Well, hard as it may be to believe, the primary season is finally over. It ended the other day with the holding of the District of Columbia Democratic primary, which Hillary Clinton won handily. We now have presumptive presidential nominees for both of the major political parties.
And yet, the drama is only beginning.
On the Republican side, it almost looks like a gift from the gods to the Democrats. Donald Trump's inability to control his mouth, combined with his need for free media to replace the money that would ordinarily come from donors (who know better, in his case), threatens to turn November into a disastrous month for the GOP. But they still have two things going for them.
Hillary Clinton. And the 800 pound gorilla on her back named Bill Clinton.
A lot has been said about how "unlovable" Hillary is. No one is ever going to accuse her of winning a personal popularity contest. But, as President Obama once said about her, she's "likable enough." I do not think of that as being her major problem going into the fall. After all, her opponent is hardly likeable at all. He's selling hate, not love. Nor do I think corruption is her problem. Everyone in politics has had something to say about her e-mails, but, as we are now finding out, she's not the only one in the world with an e-mail problem. Et tu, Donald?
No, her problem is that which his supposed to be her greatest asset: her husband, the 42nd President of the United States. The Democrat who gave away welfare and banking regulation to the Republicans, trusting that they and their donors would never dream of abusing his generosity. The author of "third way" politics, never counting on his opponents to come up with a fourth way--impeaching him, and then taking the inches he gave them, and turning around and demanding the rest of the yard.
The '90s are long gone, long enough to have inspired their own wave of nostalgia ("Fuller House," anyone? To say nothing of "Girl Meets World"?). And, in the distance between then and now, the Boomers are being pushed out of the dominant space they have long occupied among American voters by Gen Xers and Millennials. These generations have come of age without the comforts and the sense of certainty about progress that we Boomers (yes, I'm one) took for granted. They're not sold on unvarnished capitalism. They see capitalism as looking to sell them to the highest bidder, and damn the price for those who have been sold.
That's why the voters in those cohorts are sold on Bernie Sanders. He speaks to them because, to borrow a phrase from Big Dog, Hillary's husband, he feels their pain. And they feel certain that they know where their pain comes from. It comes from Republicans, and the Democrats who love pretending that they can be "bipartisan" with Republicans. And that's why, as far as they're concerned, "third way" is no way.
But that hasn't stopped Hillary from selling warmed-over "third way" politics, moderately adjusted for the post-Obama era. And there's that word: moderately. Millennials, Gen Xers and even some Boomers (including your humble and obedient servant) don't see a world that can be saved by moderation. It needs to be saved by action. Government action. Executive action.
Why? I suspect that it's because, in the end, Hillary is a better spouse than Bill. She doesn't want to tarnish his Administration's record, or Bill's political brand generally. She worries that tilting in Bernie's direction would effective do that.
She should worry a lot more about becoming President. And, whether or not you are married to a former President, if holding a job with that much power and responsibility means anything, it has to mean the willingness to go your own way. Because it's more often than not not only the best way, but the only way.
We all know about Bill Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment, when he established his independence from African-American leaders by criticizing racial comments made by a rap artist. Hillary needs to have her own Sister Souljah moment. She needs to understand that, if she's elected, nobody's going to give a damn about what Bill thinks. He had his moment. This will be her moment. And the country is in a much different place, one which can't benefit from breaking bread with a party that has turned into Banana Republicans. This is a nation with the kind of problems that demand a classically liberal approach.
The best way for Hillary to have a Sister Souljah moment? Sign on to Bernie's agenda. Without reservation. Without qualifications. Without fear of seeming "too liberal." America isn't dying from a surplus of liberalism; it's dying from a desperate lack of it. And, if she can sign on to the whole shebang, sign on to the part about breaking up the banks. Yes, it means repudiating part of her husband's record. So what? So he admits he made a mistake? It's not like it's the first time he's had to do that. Does he want his wife (and himself) to make history or not?
Do it, Hillary. Show you're ready for the loneliness of power, and for a nation that needs you not simply to be the first woman in the Oval Office, but your own woman in it.