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Howard Fineman   |   August 31, 2015    2:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Of course Kanye West declared that he is running for president. And of course he did it in an unconventional way: during MTV's Video Music Awards. And of course some people are taking him seriously, or at least not laughing.

West's only mistake is that he isn't running until 2020. The often controversial but never dull artist should jump in now. The anti-politician thing is red, red hot.

Disruption is the way to go.

One poll this week from Iowa, where the primary season will kick off in February, found that three Republican candidates who have never held elected office -- real estate mogul/reality TV star Donald Trump, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina -- register a combined 46 percent. Another new poll shows Trump and Carson tied for the top spot in Iowa, at 23 percent each. With Fiorina third at 10 percent, the three get a combined 56 percent.

All of the current and former elected officials running for the GOP nomination, meanwhile, are stuck in the single digits in both surveys. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents, is at an abysmal 5 or 6 percent.

On the Democratic side in Iowa, the details differ but the anti-insider theme is the same. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has dropped from 57 percent in May to 37 percent now. Her main challenger, lone-wolf Senate socialist Bernie Sanders, has risen from 15 to 30 percent.

Clearly, this is a treacherous year in which to be part of the old order.

Twenty years ago, a professor at Harvard Business School named Clayton Christensen first applied the term "disruption" to the world of innovation. He was thinking of economics and business: how cell phones would replace land lines and personal computers; how LEDs would push aside light bulbs.

But the same word -- and the same process -- applies to whole societies and governments. In recent decades, most have been massively disrupted.

The Soviet Union was undermined by individualism, free markets and its own inefficiency. European nations that had been at war for a thousand years decided to try a new form of unity. The People's Republic of China launched its vast experiment in controlled capitalism. The Arab Spring tried, with some success, to sweep across the Middle East.

Perhaps the least disrupted government since 1945 has been that of the United States, which won World War II and stood astride the planet. But the "American Century" is ending. In the face of new challenges, the victor's public institutions have seized up and stalled out in ways that threaten to render them useless -- and that have left them despised and distrusted by the American public.

The reasons for public disgust are everywhere.

Congress can't be relied on to accomplish one of its most basic functions: enacting a budget. Political parties, fixated on money and voters from their extreme wings, no longer function as brokers of compromise. Washington supports a welfare state, but borrows trillions to pay for it. The military hasn't "won" a conventional war since 1991 and doesn't know how to defeat the Islamic State. Borders are porous and immigration laws a mess. Big banks are more powerful than ever; corporate CEOs are richer than ever; the middle class is neither. The advances of the civil rights movement, in the courts and legislatures, have not brought true equality and are now being rolled back. Post-Watergate reforms to campaign financing laws have been wrecked by the courts, which now allow billionaires to buy campaigns. Barack Obama, an effective president on many fronts, has failed to inspire the kind of fundamental change that so many had hoped for.

In this swamp of stalemate and dysfunction, traditional politicians -- not to mention dynastic ones -- face disruptions by outsiders. The latter seem unbound by old ways and old media; they tend to offer exciting, albeit simplistic or unrealistic answers; they appeal directly to voters' emotions and fears, rather than reciting timeworn party agendas; and they campaign with a swirl of celebrity style, sensational accusation and combative stance.

Trump, who has lapped the GOP field, is an expert at all of this. He blames America's ills on forces and people outside the U.S. -- Mexicans, Chinese and Japanese in particular. He calls all elected officials in Washington "impotent." He derides Obama and his advisers as "clueless." He vows to solve every knotty problem with his own forceful "management."

Dismissed first as a clown, then as a man on a fling, then as a summer curiosity that would fade, he is now being taken seriously by Republican operatives and mainstream commentators of many stripes.

Some conservatives see in Trump the Jeffersonian idea that each generation needs a "revolution" of the people. "Waves of populist reform come in cycles, and Trump looks like the next one," said historian Craig Shirley, a prominent biographer of Ronald Reagan. In previous centuries, leaders such as Andrew Jackson and even Teddy Roosevelt used their perceived outsider status to stoke resentment of entrenched power and promote change.

But other conservatives join some mainstream writers in worrying that Trump evokes the dangerous tropes and deliberate ignorance of an authoritarian "strong man."

"My family and I left Cuba in the late 1950s to escape a leader like him," said GOP consultant Alex Castellanos. "I'm not saying we are about to become a 'banana republic' or a communist dictatorship, but he worries me."

Conservative columnist George Will (whose wife works for another presidential candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) has raised similar alarms, as has political moderate Thomas Friedman of The New York Times.

Will derided Trump's vow to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants en masse as implicitly Nazi-like. Friedman was less apocalyptic. Trump, he wrote, reminded him of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who briefly rose to prominence in the 1950s by indiscriminately accusing government officials of being Soviet spies.

Kanye West, who entered politics in 2005 when he said President George W. Bush didn't "care about black people," hasn't taken on Trump so far.

It can't be long, though. And when it happens, it'll be one disruption against another.

Howard Fineman   |   August 25, 2015    5:06 PM ET

WASHINGTON – In 2008, the Democratic Party in the U.S. nominated one of its youngest candidates ever, and its first African-American. Everyone assumed that the choice of Barack Obama, 47, meant a new day and a new era.

But seven years later, the party’s 2016 contest is shaping up as a battle of aging white Baby Boomers for control of an ancient organization desperately in need of a fresh identity and a new wave of ideas, leaders and voters (though Hillary would be the first woman to win the nomination).

Democrats like to brag that they have been in continuous operation for two centuries, longer than any other major political party in the free world.

It certainly feels like it.

With the possible (perhaps even likely) entry of Vice President Joe Biden, 72, the contest will become an old-fashioned tale of palace intrigue, as he and Hillary Rodham Clinton maneuver for the favor and endorsement of the president.

And a three-way race with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would feature the three sub-brands that have dominated and defined the Democratic Party on campus and in the country since the 1960s. In chronological order, here they are:

KENNEDY GUY: From a large, well-connected and prosperous family that had fallen on hard times, Biden was a prep-school kid and college athlete with affable blue-collar charm and a mixture of political instincts and faith in Catholic “social gospel.” In other words, a Kennedy Democrat and fan of touch football.

An elected official since 1973, Biden is at one with the party’s ancestral big-city tribes: labor unions, Black mayors, Irish, Jewish, Italian, Greek and other business people. If he runs, his closest advisers tell The Huffington Post, he will do so with a sense of moral urgency about the Democrats’ failures to close the ever-widening gap between the rich and the rest.

As for the world, he would run as the anti-ideological dealmaker in the Kennedy manner, with “street cred” from decades of travel and work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and two terms at President Barack Obama’s side.

"NEW LEFT" INTELLECTUAL: Sen. Bernie Sanders, 73, Brooklyn-born of the New Deal and '60s-era “New Left”; the “Democratic Socialist” with “non-negotiable demands” to tax the rich, shackle global corporations, block free-trade agreements, limit immigration (in the name of saving existing working-class jobs), bestow new government benefits on students and the poor, and oppose most military interventions.

COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER: Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67, quintessence of the “neo-liberal” Democratic establishment: in college, a critic of the “System” whom the faculty nevertheless trusted because she got all A's and didn’t lead a sit-down strike in the Administration Building. Religiously devout and a one-time Republican, molded by “rights” movements – on behalf of race, gender, children, sexual orientation – she also agreed with husband Bill that power lay in “neo-liberal” centrism. She's friendly to Wall Street (and its donors), in favor of the death penalty, champions free trade, has correct but not close relations with unions, supports a muscular foreign and military policy, and has a personal yen for wealth. 

As recognizable as these three characters are, it’s not clear how convincing any of them can be.

Sanders is drawing the large crowds, and the allegiance of some of the same kinds of voters who idolized Obama in 2008. But Sanders has drawn the ire of the Black Lives Matter movement, which argues that Bernie’s Scandinavian socialist model is fatally blind to the racism and intolerance that are the most important cause of global economic inequality.

