safe sort of "hard-working immigrant" rhetoric that is essentially "political fluff," considering where we are in the very long 2016 race, she did say a lot of things that turn into political liabilities if not acted upon.

Perhaps the most important quote from Hillary's meeting with Dreamers was "... if Congress continues to refuse to act, as President, I would do everything possible under the law to go even further [than President Obama]." When Hillary was talking on this, she was referencing DAPA and DACA, and talked about how "There are more people with deep ties and contributions to our communities who deserve a chance to stay."

Building on her theme, she called for "a simple, straightforward, accessible way for parents of Dreamers and others with a history of service and contribution to their communities to make their case and to be eligible for the same deferred action as their children." This could potentially allow for some of the more sympathetic cases that don't quite qualify for DACA or DAPA to remain in the country, and could potentially cut down on forcing immigrants to be unnecessarily detained in one of the GEO Group's detention facilities.

Hillary then made points on the detention system:

I also am very worried about detention and detention facilities for people who are very vulnerable, and for children. I think we could do a better job if we kept detention to people who have a record of violent illegal behavior and that we have a different approach for people who are not in that category, and I don't think we should put children and vulnerable people into detention facilities because I think they're at risk, their physical and mental health are at risk.

This, and her saying that we should have representation for the children that wind up at the border, are a bit of a departure from her notedly harsh rhetoric on sending the border children back as soon as a responsible adult in the family can be located in the past.

These centers Hillary referenced have horrible conditions where every corner on detainee health and welfare is cut to provide a larger margin of profit for the corporation, typically the Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group.

There has been arbitrary use of solitary confinement for offenses like not speaking English, patterns of unchecked violence from guards with no accountability, maggot-infested food, background checks so poor they have enabled pedophiles to guard (and sexually molest) teenage girls in facilities, and this is just a few items on a list too long for this article.

Anyone who focuses on LGBT and women's rights within immigration have heard how the conditions in detention facilities are even worse for them: LGBT people are about fifteen times more likely to be raped while in one, and there has been a mothers' hunger strike in Karnes center after a string of sexual assaults from the guards. This facility is only one of many known for rape problems that are part of a multi-billion dollar detention industry that spends tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the Dept. of Homeland Security, as well as donates at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates on both sides of the aisle (though with so much dark money, I would wager it's in the millions).

This industry has shown, time and time again, that it does not care for the human rights of those in their facilities.

That is why it was particularly welcome when Hillary started talking about the bed mandate and private detention centers:

I'm not sure that a lot of Americans know that the detention facilities for immigrants are run by private companies, and that they have a built-in incentive to fill them up. That there is actually a legal requirement that so many beds be filled. So people go out and round up people in order to get paid on a per-bed basis. That just makes no sense at all to me, that's not how we should be running any detention facility.

Lastly, however, Hillary reminded us a bit that she is running, decrying a "second class status" that other countries have which we should not. This was seen as a thinly-veiled shot at Rubio and Bush, who are talking about offering some status short of citizenship to undocumented immigrants in the country.

In the cynicism of politics, we need to consider the source: Hillary Clinton just got a primary challenge from Bernie Sanders, and either is or should be trying to mess with the GOP field: putting pressure on Jeb to move further to the left on immigration while Walker can continue to jump rightward and fire up an anti-immigrant base that can hurt Jeb, the most likely general election opponent, during the primary.

For a politician like Hillary, going on the record is a strong sign that she intends to follow through. While the plans are still quite vague, it is still very early, and we will have a long time to drag out details.

Why Hillary Clinton Would Be a Weak Presidential Nominee for Democrats

Eric Zuesse   |   May 12, 2015    1:32 PM ET

If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic Presidential nomination, then how strong a candidate will she be against a Republican nominee who, as a representative of the conservative party, is proudly and openly supporting conservative positions?

Taegan Goddard of The Week headlines on May 11th, "Is Hillary Clinton Flip-Flopping or Just Evolving?" and he notes several issues on which she has rhetorically veered to the left recently. He further notes that one of the things that probably shaved a crucial few percentage-points off the losers in previous Presidential general-election contests and caused them to lose, such as John Kerry and Mitt Romney, was the given candidate's primary-campaign rhetorical flip-flops that had been made during the Party's primaries in order to be able to wrap up that candidate's Party-base so as to win its Presidential nomination and so be able to become a participant in the general-election contest.

In other words, the record is clear: such flip-flops reduce the ardor of the given Party's voters to come to the polls and vote on Election Day. The opposite Party's nominee, who hasn't flip-flopped quite so blatantly, wins the general election because that Party's base then comes to the polls in droves on Election Day in order to ensconce into the White House someone whom they passionately want to be there, someone whom they strongly believe represents their values. Thus, George W. Bush and Barack Obama became Presidents, while Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitt Romney didn't.

Whereas today, some Republicans might not consider George W. Bush to have been a really conservative President, they strongly did believe him to be a really conservative Presidential nominee, both in 2000 and in 2004. And whereas today, some Democrats might not consider Barack Obama to be a really progressive President, they strongly did believe him to be trying and doing his best to be so against the ferociously conservative Republican congressional opposition, both in 2008 and in 2012.

So: in order for Hillary Clinton to be credible in the general election against whomever the Republicans end up nominating, she will need to out-compete that nominee on consistency, and not only on ideology. Polls show that the two Parties are overall fairly-equally close to the viewpoints of the American electorate on ideology; but, in the final election, what makes the decisive difference is usually instead the passion-factor: the devotedness of the given nominee's followers, and this means mainly the Party (but also independents who respect the given person's consistency or "honesty"). Flip-floppers don't get it, and they never can, especially when things become closer and closer to Election Day and the voters become more concerned about the issues than they were at the contest's start (i.e., before the debates and the advertisements).

The stakes at the end of a Presidential contest are more stark than they ever were before. The key factor then becomes trust: if you don't trust your Party's nominee, you're a lot less likely to go to the polls to vote for him or her. That's a major reason why the U.S. has one of the lowest of all nations' voter-participation rates.

If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, then how will she be able to attack the Republican nominee for being a tool of Wall Street -- which she will have to do (and do convincingly) in order to beat the Republican?

Here's her record, and here are its results:


How many Democrats will be too disheartened even to show up and vote? And how many of them will even be wondering whether perhaps some of the "private" emails that Ms. Clinton had wiped off her computer's (even off of her server's) hard drive, might have been emails with some of the Wall Street bigs (and their law and accounting firms) who were on that list of her top campaign contributors? Even the legality of her having destroyed those emails is far from clear. So: how will she be able to motivate her Party-base, when that final moment arrives?

If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, then trust will be the killer campaign-issue, even if it's not an issue that's being discussed in the campaign. The closer and closer to Election Day, the bigger and bigger that issue will be. We're as far from it now as we can be, but, with Hillary Clinton, it's already rising, and no one has any suggestion of a way in which it will likely recede. And this is only the start.

Regardless of whom Democratic voters select to become the Democratic nominee, and regardless of whom Republican voters select to become the Republican nominee, it would not be going out on a limb to predict, right now, that the Democratic nominee will be campaigning in the general election for the issues on which polls show that the public agrees mainly with the Democratic positions, and that the Republican nominee will be campaigning in the general election for the issues on which polls show that the public agrees mainly with the Republican positions. The silent but decisive killer-issue will be trust.

