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I know.  It sounds crazy. But think about it.

First, let’s back up a bit.  I challenge anyone to disagree that the healthiest race for the country would have been Clinton vs. Kasich. Frankly, they were the only serious candidates ever in the race:  Christie was too mean (and fat); Paul too reasonable; Cruz too craven (and Christianist); Bush too Bush; Fiorina too shrill; Rubio too green (and thirsty); Carson spacey (and, like, generally ridiculous); Sanders too liberal (and grumpy); O’Malley too bionic; and Trump too…well, Trump.

By rights, Clinton and Kasich should have been facing off against each other. They would have likely run the cleanest, most idea-driven, and most issue-based campaigns possible in our sensationalist, sound-bitten era. They would have provided a breath of fresh-air after the silly season of the primaries. They would have been–they are–the most experienced, the most moderate, the most mature, the most qualified candidates. And that is why I think that they would make—that they should forge–the most formidable alliance to beat back and slay the monster that has somehow slithered into the American body politic.

Again, it sounds crazy, I know (in fact, this is exactly what Amanda Marcotte has deemed it). When the idea first struck me a month ago and I Googled “Clinton Kasich 2016,” I expected to be greeted by a flurry of recent blog posts and op-eds exploring it. What I found was a brief mini-meme that pinged around the internet for a few weeks back in late Winter. Chris Matthew first floated the idea back in May 2015, suggesting it would “blow everybody’s mind”:

He repeated it this March (he may have even had a “thrill running up his leg”).  His support for the idea was seconded by Sally Kohn of the Daily Beast, who sees a dream ticket leading to a generation of “Kasich Democrats”. I was surprised at the lack of coverage of the idea because the more I thought about it, the more it made a terrifying amount of sense. Terrifying because it is almost certainly not going to happen (though when asked, toward the end of his campaign, whether he would consider a Democrat as his own VP, Kasich did not rule it out).  Cohn thinks that accepting such an offer would play to Kasich’s political advantage–

the best chance Kasich has of ever becoming president is to sign on as Hillary’s veep. Conservative though he is, he’s still well to the left of his party on issues like Medicare expansion, and is roundly loathed by some of the most influential conservative activists.

–and that, faced with the offer, his principles should lead him to grudgingly accept:

The question is whether Kasich’s love of his country, and fear of it falling into Trump’s hands, is stronger than his party loyalty. I suspect it is—in fact, I don’t think it’s close.

Jimmy LaSalvia at the Huffington Post concurred, while Amanda Marcotte dismissed the “dream ticket” as a fantasy that overlooks how conservative Kasich is and how liberal Clinton is.

Unlikely?  Yes. But it is pretty to think so.  And worth examining nonetheless.

 

I.     Veep-tions

Start by looking at the three big names being discussed for Clinton’s vice president.

1) Julian Castro

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Though touted as the Latino Obama, a fresh face that would inject needed vitality into the Clinton campaign, Castro is a non-starter for numerous reasons: he is too young, inexperienced, and unqualified; choosing him would be a transparently shameless political move–reminiscent of McCain’s selection of Palin–that would only reinforce the already widely held suspicion of, and disdain for, the Clintons’ limitless political ambition. And, besides, they don’t need him to fire up the Latino base—Trump has already provided more than enough fuel for that.

Castro is high risk, low reward.

2) Tim Kaine

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If someone created a Hillary Clinton running mate generator (aaaaand Vox already sort of did) with an algorithm designed precisely according to her political record and personality, Tim Kaine is about what it would spit out. Kaine is the safe choice, and Clinton likes to play it safe. Chris Cilizza sums it up:

Combine Clinton’s natural caution with the state of the 2016 race and all signs point to her settling on a vice presidential pick who a) cannot possibly do any harm and b) is regarded as a governance pick — a person who has the résumé and knowledge to help Clinton run the decidedly complex federal bureaucracy.

It is a tempting strategy. Trump’s record negative ratings among women, African-Americans, and Latinos, combined with his surprisingly puny war chest, suggest that Hillary can just play defense, avoid any serious mistakes, let Trump make a fool of himself, and trust that cooler heads will prevail (and hope that she isn’t indicted). Kaine aligns well with this strategy.

Kaine is low risk, low reward.

