Making the click-through worthwhile: Three more Democratic officials are getting ready to run for president. No, that’s not a joke. Meanwhile, Democrats in Washington continue to hope that the Mueller report includes something significant that Attorney General Barr forgot to mention, and progressives start to openly discuss why the Obama era disappointed them.
Almost Every Democrat Is Running for President
First and foremost, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, I hope you beat cancer. Next week the senator will have surgery to address a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Bennet also intends to go ahead with his plans for a presidential campaign, if the surgery goes well.
Oh, and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams says she’s seriously thinking about it, but might not make up her mind until September. (She’s also thinking about running for U.S. Senate.)
A week ago, I wrote that Bennet, Ryan, Swalwell, and the other Democrats still contemplating a 2020 bid had missed their window and were wasting their time by trying to jump in now. There are 17 announced candidates if you include Andrew Yang (who qualified for the debates), Mike Gravel, Marianne Williamson, and Wayne Messam. That’s not counting Joe Biden. With Bennet, Ryan, and Swalwell, we’re at 21.
At some point, some of these candidates are going to complain that their campaigns are being unfairly impeded because the media isn’t paying enough attention to them. Already, it’s easy to forget some of them. (“Oh, right, Julian Castro! That was the guy everybody was talking about back in 2012! He’s in it?”) When there are 21 candidates — let’s say fifteen “serious” ones, although I think you could probably trim that category back to just Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and maybe Elizabeth Warren — just how much air time and how many newspaper columns and magazine pages and web pages will be devoted to John Delaney, Jay Inslee, or Tulsi Gabbard?
Whatever the threshold is for “too many” candidates, the Democrats have passed it, just as Republicans passed it in 2016. I’d argue that some candidates, such as Bobby Jindal, didn’t get a fair hearing because of the crowded field and non-prime-time “kiddie-table” televised debates.
Mueller’s Investigators Talk to Associates, Who Talk To Reporters, Who Talk To . . .
Once again, Democrats are hoping that the Mueller report contains a game-changer that Attorney General William Barr neglected to mention, getting excited about reports in the New York Times and Washington Post that “members of Mueller’s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.”
The description offered by these unnamed sources could be accurate. But Barr would be gambling with his career and reputation if he misrepresented what the Mueller report stated or concluded. And while we’re getting front-page stories about this no-names-attached grumbling, Mueller himself hasn’t said a word. Also, notice the long relationship between Mueller and Barr:
Barr and Mueller first crossed paths at the Justice Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. But the relationship goes further: Their wives are close friends who attend Bible study together, and Mueller attended the weddings of two of Barr’s daughters.
“They have a high level of respect for each other,” said Paul McNulty, a former senior DOJ official who led the department’s policy and communications shop while Barr was attorney general and Mueller served as the head of its Criminal Division. “They have maintained a good friendship ever since.”
You think Barr is going to pull something unprofessional, unethical, and indefensible now? Barr’s going to do everything by the book and leave his critics no easy avenue for criticism — and that means taking his time, to ensure no one can plausibly argue the redaction process was rushed.
Notice that after the House Judiciary Committee voted to give chairman Jerrold Nadler, authority to issue subpoenas for the Mueller report and related materials, Nadler did not immediately issue the subpoena. Nadler is walking a tightrope; Democrats want the report immediately or as soon as possible, but Nadler knows that Barr is doing what he’s supposed to do in these circumstances, even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge it.
Were Progressives Satisfied with the Obama Presidency? If Not, Why Not?
Yesterday some conservatives got excited about this days-old tweet from progressive policy analyst Matt Stoller, declaring, “Obama was a bad President. His ideas were bad. His refusal to wield power in favor of being a beloved celebrity is a significant, though not total, explanation for why the world is on fire.”
But Stoller has been making variations of this Obama-hurt-progressivism argument for a while, writing in January 2017 that Democrats wouldn’t win again until they recognized that Obama’s policies were way too friendly to concentrated financial powers and did little to protect the most vulnerable. (Stoller seems to specialize in telling Democrats that they’ve been rooting for the wrong guys all along; see his argument that the musical Hamilton whitewashes and rewrites history to make Alexander Hamilton seem much more progressive than he actually was.)