In primary elections, it's smart for voters to be concerned about ideology. But, if they really want to be voting for the next President of the United States, then the smartest voters in the primary elections will be even more concerned about trustworthiness. When the final election comes, that tends to be the determining issue -- more than ideology, more than "experience," more than anything else.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.

President Obama Don't Fail Us Historically...

Wade Norris   |   May 10, 2015    3:35 PM ET

A little history lesson today.

In the summer of 2007, Democrats were lining up behind their preferred Presidential choice. I was a strong Edwards supporter, (and eventual Obama supporter) and was most wary of Hillary Clinton bringing on more NAFTA type trade agreements.

Ironically even before the next President takes office, we are already having the same discussions on the TPP.

Back then, I sat down then with Edwards Campaign Manager former House Whip David Bonior of Michigan. He takes us back to 1993 when newly elected and popular President Bill Clinton abandoned Healthcare and began, instead, pushing NAFTA.

Watch this interview and read the transcript and then just replace the words "NAFTA" with "Trans Pacific Partnership" or "TPP" and "Clinton" with "Obama" President Obama, we can't afford for you to forget such recent history of a 'good' Democrat pushing terrible trade policies.

Part 1 3:03 in the interview - Majority Whip David Bonior the President and NAFTA

Question - What was the atmosphere like, being a democrat, taking on a Democratic President?

It is very difficult to take on the President of your own party. When he made the decision to do the North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA as opposed to healthcare, it was the worst legislation of his (Clinton) presidency, worst piece of legislature in the history of our country. 17 years (of NAFTA) it has been a widening of the income gap, not only in the United States, but in Canada and Mexico, millions and millions of lost jobs, a devastation of the environment with no environmental protections, no labor protections. It has been a race to the bottom, it has been devastating.

original diary from from Sept. 8,2007

Consider that phrase from a member of Clinton's own party:

NAFTA was the worst legislation of his (Clinton) presidency, worst piece of legislature in the history of our country.

I believe the TPP will become the new 'worst piece of legislature in the history of our country'

NAFTA did not just hurt the United States, it increased the trading power for Mexican Drug Cartels, crushed Mexican Corn farmers with US corn subsidies, which ACTUALLY INCREASED the need for Mexican and Central Americans to cross the border to find work.

NAFTA, by permitting heavily-subsidized US corn and other agri-business products to compete with small Mexican farmers, has driven the Mexican farmer off the land due to low-priced imports of US corn and other agricultural products. Some 2 million Mexicans have been forced out of agriculture, and many of those that remain are living in desperate poverty. These people are among those that cross the border to feed their families. (Meanwhile, corn-based tortilla prices climbed by 50%. No wonder many so Mexican peasants have called NAFTA their 'death warrant.'
NAFTA's service-sector rules allowed big firms like Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market and, selling low-priced goods made by ultra-cheap labor in China, to displace locally-based shoe, toy, and candy firms. An estimated 28,000 small and medium-sized Mexican businesses have been eliminated.
Wages along the Mexican border have actually been driven down by about 25% since NAFTA, reported a Carnegie Endowment study. An over-supply of workers, combined with the crushing of union organizing drives as government policy, has resulted in sweatshop pay running sweatshops along the border where wages typically run 60 cents to $1 an hour.

Now imagine that these conditions, known as 'NAFTA on Steroids' are not just over borders, but the Pacific Ocean, where it is impossible to escape to another country.

But history is not set yet.
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others are standing up on this Deal.

It is very difficult to take on the president of your own party.

We can't simply be moving forward to the end of Obama's Presidency as if he is a student who made honor roll all year, so we let him slide on the final exam.
This is Obama's final exam for history.

The TPP , if he pushes it through, against the wishes of many in his own party, it will be a terrible legacy for us in terms of Jobs, wages, and most importantly the Environment.

Consider this:

"If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama's environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush's," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues - oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections - and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts."

Ask your representative - have you seen this deal?

Tell the President "don't fail us HISTORICALLY"

No Precedent for 'First Gentleman'

Chris Weigant   |   May 6, 2015    8:20 PM ET

While watching the television interview with Bill Clinton the other night, I began thinking about the practical problems of how to treat him if his wife becomes president. I have to admit, Bill did drop one offhand line about his future -- something about what he'd do if he were "called to public service again" -- which sounded rather suspiciously (to my ear, at any rate) like: "Perhaps Hillary will put me in her cabinet, who knows?" I have to admit a snatch of the song "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" from The Sound Of Music also flitted through my head. But then, Bill Clinton is known to have strange effects on your outlook, at times.

Kidding aside, it did start me seriously thinking not only about what Bill's role might be in a Hillary Clinton administration, but also about the unprecedented nature of the problem. We've never faced this problem as a nation, and not just on one single level, either. Like all things Clinton, it's complicated. The line that became the soundbite from the interview, after all, was Bill talking about continuing to give high-priced speeches if Hillary wins, and his "gotta pay our bills" attempt at making light of the situation. As I said, multiple levels of this situation to consider, all of them unprecedented.

Traditionally and historically, First Ladies were nothing more than official presidential hostesses for formal events. There's even one woman who is considered to be a First Lady who wasn't actually the president's wife (Harriet Lane, niece of the only bachelor president, James Buchanan). That's all pretty much ancient history, though, since the role was fundamentally transformed by perhaps the greatest First Lady of all time, Eleanor Roosevelt. She showed that the power of the presidential spouse can reach far beyond giving a good dinner party. She made a difference in the lives of many Americans, and was revered as highly as her husband (if not more so, in some quarters), precisely because she was so hands-on.

Since that time, First Ladies who are so inclined (not all of them are) choose one or two "pet projects" and become spokeswomen for a cause. Betty Ford quite admirably championed the causes of fighting breast cancer and drug addiction. She also spoke out in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment, although that is not as well remembered today. Nancy Reagan was on the forefront of the War On Drugs, and is best remembered for the "Just Say No!" campaign. Hillary Clinton has already made her mark in this respect, leading the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to achieve comprehensive health care reform. Laura Bush championed literacy, and Michelle Obama is known for her efforts on both healthy food for kids and wounded veterans.

All First Ladies, though, have essentially put their own careers (where they previously existed, of course) on hold when their spouse entered the White House. Hillary Clinton didn't actively continue being a lawyer during the years Bill was president, for example. But we've simply never been faced with a spouse of a president going on to become president in their own right. There are no precedents.

Modern ex-presidents -- again, those who are so inclined -- have gone on to do good works for society. If they're not so inclined, they retreat into a world of golf (Gerald Ford), painting (George W. Bush) or cashing in on their fame (Ronald Reagan, and others). Ronald Reagan, though few remember it now, cashed in to the tune of $2 million immediately after leaving office by giving a few speeches in Japan, and continued to rake in big bucks on the speaking circuit until he physically became unable to do so.

Bill Clinton is kind of in a class by himself. While the greatest ex-president in modern times is unarguably Jimmy Carter (when measured by good works done after leaving office), who became the symbol of a charity which built homes for poor people, Habitat For Humanity. But -- importantly -- he didn't create this charity, he just eagerly jumped on board the good works they were already doing. Bill Clinton decided to follow Carter's model of doing good works globally, but to do so he set up his own foundation (originally the "William J. Clinton Foundation," then the "Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation," now just known as the "Clinton Foundation"). He also, of course, followed the route Reagan had taken, and he regularly cashes in big time on the speaking circuit by giving very expensive speeches to well-heeled groups.