Clintonism, with its faith in the power of a cautiously regulated marketplace to lift all boats, seems to many Democrats to be just as outdated. The so-called “Washington Consensus” that emerged in the Bill Clinton years held that business investment would yield not only profit but also democracy in post-communist societies. The main result is that the rich got richer.

As for Biden, the question is whether the Kennedy model can still sell, and if so, whether he is the man to do it after so many years of life and service. His advisers say he still has the passion and purpose and what one called “bold, go-big” ideas to create a more just society.

No one doubts his heart or his sincerity; he is the least political lifelong politician in history.

But he has made a lot of compromises over a 43-year career in Washington. Perhaps the most damaging in today’s political context is a 1994 crime bill he authored that is now regarded as the proximate cause of the “mass incarceration” of minorities (and doubling of the U.S. prison population since). 

If Biden is to have a chance, he’ll have to somehow reach out to minority voters, who so far seem cool to or even estranged from Sanders and Clinton. 

He’d also have to somehow reach out to a new version of the party that is out there waiting to be born. It is a yet-to-be-defined mashup of Black Lives Matter; pro-immigration activism; non-European cultural consciousness; tolerance of all religions, lifestyles and genders; genuine urgency about the fate of the planet; confidence in technology, social media and the sharing economy; and skepticism about America’s right, power and duty to lead the world.

Forging and leading that new coalition is not going to be easy, no matter what your age. It seems unlikely that the Three Musketeers of the Baby Boom can do it.

To paraphrase the Rolling Stones from 1964, time isn’t on their side.

Howard Fineman   |   August 21, 2015    3:52 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul's campaign is teetering on the edge, with the once-trendy presidential candidate telling fellow Kentucky Republicans that his chances of winning the 2016 GOP nomination are no better than "1 in 10."

"Actually, his chances are probably more like 1 in 50," said University of Kentucky professor Al Cross, the dean of the state's political observers. "He's kind of disappeared on us."

Paul gained a small victory Saturday when the Kentucky GOP voted to move the state’s nominating event from May to March, which allows the candidate to continue to run for the White House next year and campaign for another term in the U.S. Senate. Under state law, he would not have been able to do both.

Paul has promised to pay for the earlier primary, which he may come to regret as his own fundraising efforts have not met earlier expectations.

Rand Paul, the son of onetime Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former GOP Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), broke onto the national scene in 2010. An eye surgeon with no elective experience, he defeated McConnell's handpicked candidate in the GOP primary that year and went on to win the Senate seat in a tea party wave.

Three years later, he electrified the Senate and won libertarian (and even liberal) plaudits by staging a passionate filibuster against the possibility of drone strikes on U.S. soil.

At the start of the 2016 campaign, he was regarded as a top White House contender, and he was consistently running in the top three or four of the GOP field as recently as May. This week he is running far back in the pack, in the eighth or ninth spot, with an average of 4.3 percent among likely Republican voters.

What's wrong with Rand?

BEHEADINGS. Paul's initial appeal was as a certified libertarian skeptic of the use of military force abroad. He was right about trouble in Iraq, but over the last two years the rise of the Islamic State has muted his potential appeal to the GOP grassroots. In response, Paul has shifted to a more muscular stance on military force, which seems like the kind of politics-as-usual move he claims to hate. "He got caught in a changing international situation," Cross said.

TRUMP. Like everyone else, Paul has been overshadowed by the rocketing rise of celebrity-pol Donald Trump. But Paul, too, was trying to run as a nonpolitical figure -- even calling himself "Dr. Paul" in campaign ads. On that score, Trump makes him look like a rank insider.

Trump has even outmaneuvered Paul on Iraq, portraying himself as more of a dove on Iraq than Paul has been doing lately.

MONEY. Not a wealthy man, Paul had been counting on his father's web-based "money bomb" fundraising pushes. He did raise $7 million in the second quarter of this year, but that still left him halfway back in the pack -- and that money is being split with his potential Senate campaign.

Unlike rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, Paul has been unable to find any billionaire backers.

LEGAL TROUBLE. Not for Paul, but for one of his former key aides, Jesse Benton, who has pleaded innocent to charges that he was involved in bribing an Iowa politician during the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Benton was working for Ron the father at the time, but the case is being heard in Iowa and will continue to produce headlines there.

MEH MITCH. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell are not friends. They are, at best, uncomfortable allies. When Paul announced his presidential campaign, McConnell said that he supported his fellow Kentuckian, but also that he would not campaign for him, citing the fact that there were at least two other Senate Republicans in the race.  No one seriously thinks that McConnell wants Paul to win.

NO FEEL. Local political observers say that Paul doesn't get the rhythm and the requirements of early-state campaigning. In Iowa, Huffington Post contributor Samantha-Jo Roth reports, he jams as many events as possible into a short visit. Doing so misses the point in Iowa, where candidates are supposed to listen and converse patiently -- and endlessly -- with voters.

But then if things keep going the way they are, Rand Paul may not have to worry about campaigning in Iowa -- or anywhere else but Kentucky.

Howard Fineman   |   July 24, 2015   10:58 PM ET

WASHINGTON – In person, Donald Trump is a bit larger than life. He is tall, and his shelf of tangerine hair makes him appear taller. He exudes a calm aura that doesn’t seem to have stemmed from a gym workout, but rather a sauna, and perhaps a manicure. In conversation (I  have had a couple with him over the years), he wears the indulgent smile of a man who knows the exact hierarchy of power in the room. He’s atop it. You’re not.

In sum, he is insufferable -- and fascinating.

Now, of course, he is the most reviled man in American politics, even as (or because) he leads in many (mostly meaningless) polls. Trump is widely dismissed as a fraudulent, egomaniacal clown; a cynical showman and racist, spewing invective and fear for the sole purpose of advancing his personal “brand.” As a real estate mogul and reality television star, he behaves as though adherence to facts is the habit of weaklings. Strong men lie.

Like an engine running too hot -- whining constantly that he is being “misquoted,” spewing accusations in all directions -- Trump could well break down after providing a few month’s worth of annoyingly cheeky entertainment. 

In the meantime, though, it’s worth facing this truth: In many ways, Trump is the all too-logical result of corrosive currents that have been gathering force for decades in public life. To a degree greater than we want to admit, we have created the conditions that allow him to flourish.

Trump, sad to say, is us. Here is a list of trends that have enabled him:


Distrust of government is a bred-in-the-bone feature of American politics. But a paralyzing sense of disgust is something else, and has been growing since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. In 1973, for example, 42 percent of voters in a Gallup poll said that they had a “great deal or quite a lot” of faith in Congress. Today, that number is a pathetic 8 percent -- the lowest on record.

It’s the same story with popular culture. The popular and much-praised Netflix show “House of Cards” centers on a murderous president who urinates on his father’s grave and spits on a statue of Jesus.

Enter Donald Trump. No, he is not a politician. No, he doesn’t have intimate knowledge about or experience in government. That would ruin him! He ridicules politicians in every direction: Sen. John McCain for being captured in the Vietnam War; the former governor of Texas for being dumb. Trump is the cleansing, can-do Deus ex machine.  

Immigration failures

One reason why voters hate Congress and the federal bureaucracy is that both have failed for decades to deal comprehensively with immigration. This is everyone’s fault. President Barack Obama didn’t want to spend political capital on a comprehensive deal in his first term; besides, he was happy to let Republicans trap themselves in a demographic corner of Hispanic enmity. Republicans, for their part, can’t resist playing to their nativist, anti-foreigner core of tea party voters. Would-be compromisers, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), gave up and gave in. They are playing to fear.

But in so doing, they opened the door for a far more professional fearmonger in Donald Trump. He’s built a whole sideline in denouncing what he sees as the depredations of foreign forces, from China and Mexico to Iran and Russia. Never mind that a good bit of Trump’s branding business is outside of the U.S. The world is against us, and Mexico is sending us “rapists” and drug dealers.

