It’s the ma­jor­ity, stupid

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Jamelle Bouie Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer for Slate.

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign un­der­stands that the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter isn’t what it used to be.

Imag­ine three pres­i­dents. The­first sold a mod­er­ate mes­sage to win a three-way race with49% of the vote. The sec­ond sold a con­ser­va­tive one and won with just un­der 51% of the vote. Andthe third ran a lib­eral cam­paign and won with just over 51% of the vote.

Of the three pres­i­dents, who had the “broad” cam­paign of wide ap­peal? And who had the nar­row one of par­ti­san mo­bi­liza­tion?

If you knowyour pol­i­tics, you know these cam­paigns. The first is Bill Clin­ton’s1996 run, the sec­ond is Ge­orge W. Bush’s in 2004, and the third is Barack Obama’s 2012 re­elec­tion bid. Andof them, Obama’s was the most suc­cess­ful: Not only did he win an out­right ma­jor­ity, but hewon the most votes— as a share of the to­tal— ina pres­i­den­tial elec­tion since Ge­orge H.W. Bush, and be­came the first Demo­cratic pres­i­dent since Franklin Roo­sevelt to win two na­tional ma­jori­ties.

Look­ing to 2016, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton wants to achieve what Obama did, and so she’s run­ning a ver­sion of his cam­paign, openly ap­peal­ing to the groups that sup­ported him. In the last two months, she’s en­dorsed crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, pushed ex­pan­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form and called for an over­haul of vot­ing laws to im­prove ac­cess.

But Washington pun­dits, and main­stream re­porters, are dis­turbed. “Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton ap­pears to be dis­pens­ing with the na­tion­wide elec­toral strat­egy that won her hus­band two terms in the White House and brought white work­ing-class vot­ers and great stretches of what is now red-state Amer­ica back to Democrats,” wrote Jonathan Martin and Mag­gie Haber­man of the New York Times.

“My prob­lem with this ap­proach,” wrote Ron Fournier of Na­tional Jour­nal, of Clin­ton’s strat­egy, “is that it­works only un­til elec­tion day, whena po­lar­iz­ing, op­por­tunis­tic can­di­date as­sumes thep res­i­dency with no stand­ing to con­vert cam­paign promises into re­sults.”

Like­wise, again in the New York Times, David Brooks be­moaned the Clin­ton ap­proach as “bad” for the coun­try. “If Clin­ton de­cides to be just another unimag­i­na­tive base-mo­bi­liz­ing politi­cian, she will make our bro­ken pol­i­tics even worse,” he ar­gued.

Each cri­tique comesto the same place: Mo­bi­liz­ing in­di­vid­ual groups, in­stead of us­ing a broad mes­sage, will po­lar­ize the coun­try, make it harder to win, and­make it harder to gov­ern. But this ar­gu­ment has a prob­lem: real­ity.

De­spite his in­clu­sive, cen­trist mes­sage, Bill Clin­ton never won a ma­jor­ity of the vote. And when he en­tered of­fice in1993, he faced a po­lar­ized Repub­li­can mi­nor­ity that blocked his core pro­grams, froma small stim­u­lus pack­age to healthcare re­form.

At no point did this change; in­stead, Clin­ton aban­doned lib­eral leg­is­la­tion and co-opted Repub­li­can ideas, soft­en­ing them for Democrats. Ar­guably, Repub­li­cans never ac­cepted Clin­ton’s pres­i­dency; it’s why a sex scan­dal cul­mi­nated in the first im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings since the 1860s.

This same dy­namic was at­work in 2009, after Barack Obama won 53% of the vote with an in­spi­ra­tional cam­paign of post-par­ti­san change. De­spite his huge vote to­tals, Repub­li­cans re­fused towork with him, re­ject­ing the stim­u­lus pack­age (and any ne­go­ti­a­tions over its sub­stance), ab­stain­ing fromthe healthcare de­bate (and any ne­go­ti­a­tions over its sub­stance), and openly pledg­ing con­stant op­po­si­tion.

“The sin­gle most im­por­tant thing we want to achieve is for Pres­i­dent Obama to be a one-term pres­i­dent,” said Sen. Mitch McCon­nell, ahead of the midterm elec­tion in 2010. In 2011, after the GOP land­slide, McCon­nell— and John A. Boehner in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives— would try tomake good on the prom­ise, slow­ing Congress to a halt and forc­ing con­fronta­tions over rou­tine mea­sures, such as lift­ing the debt ceil­ing.

Oba­mawas only able to ac­com­plish what he did in his first two years be­cause of the large Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate.

Lib­eral mo­bi­liza­tion, part of Obama’s strat­egy, had worked. In­deed, itw orked again in 2012 and 2013, when Democrats en­er­gized their vot­ers, re­elected Obama, elected a larger Se­nate ma­jor­ity, and made head­way on ap­point­ments and ex­ec­u­tive branch ac­tions the fol­low­ing year.

Be­yond the facts of this Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion and the last one, the big­gest blow to the ar­gu­ment over Hil­lary Clin­ton’s “nar­row” cam­paign comes from pub­lic opin­ion.

Since 2000, Amer­i­cans have moved to the left on gay rights, im­mi­gra­tion, cli­mate change, and crim­i­nal jus­tice— is­sues on which Clin­ton is al­legedly “po­lar­iz­ing” the pub­lic.

If Washington pun­dits can’t see that, it’s be­cause they’re look­ing in the wrong place. The ru­ral and sub­ur­ban whites who brought Bill Clin­ton to vic­tory in1992 and1996 aren’t the cen­ter of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics any­more. That be­longs to the Lati­nos, African Amer­i­cans, Asian Amer­i­cans, sin­gle women, union mem­bers, young peo­ple and col­lege stu­dents who gave Obama his vic­to­ries.

The elec­torate is younger and browner, and more lib­eral as a re­sult. Put dif­fer­ently, Clin­ton is mo­bi­liz­ing the base, but she’s also speak­ing to the cen­ter. It just looks dif­fer­ent than it did.

To in­sist oth­er­wise, to de­scribe this as “nar­row,” is to dele­git­imize the Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties of 2008 and 2012 and sug­gest, openly, that a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date isn’t “broad” un­less he (or she) is fo­cused on white Amer­i­cans.

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