If Hillary Clinton wins office, he'll become "First Gentleman" Bill Clinton. Again, this is unprecedented on two levels: an ex-president being the spouse of a new president, and the first "First Gentleman" in history. The gender issue won't be a big deal, of course, although the press may have a bunch of fun coming up with an alternate title for Bill than "First Gentleman" (my guess is that "First Bubba" will become the favorite, but that's just a wild guess). Still, the novelty of a woman president will be a lot bigger than the novelty of a male "first" spouse, so what to call Bill isn't going to be all that huge a problem.

However, what Bill will actually be doing while Hillary is in the Oval Office is open to more interesting speculation. Bill, unlike all other first spouses, knows the White House and how it runs. He spent eight years there, after all, in the big chair. The only First Lady who even comes close to this base of knowledge would be the second time Frances Folsom Cleveland became First Lady (since her husband served two non-consecutive terms). Clinton is already hinting that maybe, just maybe, his wife might give him a real job in her administration, which is indeed an interesting concept to contemplate.

Would Hillary Clinton give her husband a job? What job would she give him? There would, of course, be howls of "nepotism," but it's hard to make that charge stick when Bill Clinton is obviously more qualified than most to hold any White House job she could choose for him. Nepotism usually means giving an undeserving or underqualified relative a plum position, in other words. Republicans are going to howl at both Clintons anyway, so this would just add another reason to their list.

It is actually kind of fun to speculate what job Bill Clinton could do in Hillary's administration. He could become secretary of either the departments of Housing and Urban Development, or perhaps Health and Human Services -- both would be good tie-ins to the work the Clinton Foundation is already doing. She could even give Bill the spot she vacated: Secretary of State (although I'm personally kind of skeptical of the chances of that happening). Perhaps ambassador to the United Nations, though? I could see that possibility.

The most interesting job Hillary could give Bill would be to name him her chief of staff. That would truly be the "co-president" concept that the Clintons have always spoken of. As everyone who has ever watched The West Wing (or any other Washington political drama) knows, the chief of staff is the ultimate "gatekeeper" in Washington. He or she has the power of access to the president -- anyone wanting time in the Oval Office has to get the chief of staff's permission first. Would Hillary trust Bill with that much power? It's a fascinating question to consider.

If Hillary does win, Bill will be sailing in uncharted waters, that's the only thing that is sure. But, somehow, I don't think he's going to get away with making money on the speaking circuit while his wife's in office. He may have bills to pay, but he's going to have to put them on hold for a few years, that's my guess. The quote "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion" will become a favorite of the pundits, that's almost guaranteed.

The bigger question is what he's going to do with his eponymous foundation. If Jimmy Carter's wife had been elected president in the 1980s, he could have just stopped working for Habitat For Humanity for the duration of her term. But this is the Clinton's own foundation, after all. Will Hillary and Bill turn the reins of control over to Chelsea? Would that make the conflict of interest disappear, or would it just lessen it by one remove (Chelsea, after all, would still be the daughter of the sitting president).

There's really only one completely acceptable answer to this unprecedented problem, and that would be to turn the entire foundation over to some sort of "blind trust" (headed by a few trustees of the Clintons' choice). If they both divorced themselves completely from the foundation's workings until they were both private citizens again, it would completely preclude any influence-peddling charges by Clinton opponents. The foundation could continue doing good works in the Clinton name, but without any ties whatsoever to either of the Clintons themselves (or even Chelsea).

Of course, this just returns us to the problem of what to do with Bill for four (or eight) years. Bill Clinton would unquestionably be an invaluable asset to Hillary as she transitions into her new job, especially (to give but one example) when it came time to deal with individual members of Congress. At the very least, Bill should be considered for some sort of senior adviser role (whether an official position or in a version of the "kitchen cabinet"), since he's got eight years of experience in the workings of a presidency.

One thing is for sure, though, and that is that "First Gentleman" Bill Clinton is not going to be content with just being the perfect host for formal dinners.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Bernie's Running: It's The Perfect Storm for the Left

David Russell   |   May 1, 2015    8:03 AM ET

Senator Bernie Sander's announcement that he will seek the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency creates the best possible circumstances for Liberals and traditional Democrats to get their policies accepted as a mandate for action. Now Liberals have to focus on promoting the delivery mechanism.

Since it may finally be dawning on Liberals that their favorite, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, will not seek the nomination and Sanders has thrown his hat in the ring, hopefully they can see the benefits that come with these events. The best chance for policy change comes with Sanders on the hustings and Warren standing on the sideline coaching Hillary Clinton: policy changes that affect middle class income, wage and working conditions, consumer protection, Wall Street re-regulation, strengthened financial safety nets, education, veterans' benefits, campaign finance reform, and improved civil liberties. The added benefit is Warren's ability to run block in the Senate protecting the Liberal flank from the DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) whose "moderate" positions have contributed to the income morass that most Americans deal with every day.

The logic of this "combo" may not have been intentional but the circumstances work well for the hope Liberals have of effecting change. These two can revive the hope that has been missing for the past eight years since our "late to the party" President has only been mouthing a progressive agenda in the out years when he hasn't had the slightest chance of getting any of it passed into law. But it also works well because it allows the President to continue giving lip service to the ideas and not get in the way of the ensuing policy debate.

It is not a matter of faith among economists and thoughtful politicians, but it is a well established conviction that the deregulation of the Reagan/Clinton/Bush years contributed mightily to the economic volatility of the last twenty years. Likewise, it is the "moderates and conservatives" who happily stripped away worker protections, education and training and supported the decidedly jaded tax and trade policies that have "hollowed out" middle class incomes.

The impact of Sen. Warren's protests on behalf of the middle class has already been mimicked by candidate Hillary Clinton. As Warren will tell you from her interactions with Clinton when she was First Lady and again as Senator, Hillary Clinton can be for an issue before she is against it. In an excellent article by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker entitled, "The Virtual Candidate," he details Clinton's willingness to flip flop on issues. Thus, even though she is talking tough on middle class income and mass incarceration and sounding more and more like the Liberal she'd like us to think she is, it will take a lot of public prodding to insure that, should she be elected, she actually attempts to make political promises a reality.

Lizza, however, points to an even more important role that Warren will play over the next year and half. He echoes the sentiments of Barnie Frank (retired Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts) in quoting him "Right now, she's (Warren's) as powerful a spokesperson on public policy as you could be in the minority...because Democrats are not going to cross her ... No Democrat wants Elizabeth Warren being critical of him (her)."

Mainstream commentators are welcoming Sanders to the presidential race because his positions will help Candidate Clinton "hone her debating skills." They give Sanders zero chance of getting nominated. Whether that is true or not, the positions the two candidates will be forced to discuss on the campaign trail will allow the Democratic Party to do what it should have done starting in 2008 -- calling out the Republican Party for what it is, the defender of financial elites, promoter of divisive wedge issues and hypocritical champion of an imaginary system of free enterprise, independence, freedom and opportunism.

This cast of players insures that the election will be about ideology. Because Sanders and Warren are in the positions they are, the issues will be defined for the public. The Democrats are about a community of interests, a government that serves all of its constituents not the financial few, regulated capitalism, and support for redistributive legislation for resources and income. Republicans will wrap themselves in a laissez faire free enterprise flag and preach freedom, small government, independence, and deregulation.

