I agree with The New Yorker's David Remnick that conditions are appalling for women in much of the world, as a new UN report notes in painful detail. I agree that it was not an act of global leadership, to say the least, for Hillary Clinton to use the UN as a backdrop for a self-serving press conference on the subject of her emails. I agree that we saw a much more inspiring Hillary Clinton in 1995, when she spoke eloquently on the subject of women's rights at the World Conference on Women. And I agree that we're faced with a less-than-ideal set of choices in the 2016 presidential race: a hawkish Clinton and a far more right-wing gaggle of Republicans.
But do you know whose fault it all is, according to Remnick? Martin O'Malley's. Or Elizabeth Warren's. Or Deval Patrick's.
Here's Remnick passing the buck:
It is the job of the press to put pressure on power and on pretenders to power. Even in a solo primary race, reporters will scrutinize not only Hillary Clinton’s record but also her hawkish foreign-policy impulses, the dealings of the Clinton Global Initiative, and the contradiction between the need to ease the inequality gap and the candidate’s tropism toward big money. But, in the absence of a Democratic challenger, the pressure will never be what it ought to be.
Why? Why is the onus on other Democrats to make these discussions happen? Why does the press effectively get to wash its hands of this responsibility if there's no real primary challenge to Clinton?
And let's step back a bit. How did we get into this position in the first place? On foreign policy, why is the range of acceptable opinion in mainstream politics so rightwardly skewed? Why is the droning, mass-surveilling Barack Obama at the leftmost extreme of what's acceptable? (At least he wound down two wars, more or less, to "Appeasement!" howls from the men most welcom on the Sunday talk shows.). Why are the successors to the war-everywhere zealots of the Bush/Cheney years making a rapid ascent right now, with very little skepticism in the chattering classes? It's not Hillary Clinton's fault, or the fault of would-be Democratic challengers with inadequate mettle. What has the press done to challenge the notion that Tom Cotton is reasonable and war skeptics aren't? How long have they allowed this problem to fester?
The 2008 Democratic race was not just good sport; it also made both Obama and Clinton better. In the contest for the White House, the stakes are plain and enormous: the rights of women; the fate of the earth; the gaping disparities of income and opportunity; the stability of the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe.... if, in the end, Hillary Clinton’s only competition is herself, if all she has to contend with is the press and her less attractive instincts, she will have gained a too easy path to power at the cost of being less prepared to exercise it.
So if plutocracy is unchecked in a Clinton presidency, it will be because Clinton didn't have a primary challenger? Then why is it unchecked under a president who had a very serious primary challenger? For that matter, why didn't a primary challenge permit Obama to conquer climate change and vanquish sexism?
It's because our problems run deeper than that. We can't address economic inequality in America because of the unchecked auctioning-off of our democracy to the highest bidders. That's not a problem Hillary Clinton created, and what's preventing us from addressing it is not Deval Patrick's failure to visit Iowa. If Clinton and her husband seem overly eager to play the big-money game, it's because they recognize that it's the only game in town -- in our depraved system, you simply have to raise a billion dollars to become president. (Would-be opponents know that too, which is surely a major reason they're not running.)
Big money in politics from the domestic energy industry is why we can't address climate change. Our inability to start weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is a major reason why the Clintons and every U.S. administration in memory has coddled the appallingly sexist Saudis. Jim Webb hiring David Axelrod isn't going to change that.
The Cold War ended a quarter century ago -- and the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson won. The victory is widely ascribed to Reagan and Thatcher, two evangelists for the free market -- and look at the results. Inequality increases throughout the developed world. Climate change can't be addressed seriously. Petroleum still has us addicted. Joe Biden tromping through New Hampshire won't change any of that.
BUT: Wouldn't a Warren run make a difference? Wouldn't a Warren presidency make a difference, if it could happen? Yes, to some extent -- but remember, the next president will still have to work with the same Congress, the same campaign finance laws, the same Supreme Court (at least for a while), and the same deep-pocketed special interests we have now. One messiah isn't going to make it all better.
In any event, a Warren presidential victory in a post-Citizens United era is unlikely, so Warren's value is to put certain topics on the table. But those topics should be on the table already. The press shouldn't use Warren's absence from the race as an excuse to ignore them.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog