On the debate stage tonight, the Democratic presidential candidates will lay out their visions for the future. Meet the cast of characters – there is the Northeastern Democratic Socialist, the left’s own version of Ron Paul, who insists he is not a capitalist, and somehow this casual rejection of the economic system that has made America the envy of the world is not remarkable enough to even merit reconsideration. There is Martin O’Malley, whose brand of mid-Atlantic milquetoast is hamstrung by the troubles in Baltimore and the rise of Black Lives Matter leftism, an average area executive politician of the sort that found electoral success in the days before politics demanded you be interesting. There is Jim Webb, a persnickety moderate and pro-military populist with a forehead as large as a Dick Tracy character, who would’ve had a longer career in the Senate had he not been that rare populist with a marked distaste for retail politicking. And there is Lincoln Chafee, always a Democrat in Republican clothing, who is most passionate about the metric system, and whose popularity was so low in Rhode Island after a round of tax hikes, he became the first incumbent in ninety years to fail to seek a second term. So of course he is running for president based on an argument he had a decade earlier with Hillary Clinton.
As for Clinton, her standing has been thoroughly weakened over the course of the past several months. Her favorability is the lowest it has been in her entire political career. Her trustworthiness is sinking, and of the people she is losing, it is exactly the kind whose support was supposed to be assumed: young, college educated women. “Those who moved away from Mrs. Clinton were more likely to be young, white, female and college-educated relative to those who stayed with her. Of the 25 percent who left Mrs. Clinton, most switched to support Mr. Sanders (15 percent), while 6 percent moved to Mr. Biden, and 4 percent jumped on board with other candidates or became unsure of their choice.” She is beset by questions about her emails, and of course this reinforces her lack of trustworthiness – but more concerning is the questions about her competency amid indications that her setup was a total amateur hour pursuit, vulnerable to all sorts of hacking. The lack of honesty is not a new attack on the Clintons – the lack of basic competency is. At least when she ran in 2008, most Americans thought Hillary Clinton would be awake for that 3 A.M. call. It turned out to not be the case.
The debate tonight will be shorter than initially anticipated – just two hours – which is a shame, because it’s unlikely that anything will happen to achieve significant upheaval in the race short of someone fainting on stage from having to stand up too long. But will there be actual debating going on? The most interesting factor tonight will be how much her fellow candidates choose to disagree with Clinton on matters of policy or press her forcefully on her hard choices in the past. The disagreements to this point have been fairly mild from everyone but Bernie Sanders, in part because the Democratic Party today is so lockstep on so many issues. But the incentive to attack is there, if someone is interested in actually debating any of this.
What would actually be fitting, in terms of a presence on stage that represents the party’s policy future as opposed to arguments locked in the past, is to have just one more old white person up there – California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown’s coming off a bunch of vetoes and signing ceremonies that reinforce his status as charting the path for the Democratic approach to executive leadership in a time when the state’s judgment must be invoked in every arena of life. Brown and California love banning things, large and small. They’ve banned concealed carry on and near campuses. They’ve banned chewing tobacco for major league ballplayers. They’ve banned “Redskins” as a team name in the state. They’ve banned pregnancy centers from functioning unless they provide pro-abortion counseling. Brown has made the right to take government-approved medicines to end your life with a doctor’s help legal. And he’s made the right to try non-government-approved medicine to save your life with a doctor’s help illegal. That’s innovation, people!
For a party that has, in the Clinton-Obama era, increasingly become a corporatist entity that uses government to stamp out the New Sins, this is the approach they are likely to use when it comes to setting policy for the foreseeable future. Thanks to Obama’s approach to the expansion of executive power and the willingness to ignore any and all limits on his approach to governance, the next president will be even more fully empowered to ban or allow the behavior they deem appropriate with the wave of a hand. Such authoritarianism is particularly useful for those who think the state needs to be everywhere and involved in everything – something nearly all of these candidates, at their core, believe. “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” It has a nice ring to it.