Whether they are aware of it or not, Sanders and Warren provide the perfect storm. They are the best players available for the articulation of the Liberal agenda. The real question will be whether or not their followers understand the logic, and they then refocus the vain effort that has been underway for the past year to persuade Warrant to seek the nomination. What is needed now is as much financial support for Sander's candidacy as they can muster.

We are all aware that huge sums of money are needed to launch, and to sustain, a presidential campaign. Since it is quite clear that the Republican candidates will each have their respective billionaire to underwrite their efforts, and it is equally clear that little or none of those resources will be directed to Sanders, his campaign will have to be a grassroots effort all the way. That, in itself, is not the worst thing since the campaign results for the 2012 election indicate that Obama raised over $500 million in donations of less than $200 a person from over 4.2 million people.

None the less, there is an element of sobriety that should be posted lest anyone think that all is "nectar and honey." Warren's current polls are at 12.7 per cent approval, and Sanders are at 5.6 versus Clinton's 62.2 per cent (as reported by Real Clear Politics). Circumstances can always change, and a refocused support for Sanders may well enable the emergence of a viable candidacy. Absent that, however, it is a most reassuring to know that the Liberal agenda will be an active part of the Democratic presidential nomination dialogue.

Hillary Clinton Agrees With Elizabeth Warren On Trade Dispute With Obama

Zach Carter   |   April 30, 2015   12:00 AM ET

Hillary Clinton is opposed to a critical piece of the Obama administration's Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would give corporations the right to sue sovereign nations over laws or regulations that could potentially curb their profits.

The policy position is contained in her book Hard Choices, and was confirmed to HuffPost by a spokesperson for her presidential campaign. Obama and congressional Democrats are locked in a bitter public feud over TPP -- a deal between 12 Pacific nations -- with much of the controversy derived from concerns it will undermine regulatory standards.

Clinton writes in her book:

Currently the United States is negotiating comprehensive agreements with eleven countries in Asia and in North and South America, and with the European Union. We should be focused on ending currency manipulation, environmental destruction, and miserable working conditions in developing countries, as well as harmonizing regulations with the EU. And we should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors. (Emphasis added.)

Obama's TPP deal would be enforced by a process known as "investor-state dispute settlement," which allows foreign companies to attack domestic laws or regulations before an international tribunal if they believe those rules unfairly curb investment returns. Those tribunals can't directly overturn laws, but they can impose hefty fines on the countries they rule against.

Financial watchdogs and environmental activists are particularly concerned the process will be used to stymie future rulemaking with the threat of international fines. Congress often considers trade commitments when debating domestic legislation, at times diluting or derailing it. Foreign countries have halted anti-smoking rules over ISDS lawsuits.

Obama has vigorously defended ISDS against criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others, insisting it is necessary to protect American companies abroad.

"In a lot of countries, U.S. companies are discriminated against, and going through their court system would not give them relief," Obama told reporters on a conference call last week. "The notion that corporate America is going to be able to use this provision to eliminate our financial regulations and our food safety regulations and our consumer regulations -- that's just bunk. It's not true."

The Australian case that Clinton referenced in her book, however, is instructive. The Australian government enacted legislation that would require tobacco products be sold only with plain, simple packaging that includes health warnings -- labeling the tobacco companies objected to. Philip Morris Asia is suing Australia under a different free trade pact, using a similar ISDS provision, arguing that the Australian law is cutting into its profit. It's easy to see how laws in, say, New York City, would be similarly targeted.

On the same conference call, Obama defended the system further:

There are over 3,000 different ISDS agreements among countries across the globe, and this neutral arbitration system has existed since the 1950s. The United States has investment agreements with 54 different countries over the last 30 years. Under these various ISDS provisions, the U.S. has been sued a total of 17 times. Thirteen of those cases have been decided so far; we’ve won them all.

They have no ability to undo U.S. laws. They don’t have the ability to result in punitive damages. ISDS has come under some legitimate criticism when they’re poorly written, because they’ve been used in particular by some tobacco companies in some countries to challenge anti-tobacco regulation. And that’s why we have made sure that some of the legitimate criticisms around past ISDS provisions are tightened, are strengthened so that there is no possibility of smaller countries or weaker countries getting clobbered by the legal departments of somebody like R.J. Reynolds so that they can’t pass anti-smoking legislation. That, by the way, is more of a legitimate concern for the other signatories to the deal who would not be able to manage expensive litigation, than it is an argument that our laws would be challenged.

Indeed, environmental watchdogs are concerned corporations will use TPP to undermine environmental protections abroad. And while ISDS provisions have existed for a long time, companies didn't really take advantage of them until the 21st century. As Warren noted in an op-ed for The Washington Post, less than 100 ISDS cases were initiated between 1959 and 2002, while 58 were filed in 2012 alone. Warren and others are not only worried the U.S. might lose ISDS cases, but that expanding the ISDS regime will prevent governments from enacting future regulations.

There are other ways to enforce trade deals that do not elevate corporations to the same status of sovereign nations. Under World Trade Organization treaties, companies must first convince their home government to accept the case. The governments of the two countries then face off before WTO adjudicators.

Clinton has been cautious about Obama's TPP deal since launching her campaign. In mid-April, a Clinton spokesman issued a statement saying Clinton "will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation" and to "improve labor rights, protect the environment and health" in the final deal.

"We shouldn’t be giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers," the statement reads.

Obama opposes using TPP to combat currency manipulation -- a tactic by which Japan and China have been able to curb U.S. exports by making their own goods cheaper.

Other potential candidates for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, have been sharply critical of TPP.

Committees in the House and Senate approved legislation last week that would grant Obama "fast track" authority on trade, stripping Congress of its power to amend whatever deal the administration ultimately reaches.

This story has been updated to include further comments from Obama's conference call.

Bernie Sanders Jumps In

Chris Weigant   |   April 29, 2015    8:12 PM ET

We've had a President Jimmy and a President Ronnie, so why not a President Bernie?

That was my first thought on hearing the news that Senator Bernard ("Bernie") Sanders is going to formally announce his candidacy for president tomorrow. Often, first thoughts are not the most profound, as I seem to have proved here. But upon reflection, a deeper meaning can be teased out of my sophomoric response: why not a President Bernie? I'm pretty sure there will be many in the media who laugh Sanders off as some sort of "not serious" candidate, and attempt to pigeonhole Sanders into the role of court jester to Hillary Clinton: there to amusingly point out foibles, but in a way that cannot be taken seriously. This is a mistake. Bernie Sanders is a serious candidate, no matter what his chances at the ballot box may ultimately be. He cares deeply about the issue of inequality, and he is not afraid to say exactly what he thinks. You can question how viable a candidate Sanders will be, but no matter what the answer to that turns out to be, Sanders will be a serious candidate. The issues he will raise on the campaign trail deserve serious discussion and consideration, from not only Hillary Clinton but also from the media themselves.

Bernie Sanders will be unique among presidential candidates because the first step he'll have to take is to become a Democrat. Up until now, Bernie has called himself a Democratic Socialist (although he does caucus reliably with the Democrats in Congress). This raises a big question, one that he will hopefully answer tomorrow. Will Sanders, if he loses the Democratic nomination, run as an independent in the general election? This could set up a Ralph Nader problem for Hillary, but it doesn't seem likely that Sanders would actually go that far. But the question is a valid one, which is why it'll be interesting to see if he addresses the issue in tomorrow's announcement (or soon thereafter).