But against an agent of chaos, the safe choice is a risky bet. Frank Rich, in a troubling, at times eerie comparison of The Donald and the Ronald, homes in on the chink in Clinton’s armor:

Hillary Clinton is to Trump what Carter and especially Mondale were to Reagan: a smart, mainstream liberal with a vast public-service résumé who stands for all good things without ever finding that one big thing that electrifies voters.

The comparison with Carter is not inapt: keep in mind that the story many conservatives have been telling themselves for the last eight years is that Obama is a Cartereincarnation, that we’ve been living under an oppressive dark night of liberal oppression, and that we need a cowboy on horseback to ride into town and liberate us (as an aside, you may be piqued to hear that Obama reinstalled the solar panels on the White House first laid down by Carter and subsequently removed by Reagan (with his bare hands, grrrr! ’cause real Americans get their energy from oil and coal!), a fact I suggest to you is symbolic of the political pendulum swinging back to a muscular liberalism, a tectonic political realignment presaged by Gary Hart in 2008 and intimated by the success of the Sanders and, yes, Trump campaigns this year). Trump’s campaign slogan is even lifted from Reagan.

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Anyway. This is where Kaine’s endearingly honest confession to Chuck Todd on the Meet the Press Sunday morning matters. When confronted with the claim that he is “as safe as he is boring” he replied, point blank, “I am boring!”

Cue the attack ad.

If there is one thing voters across the political spectrum have made loud and clear this year, it is that they are not interested in “boring.” Kaine would have been a sensible and serviceable choice if Clinton were facing off against Bush, Rubio, or Kasich himself. But paradoxically, to err on the side of extreme caution, Clinton needs to do something bold and creative; something that signals she “gets it”; something that shows that she really is up to the task of being the president; something that convinces more voters that she really does care more about the country than about herself. She needs to take a risk.

Trump is an unconventional opponent. Judd Legum draws on the French philosopher Roland Barthes to divine the secret of Trump’s success. The analogy they use is boxing and pro wrestling. Barthes:

This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing- match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.

Trump acts like a wrestler, roaring and throwing chairs and whipping up the crowd, while the other candidates try to box–and the media thinks they’re watching a boxing match.  Trump is not just playing by a different set of rules.  He is playing a different game.

And that calls for an unconventional strategy. It’s a real quirk of history that the first general election campaign featuring a female candidate pits her against a misogynist of monumental proportions. This might be thought an advantage for her, since such misogyny could backfire. But due to the timing of Trump’s candidacy, his machismo is arguably an asset. The anger toward the establishment and distrust of institutions go hand in hand with the desire for a strong, alpha male leader to come in and “get things done.” This is just one of the reasons that Warren would be a mistake.

3) Elizabeth Warren

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Warren should have been the Veep—but not Hillary’s.

Remember that not-so-secret meeting Warren had with Joe Biden last August? What dreams that kindled among Obama supporters, pragmatists, center-left folks, and non-Bernie supporters un-delusional progressives: a Biden-Warren ticket. It was perfect: He serves one term to retire the rabid Republican menace, securing Obama’s legacy and consolidating Democratic control of the presidency, with Warren lending the ticket a tinge of progressivism while warming the public up to the idea of a woman in the White House, easing her nomination and election in 2020.  And we now know that had he run, Biden would have asked her. Alas.

The attraction of Warren is obvious. She makes up for two of Clinton’s natural weaknesses that are serious liabilities this campaign season: the enthusiasm gap and comfort with combat. Warren provides progressive passion and relishes a fight. She would galvanize Sanders’ supporters and be Hillary’s attack dog, doing everything short of ripping off Trump’s toupee, or whatever that thing is. She has already proved that she can go tweet-to-tweet with him.

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There is no doubt that Warren would supply needed gusto, breathe oxygen into the campaign, activate the base, and secure Sanders’ people—a total gamechanger.

But I think this would be a serious mistake.

For one thing, as Chris Cilizza pointed out on Meet the Press this Sunday, the only person the GOP hates more than Hillary (and Obama, obv) is Elizabeth Warren, and since her ire for Wall Street is mutual, she may motivate the big banks to bankroll Trump. Moreover, her readiness for the job would be in question, especially regarding foreign policy.

But more importantly, two women on the ticket is too much change too fast. Surprisingly, relatively little discussion has been had about the role that Clinton’s gender will have on voters’ decisions. This is likely due to the outsize attention Trump and Sanders have commanded throughout the campaign, as well as the fact that there just couldn’t be a more known quantity than Hillary. One wonders what hides in the numbers. In the age of Leaning In, we like to think that we have become more progressive on gender issues. But it may be that many if not most Americans see the presidency differently, and are skittish about a woman taking the controls—especially, as I mentioned above, given the hunger for a strong, powerful leader in the midst of such global flux.