A key portion of the Democratic argument in the 2020 primary is going to be whether they see the Obama administration as a success or not, and what lessons they take from the Obama years. And month by month, year by year, more Democrats become more comfortable with discussing the way Obama’s presidency did not live up to their hopes.
Start with the economy. People were satisfied enough with the state of the economy in 2012 to re-elect Obama, but apparently sufficiently discontented with the state of economy by 2016 to roll the dice on Trump. (The unemployment rate ranged from 4.7 percent to 5 percent during the election year.) But Bernie Sanders doesn’t come within a lucky bounce of winning the Democratic nomination if people are happy with the economic status quo. Nor did Hillary Clinton promise to continue the Obama administration’s economic policies. The New York Times, June 22, 2016:
She also did not proclaim the greatness of the Obama-era economy and pledge continuity This carefully rolled-out speech suggests she seeks to run not by boasting of what has gone right in the economy under President Obama, but as a fixer who can more successfully deal with the things that are still broken.
Also note that Clinton ran against TPP.
The stimulus, the auto-industry bailout, Dodd-Frank, extended unemployment benefits, higher fuel efficiency standards — the Obama administration got a lot of what it wanted, particularly in those first two years. And after eight years, a significant number of Americans felt the prosperity of a growing economy had missed them.
Now move on to Obamacare. In 2018, Democrats were “pledging to fix the flaws in Obamacare while targeting Republican attempts to ‘sabotage’ it and take coverage away.” The only part of Obamacare that Republicans managed to undo was the individual mandate. If Obamacare is a success that fixed what ailed the American health-care system, why were Democrats running on health care in 2018?
A fairly common belief on the Right is that Obamacare was designed to sputter and fail so that when it failed, Democrats could push for some version of government-run healthcare for everyone. Of course, enacting a policy that is designed to fail — your signature policy! the biggest policy of your presidency! — does not make a lot of political sense. You’ve made members of your party take a vote that will probably cost them their seats, in order to enact a policy that you think will fail and probably make the electorate even angrier. If you think government-run health care for everyone is the right solution, propose that and fight for that; don’t waste several years enacting a half-measure that you secretly believe is unworkable. A simpler answer is that the Obama administration genuinely thought Obamacare was going to make things better and the people would be happier with the health-care system once it was enacted. Whoops.
(People keep talking about the issue of health care if it’s a massive Democratic advantage, but it only works when you’re complaining about the status quo and promising something better. The American people want the very best care, without any waiting, and for it to be paid for someone else, either their employer or the government. They want to choose their doctor, keep their doctor, have the lowest possible copays, deductibles and premiums, and for any and every procedure and prescription drug to be covered. Any real-life policy is going to require tradeoffs and is certain to leave some patients disappointed one way or another — either through out-of-pocket costs, wait times, quality of care, or all of these.)
Now let’s give Obama the credit he doesn’t want: Once he was forced to cut deals with a Republican Congress to work with, the annual deficit got smaller! From 2013 to 2017, the trillion-per-year deficits ended, and it was “only” $438 billion in 2015, the smallest since 2007! (Looking back, the deficits of the George W. Bush presidency look tiny compared to the trillion-per-year projections we have for the coming years.)
A lot of Obama’s non-legislative efforts are now kaput because the Trump administration rolled them back: the Iran nuclear deal, the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Accords on climate change, new limits on fracking, the ban on drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, protections for the Dreamers . . . the lesson of the past presidency and this one is that anything enacted by executive order can be undone by executive order.
To enact a lasting change through legislation, you need a House majority, at least 50 senators and probably 60 unless you’re using reconciliation, and the presidency. Progressives might be in a bad mood because they realize how far they are from that height, and how rare the opportunity of 2009-2010 was.
ADDENDUM: Ed Morrissey takes a long walk through Joe Biden’s history of scandals, and concludes:
Biden helped blaze that path toward normalizing scandal, but let’s put the blame where it belongs: Both sides of the political aisle normalized scandal, and voters endorsed it by excusing the bad behavior of their allies. Biden’s only living in a post-scandal world; we’re the ones who built it.