I realize it's pretty pessimistic to begin analyzing a campaign by assuming defeat in the primaries, so let's instead consider a path to victory for Bernie Sanders. Will he be able to raise enough money? Well, he sure won't be able to match Clinton's totals, at least at first. But will that matter? There is already a groundswell in the Democratic Party for a more Progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, but up until now it has been focused on a woman who keeps swearing -- over and over -- that she is just not going to run. Sooner or later those advocating for an Elizabeth Warren candidacy are going to have to start believing the words Warren is saying, one assumes. When they do, the most attractive candidate for them to focus on is going to be none other than Bernie Sanders. Ideologically, at least on the major Progressive issues of the day, Sanders and Warren are two peas in a pod. There isn't a lot of daylight between them on, for instance, their attitudes towards Wall Street and Main Street. So Sanders will be a good fit for the Warren enthusiasts.

It remains to be seen how much enthusiasm Sanders could raise among Democratic Party primary voters as a whole, though. The policies he advocates are actually very popular -- something Progressives love to point out -- even if they do meet with a lot of sneering contempt by all the "serious people" inside the Beltway. If a Bernie Sanders candidacy catches a little fire with the public, however, the mainstream media might actually have to start discussing his issues. The more media coverage he gets, the more his ideas get heard. Which could spark a wave of support for Sanders among Democrats.

The conventional wisdom says that Sanders will be nothing more than a goad to Hillary Clinton. He'll be pulling her to the left, but she'll easily co-opt his issues (in some milder, more-centrist way) and bury him with the millions in her campaign chest. This could turn out to be true. But money doesn't always win in politics. Ask Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman, they'll tell you. If Bernie Sanders has a truly winning message, it just might trump all the money spent against him.

Obviously, if Sanders does have a path to victory, it would certainly help if Clinton stumbles at some point along the way. This stumble could take many forms -- a scandal that the public actually considers scandalous, a health issue, or perhaps getting caught saying something insensitive along the campaign trail -- but any such bump in the road for Clinton would help Sanders (and any other Democrats who run). Both Clintons are known for political stumbles, but they're also known for overcoming them and quickly putting them in the rearview mirror. So even a Clinton misstep might not be enough for Sanders to break into the frontrunner position.

Sanders has one other liability when compared to Clinton. He's an old white guy. That's not very demographically exciting. He wouldn't be the first old white guy to be president, to put this another way. The media has become jaded over Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to (as she put it) "break the glass ceiling," but there are millions of women out there who will be very proud and excited to cast their votes for the first woman to lead the country. Sanders is at a disadvantage, due to not being the first of his kind with a chance at the White House.

That's not an impossible obstacle to overcome, though. If Bernie Sanders does well in the first two primary contests, he'll be taken a lot more seriously. Iowa might be the tougher of the two, because it will require a lot of effort (and having a lot of money wouldn't hurt that effort). New Hampshire is right next to Vermont, where Bernie hails from, but that also doesn't automatically mean he'll be accepted by New Hampshire voters. There is a sort of friendly animosity between New Hampshire and Vermont, where anything from the other state is viewed with a healthy amount of suspicion. Still, Bernie Sanders is a lot more well-known in New Hampshire than he is elsewhere. He won't have to "introduce" himself the way he will have to in Iowa, in other words, because many New Hampshire voters already know who he is and what he stands for. In Iowa, Sanders will likely try a grassroots-style campaign, talking to as many voters in person as he possibly can. Sanders has always been comfortable talking to people in this fashion, so he could be more successful at it than might initially be imagined.

Bernie Sanders has one big thing going for him: authenticity. He's an honest guy -- he'll tell you exactly what he thinks without resorting to a focus group beforehand. There is no trust issue with Sanders -- if he gets elected, he'll do exactly what he promised he'd do (or, at the very least, he'd sincerely try to make good on his promises). Compare that to the way many Democrats view Hillary Clinton -- they're pleasantly surprised when she gives a speech that takes a liberal position (as she did this morning, in fact), but they also harbor seeds of doubt as to whether Hillary really believes what she's saying or whether she's just saying it because she thinks it's what the voters currently want to hear. There are questions about how much Democrats should trust Clinton's stances, to put it bluntly. There would be no such question with Bernie Sanders. He's exactly who he says he is, and he speaks from the heart about issues like inequality. That could play very well in places like Iowa and Nevada.

If, for the sake of argument, Sanders does somehow beat Hillary Clinton and becomes the Democratic nominee, what chance would he have against the Republican in the race? That's hard to predict, for a number of reasons. In the first place, it will matter how he beat Clinton. Did she stumble badly and take herself out of the running as a result? Or did Sanders just catch fire with the public and Clinton's ideas and message couldn't compete? How strong Sanders would be in the general election might depend on the answers to those questions. If his ideas were the reason for his primary victory, then it'll depend on how the Republican nominee stacks up against him on those issues. A more-moderate Republican might do better than an extremist, to state the obvious.

No matter who ultimately gets the Republican nomination, they'll be attempting to paint Sanders as a "lefty extremist." Look for the demonization of the word "Socialist" to be prominent in these attacks. Now, the spectre of the big, bad Socialism doesn't pack the same punch as it used to back in the days of the Cold War, but it still does have an impact with the public. People who can't explain the difference between Socialism and Communism usually don't approve of either. Sanders could overcome this built-in animosity only by clearly explaining his platform of taking the side of the little guy.

That sounds dismissive, but it isn't. Taking the side of the little guy is going to be a big issue in the 2016 campaign, no matter what happens. It's such a potent issue that the Republicans are actually trying to co-opt it. Of course, their policy positions are pretty much guaranteed to make inequality worse (especially when "give rich people big tax breaks" is so central to everything Republicans want to do), and Bernie Sanders is possibly the best candidate to point this out in no uncertain terms. Once again, Elizabeth Warren is not going to run, leaving Sanders to champion the Progressive positions. People are fed up with Washington coddling Wall Street, and Sanders (unlike all the Republicans) won't have to twist himself into a pretzel explaining what his plans are to fix this problem.

Not to be too dismissive, but the other Democrats so far mentioned as possible candidates seem like they're running to be first choice for Hillary's veep. I don't think they'll be challenging her in the way that Bernie Sanders will. Sanders is going to be an unapologetic Progressive voice in the race, and is going to freely criticize Hillary Clinton whenever she tries to advocate half-measures or use weaselly language to define her positions. No matter what you think his chances of winning the nomination (or the presidency), Bernie Sanders is going to force everyone else to focus on the little guy. Which, for me, absolutely makes him a serious candidate. President Bernie is a concept we should all take seriously.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Toughening Up Hillary

Chris Weigant   |   April 20, 2015    8:47 PM ET

I write today to challenge what is fast becoming conventional wisdom in the political world -- in particular, the notion that Hillary Clinton really needs a strong primary challenge to "toughen her up" for the upcoming race with whomever the Republicans decide upon. When you deconstruct the logic behind this idea, however, it falls apart.