Short attention span

Eight years ago, Obama was the Facebook candidate, his rise powered by the 20 million “friends” he made in that collegial, familial medium. But Facebook is so 2007. Trump is made for a more contentious time in social media, a new era of distraction and accusation. He speaks loudly, simply, bluntly -- as if from the street, not the suite. His patented phrase is a clipped sentence of doom: “You’re fired!” He is made for the machine-gun burst of Twitter, where feuds explode instantly and anonymity and instantaneously generate controversy. Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj have their feud, but The Donald has 3.34 million Twitter followers -- many times more than any of his Republican rivals.

Money doesn't just talk -- it shouts

Candidates' traditional hunt for campaign contributions turned to frenzy after the U.S. Supreme Court said corporations and labor unions could “independently” spend as much as they wanted touting candidates. Enter the billionaires, such as the Koch brothers in the GOP, and Tom Steyer among Democrats. 

Trump is just taking the next logical step -- one that Ross Perot anticipated 24 years ago. If you are a billionaire (and Trump claims to be one many times over), why bother buying a candidate when you can be the candidate yourself? The flood of money already has dulled the outrage about it. It seems like a force of nature that it is useless to resist.

And there is something else at work: a weird sense of working-class dream-world solidarity with Trump, whose message is that if he is president, everyone will be rich, just like he is. At a time when so many Americans see genuine upward mobility as impossible -- The Donald himself has declared that the “American Dream is dead” -- why not believe in a man who knows how to work the engines of salesmanship to amass wealth for himself?

It's as though Trump’s very being is somehow proof that the dream is still alive.

Substance-free celebrity

Notoriety is the iron ore of our era. It’s less important what you know or what you have done than what impression you make or how much fame you possess. Indeed, fame has become fungible; you can transport it from one arena of public life to another.

Until recently, entertainers (and Trump is essentially one) felt required to serve a mid-life apprenticeship if they wanted to enter government. Ronald Reagan went from actor to president, but only after serving as governor of California. Comedian Al Franken, a Harvard grad, educated himself by writing (funny) political books and hosting a wonky public affairs radio show a long stretch. Only then did he run for (and win) the U.S. Senate.

Trump the celebrity has watered down his apprenticeship. He has been a contributor, and a kibitzer in New York for years, a dilettante whose major substantive contribution until now was his “political campaign” to discredit Obama as a man who had been born in Kenya.

Trump feels no need to have detailed proposals, or any real proposals at all. He will build an impenetrable wall on the Mexican border (though he backpedaled frantically when his new “friends” in Laredo, Texas, told him in public that it was a bad idea). He will “create millions of jobs.” How, no one knows. He will stop the Chinese from taking advantage of us in trade, no one knows how. He will stand up to Iran, no one knows how. He will protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, no one knows how.

Knowing details, like telling the truth, is the habit of wimps.

If it bleeds, it leads 

Media in general and TV networks in particular (especially cable) can’t take their eyes and cameras off of a gruesome scene on the highway. Trump is a never-ending car crash of controversy, accusation, bile and baloney. In the midst of the summer ratings doldrums on cable, he has been a godsend.

The political divide on American cable and in digital media makes Trump even more attractive. GOP-leaning Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, features non-stop coverage of the Republican race. It can’t avoid Trump even if it wanted to, which it doesn’t, though he threatens to turn the GOP contest into a circus. Mayhem means ratings. MSNBC, the ideological counterpoint to Fox, loves Trump for the same reason: He can make a mess of the GOP.

The party's over

American voters no longer identify themselves politically by their allegiance to a political party. A large plurality now call themselves “independents.”  Trump offers himself as the denouement of this slow-motion collapse, telling the GOP that if they don’t play fair with him, he could run as third-way force that would all but guarantee the election of a Democrats, if not of Trump himself.

Trump’s policy positions, such as they are, are a shrewd mix of Columns A and B on the restaurant menus of the existing parties. He is not running against the “welfare” state, but rather offers himself as a protector of it. He’s not suggesting massive tax cuts, either. He does not kowtow to the powerful evangelical Christian wing of the GOP.

At the same time, he ridicules the Obama administration as weak and corrupt, especially in its dealings with other countries and peoples. He decries the ineptitude of government as a whole. He scorns regulatory controls on business.

The answer to every knotty problem is that he, Donald Trump, will “make America great again.” That’s what it says on his white cap, and there is nothing more American these days than that simple, almost desperate, slogan. 

Howard Fineman   |   July 16, 2015    6:13 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Despite the controversy in Congress and on cable TV about the nuclear arms agreement with Iran, the view in the diplomatic community here is calm, clear and simple: “It’s a done deal,” said one key ambassador.

President Barack Obama argues that the seven-nation deal merits support for its own sake. Anyone who reads the whole document, he says, will come away convinced that it does what the U.S. and its allies set out to do: to deny Iran, at least for a decade or more, the ability to build a bomb.

But whether Obama is correct on the internal details or not, there are external reasons to think that the G-7 envoy I spoke with was right that Obama would get his way.

Here’s a list:

Saudi caution. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are furiously opposed to the deal. As recent WikiLeaks cables show, the Sunni Saudis view Shiite-led Iran as its moral foe in the global theological war for the hearts and minds of the Muslim faithful.

Critics worry that Iran, invigorated by post-sanctions cash and renewed economic ties to major trading partners, will go on a buying spree that will prompt a Sunni response -- and spawn a new conventional arms race in the region.

But don’t expect the Saudis to fill the U.S. airwaves with anti-Iran warnings, or the halls of Congress with lobbyists or sheiks.

“They don’t operate that way,” said an American advisor to the kingdom. “They are never going to disagree here with a president in public. Why? Because they want to maintain the trust of presidents. They think that if they undercut this one, why would the next president trust them?”

Israel alone.  With potential allies seething but silent, the Jewish state is in a tough spot. Obama admits that Israel’s fearfulness is justified. At the same time, the president lumps Israel’s elected leader in with Republicans he accuses of mindlessly opposing the deal for political reasons.

in part, the Netanyahu government has brought this predicament on itself. By openly, aggressively and even operationally allying itself with the GOP in Washington and at the grassroots, Israel has turned itself into the partisan player it never had been. Now, Republicans will line up as one, if for no other reason than they reject everything Obama does. But such partisan rancor flows both ways. Some Democrats who otherwise might vote against the deal will stick with Obama if for no other reason than that the GOP is for it.

Grease for squeaky wheels. Although Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (and the Pentagon, for that matter) warn that Iran will start a new regional arms race, they're willing to augment it by demanding upgrades of their own weaponry from the U.S. "They're going to demand to be taken care of and they will be," said the G-7 ambassador. In fact, Obama said as much in his press conference. 

Follow the money. Obama rightly noted that other nations aren’t eager to continue the ironbound economic sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years. But he hasn't really explained why. It's not so much that they want to buy oil from Iran. It’s that they want to sell goods, services and financing to Iran.

A good example is the German industrial giant Siemens. Germany and Siemens have a long and lucrative history in Iran. But by insisting on a “secondary” embargo on Iran, the U.S. told foreign companies that, if they traded with Iran, they could not conduct new business in America.

Siemens, General Electric’s main global competitor, was forced to forego billions of dollars worth of sales of industrial equipment and services in Iran if it wanted to keep its U.S. business.

Now Siemens –- and the German government -- want that Iranian business back. Same for France, the U.K., Russia and China.

(Ironically, the new deal won't free U.S. companies to renew business in Iran, at least for a time.)

Hillary's deal, too. More hawkish by nature and by record than some Democrats, and historically close to Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S., Hillary Clinton might have kept some distance from a deal like the one Obama struck. But of course she could not. As Obama's secretary of state, she had been a part of the process that led to the talks. In some senses, the deal is hers as much as the president’s. That’s of course even more true for another top Democrat and former presidential candidate, Secretary of State John Kerry. He literally broke his leg to get the deal.

 U.N. and EU. As Obama notes, the U.S. is only part of the sanctions regime, although his leadership was crucial to tightening it. The United Nations Security Council and the European Union conceivably could end sanctions on their own, whatever the Congress does. If the U.S. wants to maintain a measure of control, it has little choice but to go along.

