There are three principal problems for Hillary Clinton as she attempts to lock down the Democratic presidential nomination. The hothouse atmospheres of Iowa and New Hampshire, the socialist thematics and anti-establishment authenticity of Bernie Sanders, and Hillary's lack of a clearcut mission aside from electing herself.
None of this is new. I discussed it early on in a number of pieces, including "The Sanders Saga: Why Is A 'Half-Baked Version of Tom Hayden' Beating the Clintons?"
What makes if all current is that these dynamics have reasserted themselves after Hillary's commanding performances in the House Benghazi Committee inquisition and the Democratic debate. Good things have a tendency to wear off, especially if there are other powerful dynamics in play. Reports abound of hand-wringing in Clintonland, though I sense a careful lowering of expectations at work as well.
But just as four weddings can be followed by a funeral -- okay, not exactly the metaphor the Clintons might prefer -- three problems can be followed by a solution.
Iowa and New Hampshire are what they are, for a few generations now the preserve of picky and rather pampered caucus-goers and primary voters who expect extra-special catering and are keen to project their sometimes particularistic concerns onto American presidential politics as a whole.
Wildly disproportionately white and left-liberal, they wield a mighty and increasingly pro-collective (43 percent of Iowa Dems call themselves "socialists") and anti-interventionist bat in American politics. Their opposite numbers on the Republican side play an equivalent role in pushing that party further to the right.
Enter Bernie Sanders. I've met him and studied him. A very effective protest leader? Absolutely. A plausible President of the United States? I just don't see it.
Now, I'm not a socialist but it seems to me that much of what Sanders is saying is on the right track historically and sociologically.
For a variety of reasons, some natural, some sinister, the US economy is hollowing out. The rich are getting richer; the very rich are getting richer still; and the mega-rich are getting so very much richer as to become absurd.
The good news in long-term trending is that technology is eliminating scarcity. The bad news is that scarcity is still enforced. Right now, for example, there is no absolute reason why anyone need go hungry or without shelter in a society which wastes as much food and has as much see-through real estate as 2016 America. That doesn't require an expensive government program. And this is before we get to coming technological breakthroughs, which will make even more people "economically useless" even as more abundance is created, as I discussed over half a year ago in "Is Silicon Valley Charting the Future While All the World's Pols Play Small Ball."
So in reality, in the long term, Sanders's message may not be sweeping enough. But, while his anti-Wall Street message is popular with most Americans, not just Democrats, in the present he has a lot of problems as a "half-baked Tom Hayden" of a candidate. In that piece, I discussed how difficult it was to elect former '60s movement leader Hayden, with a history of problematic comments and associations. Even in liberal LA, even after I'd gotten his opponent on tape giving the lie to his own supposed positions on the issues.
Elections take place in the now, not the long-term, especially in an ahistorical American era. And the now these days in this ADD/hyper-partisan media environment is short-term and savagely prone to character assassination.
So the reality is that Sanders, even if he were a plausible president, would have real trouble beating even a very likely hard right attack dog Republican.
But the immediate now is Iowa and New Hampshire, Democrats and like-minded only, where participants are frequently more interested in maverick authenticity than presidential plausibility. And Hillary, long a Wall Street friend -- who still struggles to convince that she wants to be president more to do something than be something, though I suspect she does want to do good -- needs to surmount these hurdles in decent fashion in order to avoid a potentially long primary war of attrition. Which she would still probably win. Such an internecine war would be bad for Democrats, who need to turn their fire early on the Republicans. Best to get the jump on the scorched-earth attack artists of the once Grand Old Party.
What's the solution? Win Iowa. A New Hampshire loss can be rationalized by virtue of neighboring Vermont Senator Sanders's longstanding regional popularity. But starting out 0 and 2 would result in a massive flood of online contributions for Sanders, who has already enjoyed tremendous success with his grassroots fundraising efforts, not to mention a wave of publicity that just might make things substantially more difficult for the Clintons in Nevada and South Carolina, the other two February contest states. After all, a more socialist approach might catch on with Latino and black voters.
Fortunately for Hillary, unless she moves further left, something less than convincing so late, Sanders has not only plausibility problems but authenticity problems as well. Unfortunately for Hillary, gun control may not be the best lever here.
Sanders is not where his supporters suppose on the problematic long war and troublesome military spending. In particular, he is a champion of the F-35 fighter, the most expensive non-nuclear weapons system in history.
The F-35 is plagued by huge cost over-runs and questionable performance, including an embarrassing defeat by the 40-year old F-16 in aerial combat exercises over the Pacific.
This is just the sort of problem then Senator Alan Cranston had when we needed to shoot him down, as it were, in order for Gary Hart to move swiftly from fifth to second in Iowa and emerge as the principal challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
Not that Hillary herself has been an F-35 critic, at least to my knowledge, and not that the F-35 might not be salvaged with a constructively critical, as distinguished from cheerleading, approach. But there is more than one way to get a message across, which the Clintons, of course, know far better than me.
It might be a bit late to move on a now public suggestion for Iowa, just 10 days away. But not too late if the contest goes late into February and beyond.
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