There are many reasons for wishing Hillary will have a competitive primary race with at least one other strong Democratic candidate. The biggest of these is the hope that someone will "challenge her from the left," and thus draw Clinton further in that direction. Liberals have a healthy amount of mistrust of Clinton, and would really like to see an Elizabeth Warren (or perhaps a Bernie Sanders) campaign to challenge Hillary on the finer points of fighting income inequality and Wall Street banks.

Ideology aside, the pundit class (including many liberal commentators) are already pretty bored with the Hillary Clinton campaign, and we're still a year away from most of the primary contests. The punditocracy craves a dustup in the Democratic primary race for the crassest of reasons: entertainment value. I shouldn't even be that exclusive -- there are plenty of voters who would also enjoy lively Democratic Party debates before the primaries. What is the alternative, really? Hillary sitting in a chair on a stage by herself? Yawn. At best, it appears we'll have Hillary sitting on a stage while the other Democrats vie to be named her veep. Not exactly a recipe for excitement, in other words.

There's a third reason a lively primary fight might be hoped for by some, but I should say that so far I don't see any signs of this happening. Barack Obama supporters were (justifiably) angry with Hillary Clinton in 2008 for a number of reasons, but the final one was that she refused to gracefully exit the race, even though mathematically it had become all but impossible for her to win the nomination. Clinton kept running for two or three months longer than most candidates would have done. She refused to throw her support behind Obama until the last vote in the last primary was counted, which proved what the mathematically-astute had known for weeks: she couldn't win. There was a lot of hype at the time about Hillary's supporters being so upset that they'd refuse to vote for Obama (remember the "PUMAs" -- "Party Unity My Ass"?), but this never really manifested itself outside of the blogosphere. So it's pretty far-fetched to think that Obama supporters could have held a grudge for eight years against Hillary and would now wish her a bruising primary battle, on the grounds of it being her just desserts. It could happen, I suppose, but I don't think it's very likely.

But all of these reasons for wishing a lively primary for Hillary are just that: reasons for wishing. None of them address the practicality argument at all. To put it another way, these are reasons for wanting a primary challenger for Hillary, not a reason for why she might need a primary challenger. This is the argument that doesn't hold water: Hillary needs a challenger to toughen her up, to sharpen her campaigning skills, and to guarantee that when the general election rolls around she'll be in top form. On the face of it, it seems a cogent argument.

But while it might be desirable (for other reasons) to see Hillary in a tough nominating fight, it is by no means necessary for her at all. There are two sides to this argument, both with handy recent historical examples. Barack Obama was unquestionably toughened up by Hillary's campaign. He faced many hard questions and had to refine his positions accordingly. Because Hillary's team threw a lot of mud at Obama, much of it was "old news" by the time the general election campaign began -- which took the wind out of Republican sails when they attempted to use the same negative tactics. On the flip side of this coin, Mitt Romney had to run a grueling primary campaign against multiple strong opponents. But it didn't do him any good in the general election at all. In fact, it hurt his chances because he had been forced to move so far to the right that tacking back to the center just wasn't possible. Granted, the two primary races were different, but other examples can be used just as easily (Obama and Romney are merely the most recent).

Hillary Clinton is a different sort of candidacy, though. I say this because she has the highest possible name recognition imaginable. You could poll 1,000 Americans on what they thought about Hillary Clinton, and my guess would be that at least 990 of them would have some opinion (positive or negative) about her. Very few would respond: "Hillary who?" So Hillary doesn't even have that biggest of first steps most other candidates have to face: introducing yourself to the American public. Everybody already knows who she is.

But the real reason the "she needs to be toughened up" argument falls apart is that it completely ignores reality outside of the Democratic primary race. Sure, if you vowed to read only news about what other Democrats are saying about Hillary Clinton for the next year, you could make the argument that she really needs a strong primary challenger. But that would be ridiculous, because there will be plenty of media attention given to the Republican primary race during that period.

If this were a normal (although wide-open) presidential race, the two parties would be much more concerned with their own primary races. Nobody would know (until the end) which candidate would appear victorious from the other side. So very little energy would be spent (at least, at this early a stage) on attacking any particular candidate across the aisle, because doing so might be a wasted effort if the nomination ultimately went to someone else. The real Democrat-versus-Republican mudslinging wouldn't begin until it was obvious which two people would be in the final race.

That is probably not going to happen this year, obviously. Republicans are already off and running in Iowa and New Hampshire, and they all know exactly who they're going to face in the general election. Because it is so obvious, they have already begun aiming most of their attacks against Hillary Clinton, rather than (as would happen in a normal year) at each other. So Hillary Clinton isn't just going to have one or two Democrats "toughening her up," she's going to have 20 or more Republicans incessantly beating up on her.

Again, pushing aside all the reasons people might want a Democratic challenger for Hillary, it's pretty easy to see that it won't be necessary. The onslaught of anti-Hillary invective has already begun, and it's only going to get more and more frenzied as the Republican nomination race heats up. This is as it should be, since each and every Republican candidate will be auditioning to be the best Hillary-basher of the lot. That's how they figure they're going to win the general election, so they'll be straining to outdo each other in this regard. Who will be snarkiest? Who will be downright vicious? Who will skate over the line of outright misogyny? The contest will be fought over who can score the most points against Clinton, like it or not.

Hillary Clinton is going to be the favorite target for Republicans. However, by doing so this early, they might just undercut the strength of all their mudslinging. The Clintons are no strangers to having mud slung at them, as the right-wing orgy of Clinton-hating in the 1990s should easily prove to anyone who was alive back then (see: Richard Mellon Scaife). Bill Clinton's campaign moniker was actually "The Comeback Kid" because he overcame so many stumbles.

The Republicans risk, by their early targeting of Hillary, playing their cards too early. The American public, as a whole, doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to politics in general, and they have a notoriously short attention span. So any "scandal" that happens quickly morphs into "old news." And old news isn't considered effective in the waning days of a campaign. The easiest example of this might be Benghazi, in fact. Republicans were so sure they had the Hillary-killing scandal to beat all Hillary-killing scandals that they pretty much stomped the issue into the ground. Nowadays, the word "Benghazi" prompts nothing short of eye-rolling among most of the public. "There they go again," is the overriding feeling. Likewise, by next November's election, my guess is that few people are going to care about Hillary Clinton's email server. The story will have been hashed over so many times for so long that it will have lost whatever shock value it might once have had.

So what might conceivably happen is that the Republican field focuses so strongly on Hillary at the very beginning of their primary race that they run out of ammo by the time the general election rolls around. This is precisely what people are predicting when they repeat the conventional wisdom of, "Hillary needs a primary challenger to toughen her up for the general election," though. This is, after all, exactly what Hillary Clinton did for Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008. She threw everything but the kitchen sink at Obama, and it helped him in the general election because by the time John McCain brought the same things up, the Obama campaign could just shrug and say, "We've already addressed that," and move on.

Granted, having the Republicans be sort of a de facto primary opponent will be different than having an actual Democrat opposing Hillary. The attacks will certainly come from a different direction. Because of this, though, Hillary won't be pulled too far to the left. All she'll have to do is appear reasonable and sane in response to all the hysterical screeching from the Republican primaries. That'll be a pretty good contrast for her to paint. By the time the Republicans do decide on a nominee, the cupboard of "new mud to sling at Hillary" will be all but bare. The public will also be tired of Republicans endlessly rehashing Hillary's record, as what might be called "Clinton-bashing fatigue" sets in.