Iranians 'R Us. Quietly but effectively, the Iranian diaspora in the U.S. and in Europe has been making the case that the bloodthirsty mullahs of Teheran can best be tamed by renewed trade and contact with the West and the world.

It’s not surprising that they would think that way, in that most of them are educated professionals who fled their homeland after the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah.

Whether their view is realistic or not, it is stirring, hopeful and heartfelt. Activists such as Soroush Richard Shehabi, a Harvard-trained business leader in Washington, have allied with anti-Netanyahu Israelis and American Jews on a host of issues. They can be effective now.

They have key allies in the White House, such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice and her deputy, former speechwriter Ben Rhodes.

It's good to be president. In the end, presidents usually get their way on international deals. The major exception was Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He helped found the League of Nations after World War I, but couldn’t convince Republicans in the Senate to allow the U.S. to join. Sounds familiar, but this time the result will likely be different.

It’s about the math.  Obama and his allies on the Iran deal call it a “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” -- not a treaty. As a result, the president doesn’t need to get “yeas” from two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. He only needs to get one-third, plus one.

Planet Politics: Germany Takes The Lead

Howard Fineman   |   July 13, 2015    8:03 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Germany finally is admitting the obvious.

Two generations and 70 years after a war that left it divided and in ruins, Germany is once again willing not only to play a leading role in Europe -- which it's been doing for years -- but to discuss its role openly and even proudly.

That was the clear message on Monday here from German Ambassador Peter Wittig, who invited reporters to his vast, coolly geometric Bauhaus-style embassy to explain the view of his country -- and the European Union -- on the controversial new financing deal for Greece.

Germany, he said, was acting in the interest of all of Europe, which needs not only a common currency but the integration of “economic and fiscal policy.” In a “rule-oriented” European Union, he said, Greece must accept the same austerity and budget-balancing medicine that had been administered -- with success, he said -- to Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

Europe needed to unify and modernize its labor rules, regulations and investment rules to compete in 21st century trade, Wittig said. If Germany was blamed for insisting on as much, then that was a price it would pay, in the interest of a “European project” that has bred peace and prosperity on the continent.

Well-liked and well-connected here, and sure of his ground in talking with Americans, Wittig acknowledged that “there is concern” in Germany about a backlash from its allies against its highly visible role as the bad cop in the Greek drama.

“Leadership comes with strong criticism,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “We are not used to that, quite frankly.

“The U.S. is used to that for a long, long time -- basically 70 years after the second World War. U.S. leadership usually comes with the difficult task to satisfy everybody, but certainly not with great applause and curtain calls.

“Now, that is nature of leadership in the greater community of nations,” he said. “And of course we are facing criticism. Do we like that? I guess, no. I think it also something fairly new in our sort of collective consciousness. But it happens, and it comes along with leadership.”

Asked what role the U.S. -- specifically U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew -- had played in the Greek crisis, Wittig's answer was polite but clear: The U.S. had offered valuable advice and counsel. That is, the U.S. had had no role whatsoever.

In fact, Germany had ignored Lew’s suggestion that Greece needed debt relief and not just another dose of austerity.

Wittig’s open willingness to compare German’s role in Europe to America’s in the world -- and to even proudly admit its role -- was remarkable, at least to some ears here.

“It’s an inflection point, a big change,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a former Obama administration official who now studies European affairs at the Brookings Institution. “Germany has preferred to keep a low profile when it can.”

It no longer can, especially since its hard-line stance on fiscal policy drove it to insist on taking the lead in this case.

Even more remarkable than the talk was the action, said Shapiro. Despite a lot of chatter about how France was crucial in the last hours of the negotiations, and how other EU nations were on board, Germany was clearly in the lead at the end.

France, Spain and Italy -- “a big bloc,” said Shapiro -- were far from enthusiastic. The German cheering section comes mainly from smaller nations such as Finland, Slovakia and the Baltic countries, whose main concern is not the fate of Greece but protection for themselves from Russia.

“It’s a little like the coalition that President George W. Bush put together for the second Iraq War,” said Shapiro. “It’s less than meets the eye. And the economic plan is crazy.”

It may be like the second Iraq War for another reason: macroeconomics. The predominant Keynesian view -- still prevalent among academics and many policy-makers outside of debt-obsessed Germany -- is that doubling down on an austerity program for Greece is a folly sure to fail.

Wittig disagreed, not only as a matter of policy but also of domestic politics. EU founding rules forbids “bailouts,” he argued. Moreover, “haircuts” -- forgiveness of intergovernmental loans -- are politically indefensible in Germany. “Greece isn’t the only democracy in Europe,” he said.

As for rifts in Europe, he said, these can be managed, and it will be up to Germany -- openly the power broker -- to handle them.

“Whatever fault lines have been emerging,” he said, "we are hopeful that we can manage them -- to soothe and reconcile divergences that have been merging -- and also maybe criticism and misunderstandings or perceptions of nations.”

Throughout the talks, he said, the Germans and the Greeks had remained cordial, and would continue to be so, he said.

“The German foreign minister met with his Greek counterpart frequently. He, by the way, speaks in excellent German, due to a German wife.

“There was always a bond, a channel of communication open, and there was never any feeling of hostility or of calling out -- and this happened even at the height of the crisis.”

Greece Is Just The Beginning Of The Great Austerity Backlash

Howard Fineman   |   July 6, 2015    7:44 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The global politics of austerity seeped into the press room of the White House on Monday, the day after the Greeks voted overwhelmingly to reject a harsh bailout deal with Europe.

Reporters pressed Josh Earnest, President Barack Obama’s spokesman, for details of what his boss thought of the vote and of the bailout deal, and whether he agreed with 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that the latter was outrageous. Earnest answered with streams of polite words that added up to ... nothing. Obama was staying out of the issue, as he apparently had promised German Chancellor Angela Merkel he would when they met at the G-7 summit recently.

Obama favors “a package of relief and reform,” was all Earnest would say.

Nevertheless, the exchange with reporters in Washington was another of the many signs that the debate over the power that should accrue to money -- and what those who wield it can fairly demand -- is spreading around the world.

It’s a new echo on a global scale of the politics of a much earlier, but in some ways remarkably similar, era in the U.S. As the U.S. became a continental economy in the late 19th century, with vast new hordes of wealth built in railroads, coal, electricity and communications, a political backlash arose. The new “money power” was judged too big and uncontrollable: an engine not of prosperity, but of inequality and corruption. The backlash launched America's Progressive movement, which among other reforms pushed laws to rein in the power of big corporations in the interests of ordinary people.

Now that the planet’s economies have essentially become one, and the world’s top dozen banks control $30 trillion in assets, the callous demands of a new and even larger “money power” is starting to spark a worldwide backlash.

Even the ever-cautious Obama has alluded to it. This past winter, he defended Greece, saying that “you can’t keep squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression” to pay off debt and warning that "eventually the political system, the society can’t sustain it.”

Around the same time, he sent the U.S. Congress a budget proposal with many new spending plans, declaring that it was time to end the “mindless austerity” of his Republican foes. They responded by proposing their stingiest budget plan in years.

This fall, Obama will again be battling the Republican Party over cutting spending to reduce debt -- even as he declines to get involved in the more intense version of the same debate going on in Europe.

Europe, meanwhile, is likely to see the Greek anti-austerity sentiment spread -- in the first instance to Portugal and Spain, which have national elections this fall and winter, respectively. Governments in both countries are responding to heavy borrowing and debt with controversial austerity measures sure to be at issue with the voters. French and Italian national elections are much further away, but the leftist parties in each nation have been invigorated by the fight in Athens. Representatives of parties and movements in all four countries were on the scene in Greece this week, cheering on the Syriza party and trying to learn from its victories and mistakes.

The leftists face long odds despite growing evidence that what British economist John Maynard Keynes warned during the Great Depression (and what Obama said this winter) remains true: You can’t “squeeze” a country into prosperity. Just the opposite, in fact.