The (perceived) threat is that Trump will poach disaffected Sanders voters. Hillary needs a strong dose of passion injected into her campaign. The temptation, of course, is to go with Warren. But the deeper mistake is to try and outflank Trump on the left, and cater to the base. That would be to take what may be Trump’s bait. He is threatening to lure Sanders-sheep away from the herd, but it just seems unlikely that this will work. It could, functionally, be a head fake: if she feels worried and thinks she needs to make a risky pick to energize the campaign, then Warren’s the choice.

Warren is high risk, high reward.

But Clinton shouldn’t try to outflank Trump on the left.She should try to outflank him on the center-right.

 

II.     Trump’s Veep Strategy

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An important X factor, of course, is who Trump chooses as his running mate. The chief danger, in my view, is if he chooses—and is able to persuade—a moderate with establishment bona fides. This is, of course, uncharacteristic (if Trump can be said to have a character); yet it would also be an unpredictable move, and the last thing he has been is predictable. In other words, this is exactly what we should expect him to do. The Joker plays a different game: to game his system, you have to try and pinpoint the predictable unpredictables.

If he were to choose such a figure, this would likely have the effect of leading a potentially lethal mass of moderate Republicans and Independents to convince themselves that however repugnant Trump may be, his presidency would be preferable to a Clinton administration if he has a seasoned professional looking over his shoulder to ensure that he doesn’t accidentally nuke everyone. What you need to be afraid of, in other words, is guys (yes, guys) like this:

I’m part of the new silent majority: those who don’t like Donald Trump but might vote for him anyway. For many of us, Trump has only one redeeming quality: He isn’t Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t want to turn the United States into a politically correct, free-milk-and-cookies, European-style social democracy where every kid (and adult, too) gets a trophy just for showing up.

And please don’t try to stereotype us. We’re not uneducated, uninformed, unemployed or low-income zealots. We’re affluent, well-educated, gainfully employed and successfully retired.

So why then would rational, affluent, informed citizens consider voting for The Donald? Short of not voting at all — still an option some of us are considering — he’s the only one who appears to want to preserve the American way of life as we know it. For the new silent majority, the alternative to Trump is bleak: a wealthy, entitled progressive with a national security scandal in her hip pocket. In our view, the thought of four to eight more years of a progressive agenda polluting the American Dream is even more dangerous to the survival of this country than Trump is.

How reassuring, for such a voter, if Trump were to select an experienced establishment figure as Veep.

Certainly there have been dominant vice presidents in our recent history that have generated a force field of competence around a relatively ignorant commander in chief. See “Cheney, Dick.” A muscular vice president from the establishment, so the thinking goes, would make Trump’s anti-establishment candidacy seem un-ridiculous enough to support. An insider with a critical role in an outsider administration would make reasonably reasonable center-right voters hold their nose and take a chance.

But who would fill this role? Wouldn’t such a figure refuse to Trump’s offer, since it’s exactly such figures that possess the scant shreds of civic honor left in the GOP? On the surface, this point seems to defuse the danger. However, such a figure might, taking the long view, swallow his pride and commit to the ticket in hopes that should Trump win, he would at least be able to rein in Trump’s excesses and exert some control over the likely chaos of a Trump White House. Of course this logic is potentially self-defeating—since by joining the ticket this figure would make it more likely that Trump would win—but logic isn’t the most reliable guide to political behavior, especially this election season.

Trump is likely to advance an incoherent potpourri of economic policies that will ideally attract critical masses of different constituencies—protectionist tirades to pick off Sanders supporters and satisfy his base, infrastructure initiatives for working class GOP voters, and dollops of tax cuts to seduce slices of the investor class. The Veep would reassure the country club set while the Donald would fire up the hoi polloi. You might think that it would be impossible for the nominee to say one thing, and his vice president to say another. But the nominee himself has been doing this himself for the entirety of the campaign, with swimming results. A moderate Veep just makes his sales pitch more effective: the Donald continues to throw red meat to the crazies, while his VP goes around reassuring the semi-sane that he doesn’t really mean it. Put another way, Trump would make the ticket embody the schizophrenia that has characterized the GOP’s addled mind post-Reagan, duct-taping together the two constituencies that are now flying apart. Even though his success has been dependent on one half of that mind—the working class—finally realizing the other half has been attacking it all along, they are already so committed to his candidacy that they likely won’t mind if a seasoned pol comes along for the ride. Likewise, the investor set will see the stock as just barely tolerable enough to buy. And besides, what do they have to lose? Unlike the masses, they will be buffered against the shocks likely to come. And don’t forget—he is an elite like they are.