Though it runs counter to the conventional wisdom inside the beltway, the truth is that by being the sole target for Republicans all throughout the primary campaign season, Hillary Clinton will likely emerge much tougher than she would if all she had to cope with was a single Democrat pulling her slightly leftwards. This is why what seems like an intuitive idea falls apart. If there really were a truly competitive race on the Democratic side, then Hillary would have to face less hostile attacks from Republicans (whose focus wouldn't be as clear), and fewer of them. With no challenger, she's going to have a much tougher time in the primary season, because she won't just be facing a few Democrats or one Republican, she'll be subject to attacks from 20 or more Republicans. And that, I have to say, will indeed toughen her up just fine.


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Why Hillary Clinton Left Obama To Fend For Himself On Trade

Zach Carter   |   April 17, 2015    8:05 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's trade agenda took a beating on Friday, as House Democrats threw cold water on his bid to fast-track the biggest free trade pact since the 1990s, and 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton declined to back the plan.

Although Republican leaders in Congress are on board with Obama's effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping deal between the U.S. and 11 Pacific nations, Democrats have been persistently critical of the negotiations. The White House had hoped that a Thursday compromise between Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) would help thaw progressive opposition.

Obama got no help from Clinton. Late Friday, her campaign released a statement saying she "will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation" and to "improve labor rights, protect the environment and health," as first reported by The New York Times.

"We shouldn’t be giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers," Clinton's statement reads.

These are standard Democratic objections to the TPP -- that whatever gains the deal might create for economic growth will come at the expense of the middle class and the environment. Labor unions, environmental groups and open Internet advocates have aggressively opposed the pact. The fact that Clinton is echoing these concerns several years after the negotiations began says a lot about how liberals think the deal is shaping up. The Obama administration has kept drafts of the TPP deal secret, but parts have leaked, intensifying Democratic concerns.

Clinton's statement does not reject TPP outright. But by refraining from coming down on the deal, while echoing concerns that aren't likely to be assuaged -- the Obama administration has made clear that there is no currency manipulation provision in TPP -- Clinton is leaving Obama to fight for Democratic votes on his own.

And Obama faces an uphill battle, particularly in the House. On Friday, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) vowed to take down the Wyden-Hatch fast track bill, which would strip lawmakers of the authority to amend any trade deal that Obama ultimately reaches. Without fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, few on Capitol Hill believe TPP can win congressional approval. Levin is the top Democrat on Ways and Means Committee -- the key panel that any trade legislation must clear before getting to the House floor.

Fast-track legislation offers Congress the ability to set negotiating objectives for trade agreements -- about five years late for TPP -- and Levin said Friday that the terms of the bill fall well short of what he is prepared to support. Levin said he had been excluded from negotiations that led to the fast-track deal involving the White House, Hatch, Wyden and Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

"The administration has essentially given us the power to defeat TPA," Levin said. "I'm out to defeat the Hatch-Wyden bill."

Only 11 of the 46 members of the congressional New Democrat Coalition came out in favor of the bill after it was released. New Democrats are friendlier to major corporations than most other Democrats, and typically support free trade deals. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has suggested he needs at least 50 Democratic votes in order to pass a fast-track bill, due to opposition among Republicans skeptical of ceding authority to Obama.

But Democrats simply do not trust Obama on trade. Levin's exclusion from White House negotiations with a former GOP vice presidential candidate is just the latest in a long line of Democratic frustrations. Liberals in both chambers say that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has obstructed their access to TPP documents for years.

"From my own experience, USTR’s consultations with Congress have been -- I hesitate to use this adverb, but I will -- pathetically inadequate," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said at a Thursday hearing, before listing a host of failed efforts by his office to get information on the deal's impact on the auto industry.

While the president has publicly committed to requiring upgrades in environmental and labor standards in any bill, his trade enforcement record is very weak on both fronts.

"The sad reality is that widespread worker abuse is taking place all over the world while virtually nobody in the USTR’s office is paying attention," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a potential challenger to Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, told HuffPost. "Words on paper don’t mean anything if they are not enforced. ”

Sanders' sentiment is shared by many House Democrats, who say the president's recent promises on trade policy aren't backed up by his record in office. In November, the Government Accountability Office released two reports taking the Obama administration to task for spotty oversight of both labor and environmental conditions in existing trade agreements.

"USTR has never once brought a trade dispute over an environmental issue, over noncompliance with an environmental chapter, even when there has been clear documented evidence of violations," said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s responsible trade program.

A spokesman for USTR pointed HuffPost to a list of the agency's labor rights efforts in Guatemala, Colombia, Jordan, Bahrain and other nations.

But USTR has made little progress on those cases. Union members in Colombia have been assassinated repeatedly since Obama approved a trade pact with the country in 2011. The administration has raised only one formal labor rights challenge to a trade deal. That dispute involves Guatemala, and remains unresolved after six years.

Clinton Campaign Will Accept Donations From Lobbyists And PACs

Sam Stein   |   April 16, 2015    1:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign will accept donations from lobbyists and political action committees, a difference in policy from the man she's hoping to replace, President Barack Obama.

The Clinton campaign confirmed that there would be no prohibition on such donations, after The Huffington Post was tipped off by two lobbyists supportive of the former secretary of state's run for the White House.

“Hillary Clinton has a long history of taking on tough fights against special interests, whether or not they’re donors to her campaigns," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the campaign. "She strongly supports campaign finance reform and has voted for tough lobbying reform, but as long as Republican groups and candidates are going to spend millions attacking Hillary, we need the resources to fight back.”

The approach is consistent with the one Clinton took in her last White House run in 2008. But it differs from what Obama did that same year and four years later. Though accepting donations from lobbyists and PACs comes with some risks -- to the extent that it adds to the criticism of Clinton as a creature of Washington -- even some good-government figures downplayed its significance.

"Self-imposed rules, in general, are not reform by themselves," said David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, an organization that advocates for transparency and against the influence of money in politics. "Americans should be much more interested in the proposals her campaign will share about how to address the problem of money in politics -- and more importantly, what she'll pledge to do to make those proposals a reality if elected."

Clinton's vulnerability on accepting donations from lobbyists and PACs likely will be limited by the fact that few, if any, other potential presidential candidates are likely to apply the prohibition to themselves. That wasn't the case in 2008. During their square-off in the Democratic primary that year, Obama used his refusal to take cash from K Street as a key point of distinction and a way to deflect attacks.

“Eleventh-hour smears, paid for by lobbyist money," went one ad run by the Obama campaign. "Isn’t that exactly what we need to change?”

At the time, Clinton defended her acceptance of lobbyist contributions at the progressive YearlyKos conference in 2007, saying, “A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans.” Her remarks drew a round of boos from the audience.

The Obama policy, however, proved easier to tout than to execute. On several occasions, money from lobbyists did make it through the screen, forcing the Obama campaign to issue refunds after it was reported.

It also became apparent the policy was largely ceremonial in terms of limiting the ability of powerful interests to fund campaigns. Executives and board members of large corporations spending huge sums on lobbying, and with their own political action committees still provided hefty contributions to the Obama campaign, as did non-registered lawyers working for firms registered to lobby for clients. Obama’s policy also did not cover lobbyists registered at the state level.

The total amount of money from lobbyists and PACs available to a presidential candidate isn’t overwhelmingly consequential. Clinton's 2008 campaign raised $1.4 million from political action committees and just under $2 million from registered lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The benefit of empowering lobbyist donors comes from their ability to raise money. There were at least 22 lobbyist bundlers for Clinton’s last presidential campaign.

