Some of the Democrats greatest presidential victories have come with young, vigorous candidates reflecting a generational change in national political leadership:Jack Kennedy following Dwight Eisenhower; Bill Clinton becoming the first Baby Boomer president; Barack Obama beating John McCain in 2008. A Hillary Clinton candidacy would promise to continue the Democratic politics of demographics - African Americans, Hispanics, women - but it would offer a golden opportunity for the right Republican candidate to strip away the other leg of the Obama coalition - the youth vote - by campaigning as the party of the future. Let's reflect on the opportunity.
In November 2016 Hillary Clinton will be 69 years old. The first reaction is to think of her health and endurance through a grueling campaign - even if there is no real primary challenge. Health issues prevented her from testifying about Benghazi - well, maybe that was a sham. Even with chartered jets, five star hotels, a large travelling staff, and a protective media, it will be hard to avoid looking tired and making irritated comments like her famous "what difference does it make" about Benghazi.
More important is the generational disconnect. She was conspiring with Saul Alinsky, running her Whitewater scam, and tolerating Jennifer Flowers before most of the Millenials were born. Devoid of any accomplishments as Secretary of State or Senator from New York, her supporters trumpet her broad experience - a vague reference to her having been First Lady 20 years ago. Somewhere in the Republican opposition research and messaging machine there have to be videos from the 60s and 70s of Bill and Hillary in their bell bottoms and spandex cavorting with a crowd of Vietnam War protesters before Al Gore invented the Internet - three political generations ago.
In a stroke of good luck the Democrats have decided to keep the leadership which has taken them to multi-decade lows in the House, the Senate, governorships, and state legislatures. Beyond the political and managerial issues are the optics for the Party - Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are 74. Out here on the Left Coast, the last Democratic Party bastion, Jerry Brown is 76, Diane Feinstein is 81, and Barbara Boxer is 74. There is virtually nobody in this Democratic leadership who can identify with the aspirations of the Millenials.
So, what threads can the Republicans weave together to identify themselves as the Party of the Future?
1. The Republican candidate should trumpet a rebirth of economic vibrancy after an administration which does not understand what drives the American economy. The Keystone XL Pipeline serves as a symbol of commitment to energy indepencence for North America. Corporate tax reform can reaffirm faith in the entrepreneural spirit and acumen of American business. The healthcare industry can be saved from the suffocating taxes and regulations of Obamacare. One would expect that the prospect of a career and a path out of Mom and Dad's basement would be rewarded at the ballot box.
2. Rand Paul is onto something with liberty, enjoying disproportionate support of young voters. Recent polls show that Americans are more concerned about the oppression of big government than that of big business or big unions. One dimension is the growth of Washington's reach in healthcare, the EPA, and education. Another is the conflict - heightened by Edward Snowden's revelations - about the intersection of privacy and security from terrorism in an era of social media, communications surveillance, and big data. A candidate who can speak about liberty in a future America will have much relevance.
3. Threading the needle on immigration requires a vision of a future multi-ethnic America with common values. For Millenials, Republicans cannot be the party seeking to preserve an Ozzie and Harriet world of the 1950's, but there is a great opportunity for a Republican candidate to highlight the enduring values that define the United States of America and make it exceptional. After eight years of Barack Obama this will resonate if done sincerely.
4. Restoration of America's leadership role in the world of the 21st Century is an easy differentiator. As Secretary of State, Hillary was the primary agent of Barack Obama's failed drive to reduce both the capability and the will of the United States to lead as China emerges, Russia tries to reestablish its empire, and the Middle East disintegrates. Republicans offer a better future.
Back in the days of the Free Speech Movement Mario Savio exhorted Hillary's contemporaries to not trust anyone over 30. Today's Republicans would be wise to make 60 the new 30.
This week's video is my Congresswoman's concession speech after the Democrats' drubbing in the November elections. With due apologies to my good friend John Dennis, the Republican candidate in San Francisco, long may she reign as minority leader.
bill bowen - 11/21/14