 

III.     Hedging Hillary

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In the face of all this, what is Clinton to do?  The question speaks to her political Achilles’ heel: an instinct to hedge, the “defensive crouch” masterfully captured by Andrew Sullivan in his seminal 2008 essay “Goodbye to All That”:

Clinton grew up saturated in the conflict that still defines American politics. As a liberal, she has spent years in a defensive crouch against triumphant post-Reagan conservatism. The mau-mauing that greeted her health-care plan and the endless nightmares of her husband’s scandals drove her deeper into her political bunker. Her liberalism is warped by what you might call a Political Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Reagan spooked people on the left, especially those, like Clinton, who were interested primarily in winning power. She has internalized what most Democrats of her generation have internalized: They suspect that the majority is not with them, and so some quotient of discretion, fear, or plain deception is required if they are to advance their objectives. And so the less-adept ones seem deceptive, and the more-practiced ones, like Clinton, exhibit the plastic-ness and inauthenticity that still plague her candidacy. She’s hiding her true feelings. We know it, she knows we know it, and there is no way out of it.

If she wants to be president, she needs to lead, and to lead, she needs to override this instinct. That means pushing against the stupidity and ignorance and reasonless rage plaguing so much of the electorate, on both the left and the right. That means taking a risk.  That means doing what her husband was always a master at: explaining to voters why free trade is not to blame for working class woes. Explaining to voters why economic inequality has become so high, and what we can and can’t do to mitigate it. Explaining to voters why our culture has produced such a monster as Donald Trump.

Despite his intellectual and oratorical gifts, Obama turned out to be not that good at the highest form of sophistication: simplicity. He was never able to explain the historical moment to the satisfaction of the public, no matter how many times he repeated the refrain, “worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” Granted, one could argue that the more or less pacific, post-USSR world of the Clinton years was orders of magnitude simpler and easier to explain than the post-9/11, post-Great Recession world that Obama inherited (though Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC in 2012 suggested that he was still up to the task, and dismayingly highlighted the incumbent’s inferiority in this department). One could argue further that the problem is not the incapacity of presidential storytelling, but the refusal of the American people to accept the new reality. In any case, Hillary seems even less well-equipped to stand and deliver a story that helps people make sense of where we are, where we’ve come from, and where we need to go. She lacks a narrative–what George H.W. Bush famously called “the vision thing.” And when you don’t have a frame–or a frame simple enough to resonate with people–then a stupider, simpler, more emotionally satisfying one, supplied by your opponent, is going to take its place.

One of the potentially fatal dangers Clinton faces in the Fall is getting caught in reactive mode. Thus far, despite his self-inflicted wounds, Trump controls the frame.   After all, this is why he was able to eliminate his enemies, one by one. He controlled the tone of battle, no matter the falsity, vacuity, or logical inconsistency of what came out of his mouth. If you set the pace, you control the race. Hillary repeatedly deigns to answer Trump’s absurd accusations, thus granting them a patina of legitimacy. Clinton just isn’t any good at the cut and thrust, the knife-fight level, the blood sport side of politics, (nor the back-slapping, lip-biting retail politics for which Bill is famous); yet this is Trump’s element. So long as he controls the frame—and no matter how inelegant its contours, and how factually inaccurate and simply ludicrous the content with which he fills it—and she reacts to that frame, he projects leadership and maintains the advantage. Ever since the Kennedy-Nixon debate, in presidential politics, style is a form of substance.

But, you will say, what about Hillary’s war chest? In response to this, I submit exhibit A—the Sanders campaign—and exhibit B—Trump’s primary campaign. What the success of these campaigns demonstrate is that in the age of social media, insurgent politicians and political outsiders can upend the establishment, practicing a kind of assymetrical warfare, a political analogue of terrorism. Trump rode a wave of free press to the nomination on next to nothing.

Moreover, what does the money really buy?  Campaign ads?  Voter-turnout infrastructure?  The latter is essential, granted.  But given how entrenched voters’ views of Hillary are likely to be after her quarter century in the public eye, it’s not clear that an armada of campaign ads will make an appreciable dent.