Obama’s policy of refusing lobbyist and PAC money extended to the Democratic National Committee as well. The party’s central organ banned cash from these two sources as soon as Obama became the effective Democratic presidential nominee, after Clinton withdrew from the race in June 2008. This policy is perhaps more consequential, as the contribution limit is much higher for individual donors to the party committee ($33,400 per year) than to a candidate’s campaign ($2,700 per election). Political Action Committees, meanwhile, can donate $15,000 to a party committee and $5,000 to a candidate's campaign.

The DNC generally takes direction from the leader of the party. It isn’t clear when or if the DNC will turn on the spigot for lobbyist cash in the 2016 election cycle.

Will Hillary Show up to Netroots Nation?

Chris Weigant   |   April 13, 2015    9:27 PM ET

And so it begins. Hillary Clinton is now officially in the race for the White House. Her announcement, like pretty much everything else about her upcoming campaign, will be microscopically analyzed within an inch of its life. Was she too generic? Was she appealing enough? Where were the specifics? What about Bill? And what was up with that laughably 1970s campaign logo? Most of these deep-dive analyses won't make a tiny bit of difference, in the long run (well, OK, that logo is pretty bad, hopefully that's the first thing Team Hillary decides to change...). But it'll certainly give all the pundits something to do in the meantime.

As campaign rollouts go, Hillary is obviously going for the lowest key she can manage. She hasn't even scheduled any big rallies or events for the first few months, and her announcement video didn't even show her face until the minute-and-a-half mark. She has, obviously, learned her lesson about the whole "inevitability" thing from the last time around. She is going to start campaigning by going on a "listening tour," starting in Iowa. This worked wonders for her as a senator, and it could be valuable if she meets some interesting people and does actually listen to their concerns along the way. The most interesting thing about her launch is that she's actually driving from New York to Iowa. Well, not personally driving (she's still got a Secret Service escort, like all former First Ladies), but still -- traveling the country's Interstates is a lot better way to reconnect to the common man and woman than chartering an airplane. Sure, it's a stunt, but it could turn out to be more than that, depending on the people she meets in the rest stops of the Midwest.

Hillary Clinton, like all presidential candidates, is going to have to perform a balancing act. She's got to reach out to the undecided voters that will be crucial for the general election, and she's also got to shore up her base. Right now, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is somewhat leery of Clinton (and that's putting it politely). Hillary is seen as being much more hawkish than the base is really comfortable with, and much closer to Wall Street than any Elizabeth Warren fan wants to see. That first one is pretty much of a given -- Hillary can transform herself in many ways out on the campaign trail, but she'll never be able to go back and erase her vote for the Iraq War. In her recent book, she stakes out a more aggressive foreign policy stance than President Obama, so it's pretty hard to see her walking this back all that much. But then again she's still going to have to work hard to be an acceptably-tough president for some voters, seeing as how she is the first woman to ever have a decent crack at winning.

Many Democrats are ready and willing to, if not actually forgive her for her hawkishness, at least accept it as part of the Clinton package. But when the subject turns to domestic issues, progressives are going to push a lot harder for Clinton to champion the causes of progressivism. Giving either Robert Reich or Elizabeth Warren a prominent place among Hillary's close economic advisors would go a long way towards quelling progressive fears that Hillary is but a reluctant progressive, at best.

But there's one other big thing Hillary could do to build bridges with the left of the Democratic Party -- attend this year's Netroots Nation conference. Because if you're going to woo liberals, the best way to do it is to travel to where the liberals will all be, in mid-July.

Eight years ago, the second annual Netroots Nation conference was held in Chicago (it was actually called YearlyKos back then, the name wouldn't change until 2008). Seven of the eight Democratic candidates appeared at the 2007 conference, including both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was a different time, of course, since the primary race was a lot more openly contested than it likely will be this year. Since that time, the conference has grown into the premiere event for the "netroots" -- liberal bloggers, progressive activists, Unions, progressive politicians, and many other lefty influences (and influencers). It's the one time of year all of them can be reliably found under one roof.

This is why it is almost imperative for Hillary Clinton to attend this year's Netroots Nation in Phoenix. There is already some degree of controversy about the choice of site this year (some people are still boycotting Arizona over the anti-immigrant law they passed a few years back). But that shouldn't deter Hillary, who (after all) is going to have to campaign in all 50 states.

Hillary Clinton is not the netroots' favorite candidate. That's about as politely as I can put it. Instead, many progressives are putting a whole lot of time and energy into what is almost guaranteed to be a futile effort: convincing Senator Elizabeth Warren to run and be their champion. Warren has said -- over and over and over again -- that she is not going to run. Sooner or later, her fans are going to have to come to grips with this. If Hillary Clinton truly is the only viable candidate from the Democratic side ("viable" meaning "polling above ten percent," say), then the only real option is going to become trying to influence Hillary to be the most progressive candidate possible.

That's a disappointing prospect for many. Other Democrats may become favorites of the progressives who will be looking for "anyone but Hillary," but the question will become whether they'll get any real traction beyond the halls of Netroots Nation. A much more possible outcome is trying to get Hillary to see that progressive ideas are popular ideas, and indeed the ones she should be eagerly running on.

The differences between Hillary Clinton (and even Bill) and the netroots are not as great as some may think, however. After all, it is not radically leftist to be in favor of a higher minimum wage -- it's in fact been a standard Democratic position for decades. Most of the real friction comes over how to treat Wall Street and the big banks, where progressivism becomes downright populist in nature. Hillary Clinton may get a little squishy on the question of taxing hedge fund managers and the one percent, and on strictly policing Wall Street in general. But her positions on women's rights and equal pay should be completely in tune with progressives. So while she's got some work to do to convince the netroots that she hears their issues and supports most of their agenda, it doesn't mean she has to completely reinvent herself to do so.

Ignoring the netroots (and skipping Netroots Nation), though, would be a big mistake for Hillary. Because she's going to need not only the independent voters in the general election, she's also going to need a big turnout from the coalition that Barack Obama put together -- the same coalition that largely didn't show up at the polls in 2014. What 2014 proved is that when the base shows no excitement, Democrats can lose elections in a big way. The people who attend Netroots Nation are, to a large extent, the people who can actually generate this excitement. These are the people who walk precincts and get heavily involved in Democratic politics, after all. They need convincing so that they can go out and convince others, to put this another way.

Personally, I will be attending Netroots Nation this year. I truly hope to see Hillary Clinton there as well. I think it's the best thing she could do to shore up those in the Democratic base who still have reservations about supporting Hillary wholeheartedly. Sure, not everything she'll have to say is going to be wildly applauded -- she might even get booed a few times. Hillary Clinton is already a known quantity, and parts of her political persona aren't going to be in line with everyone in a Netroots Nation audience. The question for her is whether she can get beyond that and get the crowd a little fired up on the issues where Hillary does see eye-to-eye with progressives. Hillary needs the netroots to be not just begrudgingly for her, but to actually get excited about the prospect of four (or eight) years of her in the Oval Office. The best way for her to accomplish this is to show up, explain her positions, and let people see she's listening not just to people along the Interstates of America and in Iowa living rooms, but also to the folks in the big keynote hall of Netroots Nation.


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