This was something the founders of the International Monetary Fund understood. Their original aim was to provide guidance to national governments in economic distress but also to feed in more money where needed, not cut it back. Today the IMF has become something akin to a collection agency, insisting on harsh measures that guarantee the repayment of loans made to vulnerable countries by private global banks.

Something has to change, as the Greeks declared with their vote this weekend.

Planet Politics: The Bushes Are Back

Howard Fineman   |   June 15, 2015    4:08 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- America’s founders hated what Thomas Jefferson called “an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth.”

So you have to wonder what they would think of Barbara Pierce Bush, the 90-year-old, snowy-haired, tart-tongued, blue-blooded matriarch of the Bush family dynasty, who grew up in the wealthy New York suburb of Rye.

She is the distant cousin of one president (Franklin Pierce), the spouse of one president (George Herbert Walker Bush), the mother of another president (George Walker Bush) and the mother of another son who Monday announced that he, too, is running for president: John Ellis “Jeb” Bush.

Is Jeb Bush “artificial” and thus doomed to be resented and dismissed by average (Jeffersonian) American voters? Is he the kind of aristocrat -- self-made of his own “virtues and talents” -- that Jefferson praised and that American voters often have elected?

We’re about to find out.

As of Monday, being a Bush has been as much (if not more) of a burden than it has been a blessing for Jeb. His family contacts have allowed to him to build a war chest of perhaps $100 million. He has built-in contacts in key states and has no trouble getting attention.

But he has been hampered by questions about his older brother’s controversial record, especially George W.’s fateful decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Almost everyone else in America, including his hawkish rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, have now branded the Iraq War an ignorant, colossal mistake.

And yet Jeb seemed surprised when asked about it, and at first defended his brother out of what he said was family loyalty. After days of dodging hesitation, he finally joined with rest.

And he has the burden of inheriting, by inference, his father and brother’s reputations as relative ideological moderates, especially by the Tea Party standards of today’s hard-right GOP.

Jeb has tried to prove his conservative bona fides by being stoutly opposed to abortion and gay marriage. But his family’s history of more open-minded views make Jeb’s own cautious moderation on immigration and public education all the more suspect to the right.

Bush unveiled his campaign slogan Monday and it was one word and an exclamation point -- "Jeb!" -- with no mention of "Bush."

As he enters the race, Jeb is in an unusual position for a member of such a prominent, if not historic, family: not really a clear front-runner, and nowhere near a prohibitive favorite.

The smartest money at this moment is on two much younger men, both more conservative and utterly self-made: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

In theory, the world’s oldest modern democracy should see a constant churn of names and faces in high places. In truth, political dynasties in America are common and, arguably, becoming more so at a time when Big Money -- personal and corporate -- means so much to the conduct of elections.

And with Jeb’s announcement, the United States and the world face at least the possibility of a 2016 campaign between two dynasties: the Bushes and the Clintons.

And it would be a familiar exercise. From 1980 through 2008, the U.S. conducted seven general elections with a Bush or Clinton on the ballot.

There are advantages to the Bush name and tradition -- and not just connections and access to a giant contributor list.

The Bushes “aren’t the freshest fruit in the basket,” said historian Evan Thomas, who has written extensively on the family. “But they appeal because, to a lot of people, they project an old-fashioned image of service to the country.”

They also have a knack for embodying elements of social change -- a kind of dynasty by adaptation, if you will. H.W. Bush moved to Texas as a young man, just when the U.S. “Sun Belt” was becoming the base of the new Republican Party; George W. cemented that trend and built upon it.

Jeb Bush settled in Florida, now the ultimate “swing” state. And, as fate would have it, he is well positioned to woo the now most influential voting bloc: Hispanics. He speaks fluent Spanish, and has been married since 1974 to Columba Garnica de Gallo Bush of Leon, Mexico. The couple has three children, one now in politics, too.

When Jeb and Columba’s kids were young, the first President Bush referred to them jokingly as “the little brown ones.” The comment was seen as a colossal gaffe; now it’s a potent truth.

In his two terms as governor of Florida, from 1999 to 2007, Jeb Bush -- pushed along by the rightward drift of his party -- took mostly conservative political positions: pro-life, anti-gay marriage, pro-massive tax cuts and anti-business regulation. There were exceptions, on environmental issues, immigration and education standards, but he moved to the right on those and others as he prepared to launch an appeal to the GOP’s core voters.

All the while he and the family have kept their ties to their old base in New England -- roots symbolized by the Bush summer home at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, on the Atlantic coast of Maine. Jeb is even building a vacation home in the family compound. It’ll be ready next summer.

“The Bushes have the capacity to embody shifting demographic realities,” said historian Jon Meacham, whose book on the first President Bush, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George H.W. Bush, will be published in November by Random House. “It’s the combination of Walker’s Point (in Maine) with Texas and Florida that has made them a durable political force.”

What some might call aristocracy by adaptation others call by less flattering terms: elitism and the power of corporate money.

The Bushes are all too aware that now is not a moment to be thought of as a professional politician, let alone the scion of a political dynasty. American voters -- indeed, voters worldwide -- have soured on politics as it falls ever more tightly into the grip of ultra-rich individuals and global corporations.

Even Republicans -- the party of business, tax cuts and corporate power -- are facing a grassroots rebellion with the kind of populist fervor that could make life difficult for Jeb Bush.

“I sincerely hope the Bushes are done,” said a top GOP strategist who is working for one of Jeb’s Republican rivals.

“The only thing he has got is name recognition and establishment money,” said this adviser, who insisted on anonymity. “And he would be the worst of all candidates to run against Hillary, because we would lose the advantage on the ‘dynasty” argument.”

Jeb, at 62 years of age, has another, more personal burden: The elder Bushes have always considered him their child most suited to be president. Failure now would be a bitter family scenario.

Jeb was the “smart one” -- the academic, almost wonky one. He was a superb student at the University of Texas. He enjoys reading detailed papers as much as his older brother, former President George Walker Bush, enjoys reading the sports pages. He is the master of every topic he discusses, which are many. Most of the time he can duck and dodge skillfully, or take a stand and drive his point home.

And he is tall -- 6’3”, or 1.92 meters, a good 4 inches or more taller than W. This matters to the Bush family: they like tall and lanky. It comports with their idea of themselves. In 1991, at a White House state dinner hosted by his father and mother, George W. joked to Queen Elizabeth that he was “the black sheep in the family.” He meant, in part, the runt.

Two years after their father lost a bid for a second term, Jeb and George in 1994 began their political journeys to the top. Jeb ran for governor of Florida; George for governor of Texas.

The assumption outside the family was that Jeb would win and George would lose. The hope WITHIN the family was that, if only one of them could win, it would be Jeb.

But, to almost everyone’s shock and surprise, it went the other way -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Twenty-one years after his early train to the White House ran off the rails -- and after years of soul searching, family heartache (a daughter with drug addiction troubles) and a religious conversion to Catholicism -- Jeb is in.

In the summer of 1994, I flew with him in a small plane across central Florida. He was on his way to a campaign stop in that first, ultimately unsuccessful run for governor.

We flew over the Everglades, the vast, precious and famously threatened wetlands and wildlife refuge. He looked down at the lush expanse below and launched into a discussion of how the water flowed in a shallow invisible river.

In the air, he sounded like a knowledgeable would-be public servant.

But when we landed at a small rural airport in central Florida, a group of his father’s old political retainers and allies came out to the plane to greet him. They didn’t know him well, but they treated him with automatic respect, affection and loyalty.

It did seem a little aristocratic.

Anti-Globalism Has Its Day In DC

Howard Fineman   |   June 12, 2015    4:32 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The American capital isn't Madrid or Rome, let alone Athens. No people are massing in the streets, governments aren't collapsing and no one is threatening national bankruptcy.

Still, in its own way, the American political system on Friday dared (in at least one legislative vote) to question the benefits of globalization, reflecting the mood of European protesters that have soured on austerity and the power of the European Union.

The U.S. economy has recovered from the Great Recession more successfully than much of the rest of the world. But at the same time, the gap between the richest and the rest has grown into a chasm of historic proportions. In real terms, wages of average Americans haven't moved upward in more than a decade. Meanwhile, CEO pay has skyrocketed.

The House, led by President Barack Obama's erstwhile Democratic allies, derailed his push for a sweeping new trade agreement with 11 Asian countries, and other technical measures designed to enhance the global flow of investment, jobs, manufacturing and telecommunications.

After decades of supporting such deals -- backed by U.S. corporations, establishment opinion leaders and presidents past and present -- a coalition of Republicans and Democrats said no, for now.

The long-term benefits of unfettered global trade, such as they are, are less vivid and dramatically evident than a closed factory, a payroll cut in half or an American company unable to adapt to waves of cheap imports from Asia. This is especially true in the U.S. industrial heartland of the Midwest, but also in much of rural America, where patriotism and resentment of outsiders can sometimes play a larger role in the equation.

Past trade bills have “ruined millions of middle-class jobs,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D), whose Michigan constituency has been hard-hit.

There are numerous lesser reasons why Obama lost the vote as well. For most of his six years in office, he and his superbly credentialed -- but often arrogant and insular -- aides have shown nothing but disdain for the workings of Congress and its members. The president went to a baseball game here on Thursday specifically to plead his case with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who represents a constituency -- San Francisco -- that is as ardently pro-free-trade as any in the country. He went to Capitol Hill Friday morning to plead his case en masse to Democrats.

Pelosi and a large contingent of Obama's own party, however, ended up voting against him.

In voting to put the trade deals on an unpalatable "fast track" earlier, the U.S. Senate inserted -- and the White House accepted -- a provision to pay for retraining workers by cutting federal health care spending by $700 million. That gave House Democrats the tactical opening they needed.

There was also the fact that the details of the deals are effectively secret: Members of Congress can only read them in a secure room without being able to make copies. That mechanism -- fairly routine in trade talks -- did nothing but add to suspicion and cries of elitism around the world.

But there are deeper issues at play.

Poll after poll shows that American voters know that free trade in theory can be a good thing -- and that in any case it's all but inevitable -- and yet they are increasingly skeptical about whether the benefits of it are spread equitably.

What good is a cheaper imported shirt from, say, Vietnam, if you don't have a good enough job to afford it in the first place? And what about the fact that the average CEO now makes more than 300 times the salary of the average worker -- 10 times the ratio of 20 years ago?

These are some of the same questions being asked across Southern Europe by populist movements that have shaken governments, particularly in Italy, Greece and Spain.

Here, there are no workers in the streets. In Washington's way, it was all handled by the lobbyists -- and for once (and it rarely happens these days), the labor unions and their allies won.

Obama & Co. will be back. The need to strengthen Asian trading ties as China rockets to supremacy in the East may in the end be the president's most urgent and effective sales point.

But if American workers are going to be put at risk in the process, Obama needs to admit it, and explain his case more clearly.

France Aims To Save The Planet, Despite 'Blockages' In Congress

Howard Fineman   |   June 9, 2015    2:56 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- A leading French advocate of a global climate change agreement said Tuesday that she thinks President Barack Obama is “committed” to a deal and that he can work around the expected resistance in Congress.

Segolene Royal, France’s minister of ecology, sustainable development and energy, cited an environmental agreement that Obama recently signed with China and the strong climate control language of the G-7 communiqué issued in Germany earlier this week.

“I believe personally that President Obama is committed,” said Royal, speaking to reporters in Washington. “I understand that Congress may not be as committed. That is what I have been told,” she said.

“I am also told that it is possible for the president to move forward even if there are blockages in Congress,” she said. “I see the president using all of his powers to push forward.”

Royal is visiting the U.S. to lay groundwork for the upcoming United Nations climate change conference, known as COP21, to be held in Paris this December. The goal of that conference is a global agreement on climate issues.

But there are indeed “blockages” in Congress -- antagonistic Republicans and even some Democrats from states rich in coal, oil and gas reserves whose economies could be hit hard by the kinds of limits Obama wants to impose to stop global warning. That's why the White House wants the deal to be done under existing U.N. mechanisms -- and not as a separate, freestanding treaty that would require a Senate vote.

Royal’s comments aimed to reassure European and other leaders who doubt that any environmental agreement with Obama will stand.

The French, who will chair the COP21 conference, are determined to help broker the kind of binding agreement that has eluded earlier climate meetings. Having spawned the language and much of the practice of diplomacy -- and the word “diplomacy” itself -- the French see a chance to make history, playing what they regard as their unique role in forging universal moral principles. (They also see a marketing opportunity.)

Royal, 61, is an interesting choice for a high-profile role in that effort.

Once a rising star in French politics, she ran for and lost the presidency in 2007, after which she lost a succession of other lesser political contests. She also found herself in a messy, public feud with the father of her four children -- none other than the current president of France, Francois Hollande -- and his mistress.

But now Royal is back in a very visible post. She's been here in the U.S. for nearly a week talking climate change issues and honoring bilateral ties by hosting parties aboard a replica of a warship that delivered French troops to fight alongside the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

On Tuesday, she talked at length with reporters about the rollout of meetings and statements that will lead up to COP21. (She did so under the watchful gaze, and with the occasional guidance, of the highly respected French ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud.)

A gathering of religious leaders of all faiths and denominations is planned, she said, and the agreement's drafters are trying to hammer out final language before December.

A key moment will occur later this month, Royal said, when Pope Francis issues an encyclical on the environment that is widely expected to match the sentiments, if not the language, of the agreement being drafted for Paris.

“I believe it is going to be a very key moment,” Royal said. “It will depoliticize the topic.” When the pope spoke in the Philippines in January, she noted, he drew six million people to one event.

“No head of state could do that,” she said with a laugh.

Hillary Clinton Grabs Early Lead In The World Primary

Howard Fineman   |   May 29, 2015   12:00 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- This April, London was in the grip of a ferocious campaign for Parliament. But on the morning of April 13, neither Conservative David Cameron nor Labourite Ed Miliband led the front pages of the U.K.'s national newspapers. The big news that day was Hillary Clinton, announcing (to no one’s surprise) that she was running for president of the United States.

And so far, she seems to be winning the race overseas.

A recent YouGov poll found that 61 percent of Britons and 59 percent of Germans have a positive opinion of Clinton, while just 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively, see her in a negative light. Fifty percent of Britons and 51 percent of Germans think it would be good for the world if she were elected president.

The former secretary of state is also a hit elsewhere around the world. In Canada, admirers stood in line for nearly 20 hours last year for signed copies of her book. Her speaking fees may be controversial in the U.S., but she spoke to sold-out crowds Up North who were happy to pay.

A Huffington Post examination of Clinton's reputation -- conducted by the HuffPost editions in the U.K., Canada, India, France, Italy, Germany and Greece -- found that Clinton is both widely known and well-regarded for her life story: a feminist, wife and mother with a decades-long career as a public figure in U.S. politics and global foundation work.

Interviews and media reports in those countries produce a portrait of an experienced, durable, almost obsessively well-traveled member of the U.S. establishment, toughened by hard personal times -- a solid, if not glamorous, figure.

To officials and voters alike in those countries, the possibility of a Clinton presidency doesn't suggest radical policy changes. Rather, they see in Clinton a steady hand and a social inspiration.

She was a "proactive Secretary of State," said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German who is vice president of the European Parliament, "very important experience, especially in the age of globalization and in times of major geopolitical shifts." Her "left-leaning" policies are similar to President Barack Obama's, he said, "but as the first woman in the highest office in the U.S. she would be a great inspiration for women and girls all over the world."

In Spain, Greece, Italy and elsewhere, the move has been toward “scrap-heaping” the aging political classes, said Lia Quartapelle, a younger member of the Italian Parliament. But that impulse doesn’t apply to the 67-year-old Clinton, she said.

“Hillary is considered an extremely experienced politician,” Quartapelle said. “Her candidacy might prove to be a reassuring element for a country that still shows some last signs of crisis. Her candidacy could count on this image of grandmother-in-chief.”