The truth is that Clinton is a weak candidate, even though she will probably be, at the very least, a superbly competent and effective president.

 

IV.     The Logic of Kasich

This brings us, finally, to Kasich.  What is the case for a unity ticket?

First, he delivers Ohio–and Ohio looks tight.

Second, and related, he would be an asset in other battleground, working-class heavy states such as Pennsylvania.

Third, he was the only candidate in the GOP race who consistently beat Hillary.  If he were to join her ticket, it would be like Lebron switching to the Golden State Warriors after the first game of the NBA finals.

Fourth, unlike the majority of GOP candidates, he is capable of appealing to a broader array of people, in large part because of his ability to emotionally connect with people. This would compensate for Hillary’s (perceived) EQ deficits.

Fifth—and it is sad that when we talk about vice presidential candidates, this is not the first criteria to come to mind, or worse, an afterthought—he would be an excellent vice president. Combined, he and Hillary probably have more—and more diverse—experience in government than all 217 candidates put together. He has already helped one Clinton balance the budget. Such a ticket would transcend the facile Experience vs. Excitement dichotomy through which we have come to view presidential politics.

Sixth, and most importantly, it would create massive cognitive dissonance for the majority of Republican voters. It’s hard to believe, but back in 2008 you had several members of the old guard of the GOP—in the wake of the neoconservative debacle and staring into the abyss of having Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency–backing Obama; and he was an unknown quantity and exotic species. Now, eight years later, after Obama has governed as a roughly center-left Democrat and the sky has not fallen—and knowing the Clintons’ capacity for compromise—it is not hard to see frustrated moderates realizing that they stand more to gain from a Clinton than a Trump presidency.

Seventh, it would be a perfect piece of political jujitsu, throwing Trump off balance. Finally, there would be a bigger story for the media to cover than Trumps latest tweets, tantrums, and tirades.

Eighth, it would give her not just victory, but an historic landslide with the potential to fundamentally alter American politics. The deranged, Christianist, faux conservative wing of the party would be banished to the abyss from whence it came, the Democratic Party would emerge as the truly bipartisan, reasonable, centrist, patriotic party, and space would be created for a healthy conservatism–one more in line with the estimable conservative tradition in political philosophy.  Put simply, it would create a space for healing the conservative soul. As Jimmy LaSalvia suggests “a Clinton-Kasich ticket would win in a landslide. It would also utterly destroy the Republican Party and lead to the fundamental political recalibration our country wants.” And a safe space would be cleared on the left to grow the new pocket of progressivism opened up by the Sanders campaign.

What are the downsides? It seems to me that the only risk is that it would probably alienate progressives.  They will grumble that Kasich is a heartless conservative wolf in moderate sheep’s clothing, and that Clinton is succumbing to her instinctive caution by engaging in pragmatic posturing that will blow a chance for a truly progressive presidency (i.e., with Warren). Sanders people will gnash their teeth, of course. But turning some of them away must be chalked up as the cost of doing business. And when push comes to shove, the fear of Trump will turn most of them out anyway.

Kasich, in other words, is low-risk, high reward.

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What if, in shattering one glass-ceiling, Clinton shattered two? What a stunning solution: in the absence of a bipartisan congress, we have a bipartisan presidency. Would she ever offer it? Would he ever accept? She won’t, and he wouldn’t. She is likely too risk-averse, and he is probably too proud. For her, it would be the ultimate triangulation (one that eliminated the very need to triangulate); for him, a true profile in courage.  No, Trump isn’t Hitler. But the parallel is useful for a different reason than the one usually invoked: America’s temporary alliance with the Soviet Union against him. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

 

V.     The Bridge

For what, in the end, is the election about? To answer this question, we need to look at what the Obama presidency was about. The simplest answer to this question is that it was about cleaning up the mess of the Bush years.

But step back and look at the bigger picture.  The Clintons have been fighting a war of attrition with the rabid wing of the GOP for a quarter century. This wing is the fossil fuel of the modern GOP:  a powerful source of energy that produces corrosive, long-term damage to those around it, and from which we must wean ourselves. The longer term project is to undo the damage wrought by the Reagan era. I am not suggesting that all and only bad things come from Reagan or Reaganism. Merely that the mythology and ideology that have calcified around Reagan are out of step with today’s world, with where the country needs to go, and even with the man’s actions.

Almost exactly eight years ago today, Gary Hart penned a remarkable piece in the New York Times suggesting that Obama’s election marked the beginnings of a new cycle in American politics.  Drawing on historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s model of American history as periodic, 30-year alternations between public action and private interest, Hart presciently wrote:

If we somewhat arbitrarily fix the age of Franklin D. Roosevelt as 1932 to 1968 and the era of Ronald Reagan as 1968 to 2008, a new cycle of American political history — a cycle of reform — is due.

The Republican coalition — composed of the religious right on social issues, the radical tax cutters or “supply-siders” on economic issues, and the neoconservatives on foreign policy — has produced only superficial religiosity, a failed war and record deficits. Traditional conservatives, who are dedicated to resistance to government intrusion into private lives, fiscal discipline and caution on military interventions, have yet to re-emerge, and may not. The character of the next Republican Party will result from an intraparty debate that has yet to begin and might occupy a decade or more.

And here we are, eights years later. He continues:

Once elected, Barack Obama would have a rare opportunity to define a new Democratic Party. He could preside over the beginning of a new political cycle that, if relevant to the times, would dominate American politics for three or four decades to come.

Senator Obama’s attempt to introduce the next American cycle should include, at minimum, three elements. National security requires a new, expanded, post-cold-war definition. America must transition from a consumer economy to a producing one. And the moral obligations of our stewardship of the planet must become paramount.

These themes and the policies that flow from them, if made the centerpiece of the 2008 election (perhaps along with alternatives that others might suggest), could produce the mandate required to begin a new historical cycle.

The conditions for this tectonic realignment are now in place. The GOP is reeling, fractured, and scrambling to maintain a fighting chance at the presidential level (Jon Meacham has recently speculated that George W. Bush may well be the last Republican president). The working class, values voters it has hoodwinked and captured for decades have finally awaken to the ruse: whatever their ill-founded affection for and allegiance to Reagan, they now viscerally understand and accept that the form of political economy advanced by GOP elites is constitutionally unfit for the 21st century. Though Trump voters’ placards could read “Change We Can’t Articulate,” what their grievances imply, though they’d likely never put it this way, is that they want the same thing Sanders voters want: bigger government. The economic philosophy of the GOP in the modern era, so powerfully shaped by libertarianism—an ahistorical fantasy, if a useful one from time to time—is bankrupt.  The prosperity of the good old days was made possible only because of the post-war industrial and infrastructural boom heavily supported by New Deal Big Government. They didn’t build that: liberals did.

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Moreover, there is a potential opening for the democratic party further down the field. Younger evangelicals are less activated by at least some social issues, such as gay marriage—a battle in the culture war that is more or less settled—and the political identity of environmentalism has begun to shift: with the president, the Pentagon, the Pope and an increasing number of business leaders now taking the climate problem seriously; with the price of solar dropping precipitously; and with the spread of a “creation care” philosophy to motivate evangelicals and other Christians to support a healthy environment–there is now space for a political decoupling of environmentalism from secular liberalism.

But they aren’t there yet. And somehow, despite his multiple divorces, his “New York values”, his perfect embodiment of Mammon, it seems likely that they’re going to declare for Trump. As one voter put it, “I don’t give a shit if he’s Christian. I need a fucking job.” He’s going to get them—you watch.

This is not just a battle to win an election, or secure Obama’s legacy, or grow the Democratic party’s grip on the presidency. It is a battle, to invoke one of Bill Clinton’s most well turned and widely used phrases, for the United States of America be on the right side of history, and keep the world moving along that arc. It is customary to declare the Obama presidency a failure when measured against the heady hopes of his election and inauguration. But if you actually listen to his victory speech in November 2008, he clearly said that though change has come, though a new dawn of American leadership is at hand, it would take more than one term, maybe more than two–maybe over a decade–to realize the vision that so captured the American imagination in his historic campaign. Obama was talking about building a bridge–and to an extent, he was that bridge. Sullivan again:

Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Obama.

The greater risk is caution. Close up in this election campaign, Clinton-Kasich is unlikely. From a distance, it is necessary. The bridge we need is a bridge between parties to keep the country on its glacial movement toward the next cycle, and to accelerate that movement.