Clinton is admired -- or at least respected -- for her decades of world travel as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. But officials and regular citizens alike were vague at best, suspicious at worst, when asked to judge her accomplishments and strategic vision as secretary of state.

“As secretary of state, Hillary didn’t make any particular impression in Italy, neither positive nor negative,” said Guido Moltedo, an Italian journalist and essayist. “Her stature was neither heightened nor diminished.”

In America, much of the media and all of her enemies focus on the cash that the nonprofit Clinton Foundation has raised and on the emails that she has (or has not) disclosed. They muse on whether she is too suffocatingly familiar an establishment figure to satisfy the American yen for “change.” They wonder about the benefits and risks of her long, sometimes tumultuous marriage to Bill Clinton.

But the various HuffPost sites found that the same life history that makes her vulnerable at home renders her a credible, popular and even reassuring figure abroad.

Voters around the world may not know the details of Clinton’s State Department emails, but they know -- and remain surprisingly moved by -- the sordid Monica Lewinsky saga of nearly two decades ago. While U.S. feminists have criticized her for standing by her man, that sentiment doesn't seem to be widely shared elsewhere. Indeed, Clinton is more likely to be praised for moving beyond the Lewinsky years.

“Hillary Clinton has a rather favorable image in France based on how she dealt with the Lewinsky scandal,” said HuffPost France’s Maxime Bourdeau, as well as "how she bounced back by following her own political career.” That whole episode, he said, “was seen here as a private matter that should never have become as huge as it did in the U.S.”

In Italy, according to Moltedo, “Italian women recognize that ... she faced down a decidedly complicated situation with courage and maturity.”

Clinton's familiarity with and around the globe may be welcomed in a world weary of surprises from presidents who were either disastrously ignorant (George W. Bush) or precariously naïve (Obama).

Just as Britons readily offer an opinion of her, she knows the U.K. well. Clinton campaign advisers were key players in those recent elections, and she is close to the Milibands.

India is another place where Clinton looks good.

“Hillary Clinton has a positive image in India, mainly because of her engagement with the region,” said HuffPost India’s Anirvan Ghosh. “She is perceived as having a good understanding of the issues facing South Asia.”

A top Clinton adviser, the late Richard Holbrooke, was deeply involved in the region, and the Clinton Foundation's work gives her a different insight into India’s grassroots problems. As a result, Ghosh thinks that a President Hillary Clinton would “continue the recent momentum and push for greater cooperation” with India.

Her familiarity with other areas of the world is a relief to international policymakers. “Hillary has always paid close attention to trans-Atlantic relationships,” said Moltedo. “The same cannot be said for her Republican adversaries.”

Marietta Giannakou, a former member of the European Parliament from Greece, sees Clinton as part of the team that has been moving the U.S. away from Bush’s my-way-or-the-highway approach. Or as Giannakou put it, the Obama administration’s “departure from a less monolithic and unilateral stance towards a more discursive and multilateral approach to global and regional issues.”

Views of Clinton appear to be tempered by views of the U.S. more broadly -- not surprising for an establishment figure.

“Nobody can credibly say whether or not the world and the United States in particular would benefit from another eventual President Clinton,” said Massimo Teodori, an Italian historian, politician and writer. “One thing is for sure: The next president will have to completely redesign the United States’ role in a multipolar world. No one wants us to return to the use of force and 'imperial' arrogance that we’ve sometimes seen come into play during the 20 years following the end of the Cold War.”

A certain degree of skepticism likewise arises in conversations with Greeks. Young professionals and students there seem divided between personal respect for Clinton’s toughness and doubts about her as a politician.

“She is a dynamic woman who seems unstoppable,” said Victoria Alexiou, an architect and interior designer. “But on the other hand, she is a Machiavellist who will do anything to get what she wants. She was keen on the imperialist policies [of the past presidents].”

Maria Chatzianagnostou, a student at the University of Athens, was more upbeat.

“Hillary Clinton is a strong woman who can sustain a political career,” she said. “She managed to comply with the demanding duties of her position. Her election could be a good thing.”

And observers on the left, whether in Athens or Berlin, see one other chief virtue in Clinton: the electoral power to keep the other side out of the the White House.

"All that will happen is that she will be the first woman to occupy the office," said Katja Kipping, chairperson of the Left Party in the Bundestag, "and that, luckily, no Republican will win the election."

Christoph Asche contributed reporting from Munich, Giulia Belardelli from Rome, Maxime Bourdeau from Paris, Anirvan Ghosh from New Delhi, Jennifer MacMillan from Toronto, Marialena Perpiraki from Athens and Ned Simons from London.

Hillary Clinton Is Pitching Herself To Millennials

Howard Fineman   |   May 19, 2015    7:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Is Hillary Clinton actually moving left, and if so, why?

The answer is yes, though not on every topic. And the reason is to push young voters' turnout and grassroots organizing enthusiasm as close as possible to the levels that President Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008.

“After two terms of President Obama, it won’t be easy, but our challenge is to again excite the passion of the youngest voters,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told fellow Georgetown Law Center alums at a luncheon last week.

The campaign aims to fire up millennials with both a tailored approach to the issues and innovative use of technology. For the latter, the team recently brought aboard a former high-ranking Google manager to push new initiatives in social media and big data-guided outreach.

As for issues, Clinton advisers and Democrats close the candidate say she will focus on matters of particular appeal to those voters ages 18 to 33. The idea is that she will go strongly to the left on social issues, move somewhat less left on economic issues, and remain a centrist on foreign policy, military affairs and terrorism.

The target areas include climate change and other global environmental concerns, and social issues broadly defined -- including support for same-sex marriage; a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants; and criminal justice reforms such as changing harsh sentencing rules, reducing the current reliance on incarceration and opposing "militarization" of local police forces.

Clinton also plans to take a measured, big-picture approach to dealing with the overbearing influence of corporate wealth and the resulting public cynicism. She will advocate a higher minimum wage and support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. But she's not about to become an all-out, rail-against-the-banks populist in the manner of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). And as she did this week, Clinton will talk up the role of small business and innovation.

Especially on climate and social issues, the calculation is that the entire electorate has rapidly moved left, led by the youngest voters, whose views on the full range of these topics is starkly more liberal than those of the oldest voters. It’s become almost too easy to ridicule Republicans speaking to young audiences as “out of the mainstream.”

“On climate change, some of the Republicans remind me of Alfred E. Neuman,” said Podesta last week. “What, me worry?”

Economics are a closer question among millennials. Their distrust of big-government solutions is robust; their doubts about the efficacy of programs such as Social Security is deep. They believe in entrepreneurship, if for no other reason than that the old pyramid of lifetime hiring is gone.

So far, Hillary Clinton has avoided taking firm stands on the Keystone XL pipeline or the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. If and when she is forced to do so, she’ll flat-out reject the former, one adviser predicts, and look for less-than-sweepingly ideological reasons to temporarily oppose the latter.

If the goal is to instill passion in millennials, however, there is little reason to dwell on foreign policy, or so it seems. A recent poll shows that the current crop of youngest voters is noticeably less worried about terrorism than the previous cohort.

The overwhelming American consensus is that the Iraq War was a mistake and that the bomb-and-drone approach to ending terrorism and making the U.S. safer hasn’t worked. But that doesn’t necessarily mean voters want the U.S. to withdraw from the world. It’s more likely to mean that voters, especially millennials, don’t see the "Global War on Terror" as central to the 2016 contest. So even though Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state is her top official on-the-job experience, she isn’t going to make it the centerpiece of her campaign.

Republicans will still dwell on what she did and didn't do at the State Department. But it’s doubtful young voters will care.

How Barack Obama Led Us Into The Selfie Century

Howard Fineman   |   May 7, 2015    7:43 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A new era in American politics was only faintly visible when The Huffington Post debuted on May 9, 2005. The changing time manifested itself in two ways. One was the incandescent smile of a freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. The other was an emerging wave of social media -- Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and, yes, HuffPost.

Ten years later we're living in the Selfie Century, in which individuals and tribes (some ancient, others assembled virally overnight) contend with traditional institutions (such as nation states, governments, political parties and corporations) for control of public life. The next 10 years will be suffused with that tension.

Other conflicts will also shape the decade ahead: the ever-growing gulf between the richest and the rest; the costly chaos of climate change; the possibilities and pain of creating a truly multiracial, multiethnic society; the threats of belligerent nationalism (China and Russia) and bloodthirsty theocracy (the militant mullahs in Iran, a “state” that falsely claims the banner of Islam).

But winning these other battles will require social and digital media to educate and empower people of good will in the United States and around the globe. How do we reach so many individuals without losing the privacy that makes free thinking possible? How do we push governments and corporations to focus on people, not merely the amassing of money and metadata? How do we disrupt unresponsive leadership and yet still govern ourselves?

Obama did not necessarily set out to start this conversation. In 2004, Howard Dean had been the first presidential candidate to really use the Internet as a medium-is-message organizing tool. But Obama took it from there.

I interviewed Obama several times back then and since. The power of his personality, intellect, energy, biography (biracial, reared by a single mom, international experience) and ease with people he doesn’t know -- all were impressive, marketable and instantly, if somewhat distantly, charming. Anyone who saw the young senator in the corridors of the Capitol in the spring of 2005 knew -- and knew that he knew -- he was going places.

It wasn’t clear when. The Republicans were large and in charge, or so it seemed. President George W. Bush had just won a second term, though barely. The GOP controlled both houses of Congress and was rising in the states. Bush’s war in Iraq (which Obama had utterly opposed) was grinding on, and yet an exuberant economy (irrationally exuberant, in former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan's words) allowed Bush to cut taxes and support some generous new programs, such as added drug benefits for seniors.

But that same year saw the Bush unraveling. The reason was Hurricane Katrina. It produced pictures of an unconnected and seemingly callous president gazing down at a devastated New Orleans from an aircraft. That, plus his lack of granular knowledge of his aides’ actions, crippled him politically.

America wanted a connected president.

So it’s no accident that Obama and social media rose together. They were made for each other. However cool he could be in private -- and the air around him can get frigid -- he and his presidential campaign amassed 20 million “friends” on Facebook. He was the sunny side of a new day to his supporters, while his intimate omnipresence provoked deep fear among foes, who saw him as some kind of Orwellian force. He dug even deeper digitally in 2012, mining mega data to target a get-out-the-vote drive with far greater pinpoint accuracy than ever before.

The conventional wisdom about the Obama decade is that he was a better candidate than he has been a president. But that may be wrong.

Though income inequality has grown on his watch, the United States (and the world) avoided economic catastrophe in 2008 and 2009, and the U.S. economy overall is reasonably strong again. The president had a lot to do with that.

He pushed through an expansion of health care, taking the risk despite an utterly rejectionist GOP. The launch of Obamacare was an unholy administrative mess. But it has become more useful and popular, and Republican candidates won't have much of a target in 2016 -- if they even try to shoot at it.

Obama promised to end the war in Iraq and did so, even if Islamic State militants have filled the void in some parts of that country. He wound down the war in Afghanistan, too -- a war he said was necessary to fight. While the results in that region are mixed at best, U.S. political strife over the conflicts has died down. GOP presidential candidates decry Obama’s alleged foreign policy weakness, yet there is little talk in Republican ranks of pouring troops back in.

There have been glaring failures in the Obama years. His robust use of drones abroad and digital surveillance at home has been unnerving to supporters, who thought his background as a constitutional lawyer would make him more cautious. Only recently, and well after being safely re-elected, has he highlighted the ruinous poverty and neglect of African-American communities in beleaguered cities, where local cops and citizens struggle to find peace.

Once he promised the nation renewed civility, bipartisanship and unity. But he could never overcome or outmaneuver GOP petulance. Their stance shocked and annoyed him, and after a while, he stopped bothering to try. The result: a further decline in trust of leaders and government.

Ironically, the dangerous toxicity in public debate that Obama hoped to calm thrives on the same social media that boosted him. Social media can enable tribalism or worse. Even as it shines a light on public and private misconduct, it can aid those who would respond violently or give tyrants the power to suffocate dissent through constant surveillance.

If social media is to live up to its promise, we have to figure out how to use it to do more than win an election or stage a protest or make a point or sell a product or promote ourselves. We have to use it to help heal the country, find answers to pressing problems and nurture a global community that is suddenly aware of its own existence.

In other words, the next decade is about using social media for the benefit of society. Let’s hope it works.

Can Rand Sell '60s In 2016?

Howard Fineman   |   April 7, 2015    2:05 PM ET

LOUISVILLE, K.Y. -- Jimi Hendrix’s trippy/soul version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" was on the sound system in the Galt House ballroom just before Rand Paul’s campaign kickoff.

The sign behind Rand on the stage as he spoke was too long for a bumper sticker, but it also echoed the 1960s: "DEFEAT THE WASHINGTON MACHINE/UNLEASH THE AMERICAN DREAM." Of course: We are all leashed dogs, enslaved by a relentless, soulless, distant (and warmongering) government. Somewhere, Ho Chi Minh is smiling.

When Rand began to speak about the ills of America, he sounded like a guy with a bullhorn at an Occupy rally.

“Both political parties and the entire political system are to blame!” he shouted.

Personally and philosophically, Rand Paul is (and is selling himself as) a foe of the System. Even though he has trimmed some of his antagonistically libertarian and isolationist views, he is at heart a rage-against-the-machine guy. He likes to argue and fiercely thinks he is right. He likes to take on things that are bigger than he is.

His claim is a barrier-crossing, outside-the-system youthfulness: adept at social media, critical of the war on drugs, outraged at invasions of privacy by the government, skeptical of war as a means of achieving peace and eager to reach out to African-Americans and other minorities.

Kids of the “Facebook generation” don’t want to jail people for victimless crimes, bail out the big banks and allow intrusions into their lives, he told the cheering and largely youthful crowd. They believe that “what happens on your cell phone is none of anyone’s damned business.”

Nor do they want the “droning of American citizens” -- an issue that brought Paul to the U.S. Senate floor for a 13-hour standing filibuster that made him a national figure.

“Stand with Rand” was a hot phrase on Twitter, and is now a campaign slogan. But there are some serious risks in his Jimi Hendrix strategy.

One is whether he can temper and channel his anti-establishment vibe in a time more of sullenness than boiling anger, a time when people fear a rising generation of terrorists and the Republican Party is still more traditional than Rand claims to be.

He punches above his weight. Without his Texas cowboy boots, he can’t be more than 5 feet 6 inches tall, give or take an inch. He has always looked younger than his age, now 52. He grew up as “Randy,” shortening it to Rand on the understandable advice of his wife, Kelley Paul. “When I first met him at a party I thought that he was 18,” she said in a video shown at the event. “He was 26.”

He can be short-tempered, especially when confronted by those who insist on disagreeing with him. “Wait until he runs into some annoying woman in Iowa and she gets in his face,” said one conservative in the crowd, who insisted on anonymity because he wasn’t a Rand supporter. “He’ll have had three hours of sleep. Let’s see what happens then.”

But the biggest risk is that he can’t become -- let alone be seen -- as the same kind of trimming, deal-making politician he denounces.

There are some signs that he is at risk. Tuesday's event was slickly orchestrated -- as slickly as that of any Washington insider.

His hawkish remarks about Iran make him sound like just another Republican. And then there's his deal with GOP insiders in Kentucky to be on the ballot as both a Senate and presidential candidate in March of 2016. There will surely be other deals down the road.

Another obvious risk is that Paul is running what amounts to a general election strategy, with a broad message aimed at swing voters in the middle. But his first early direct sale will have to be in states such as Iowa and South Carolina, where GOP voters are far more traditional, hawkish and religious.

But in the meantime, he got a rousing send-off here. The song they played when he was done was “Break on Through to the Other Side” by the Doors.