 

VI.     The End of History: Summer is Coming

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

~ William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Obama has made serious mistakes, both at home–in snubbing Congress from the get-go, in naively overestimating the GOP’s willingness to compromise in the wake of the collapse of the Bush presidency, the discrediting of neoconservatism, and the financial crisis, in poorly selling and rolling out healthcare reform, and in failing to broker a grand-bargain on budget and entitlements with Boehner–and abroad–in intervening in Libya, in drawing a red-line in Syria, and in poorly communicating about the threat of ISIS.

But he has generally righted the ship of state, turned the aircraft carrier in the right direction, and laid the foundations for the political realignment his presidency was prophesied to bring about. Contra Sarah Palin and her resentful, benighted hordes, and contra the general mood of pessimism suffusing the Western world, that “hopey, changey” thing ended up working pretty damn well.

Most importantly, after a failed launch in the first term, with the failure of the cap and trade bill and the debacle of Copenhagen in 2009, Obama has delivered on the third element of Hart’s prescription: getting going on the climate problem. Climate is about where same-sex marriage was around the start of Obama’s presidency: a traditional wedge issue that is just about to turn the corner. The conventional wisdom is that, apart from his being the first black president, healthcare reform will go down in history as Obama’s signature achievement.

Yet even if the kinks in the law are eventually worked out and it turns out to be a durable success, I wager that it will be the Obama administration’s executive actions at home, and global leadership abroad, on climate change that will be remembered as his most important contribution. The executive branch of the United States government has been aware of the threat of climate change since 1965. It took an entire half century for the presidency to go all-in on the climate problem. But Obama has done it—an incredible accomplishment considering the legal hurdles faced and regulatory acrobatics needed due to an obstinate and categorically obstructive congress.

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Obama was widely mocked for the grandiose, biblical rhetoric in his nomination victory speech in 2008–“generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of our oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Let us hope that as the decades unfold, this statement passes from fantasy to fact. Like the houses warring over the Seven Kingdoms in Game of Thrones who fail to see–and refuse to believe–that the real threat lies beyond the Wall, the nations of the world have failed to see–and especially in the US, their citizens and major parts of their governments have refused to believe–that the real threat lies beyond the time horizons of the next quarter and the next election. We have not yet achieved escape velocity on climate, but we do have liftoff:  the Pope, the Paris Agreement, and the president’s executive action–in addition to China’s–have served as booster rockets propelling the global community forward.

Yet this is no time for caution. Much of it can be undone, and likely would be undone by a Trump presidency. The possibility of a Trump victory should be treated like catastrophic climate change: an unlikely event we should treat as imminent unless we take a superabundance of caution to prevent it. We no longer have the luxury of doing donuts in the mud of our culture wars and political dysfunction. We are running out of time.

In 1989, in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously published a book called The End of History and the Last Man.  The “end of history” phrase he took from Hegel.  His claim was that history was “over,” in the sense that liberal democratic capitalism had emerged as the last form of political economy standing, and the rest of history would be a gradual process of its universal dissemination.  Though his thesis was widely dismissed as prematurely triumphant (especially after 9/11) and, later, as an ideological prop for the second Bush administrations’s neoconservative adventures in democracy promotion, I think Fukuyama was on to something with the second part of his title: “the Last Man.” The phrase is from Nietzsche. It refers to a dehumanized form of life reduced to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, a consumer rather than a creator, with no concern for higher goals or ideals, and no stomach for defending its way of life. The last man is captured by Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset in the film Seven: “People don’t want a champion. They want to eat cheeseburgers and watch television.” In Nietzsche’s text, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the title character, a prophet hoping to provide guidance for humanity, comes into the marketplace of a town and warns the townspeople of the dangers of the last man. And the people, to his horror, cry out, “turn us into these last men!” Chris Hedges discerns the traces of the last man in American culture:

As we devolve into a commodity culture, in which celebrity, power and money reign, the older, dimming values of another era are being replaced. We are becoming objects, consumer products and marketable commodities. We have no intrinsic value. We are obsessed with self-presentation. We must remain youthful. We must achieve notoriety and money or the illusion of it. And it does not matter what we do to get there. Success, as Goldman Sachs illustrates, is its own morality. Other people’s humiliation, pain and weakness become the fodder for popular entertainment. Education, building community, honesty, transparency and sharing see contestants disappeared from any reality television show or laughed out of any Wall Street firm.

I leave it to the reader to make the connections to Trump.

Fukuyama’s point was that the real danger lies not without, but within; it is not military or ideological in character, but cultural. As Plato warned millennia ago, the danger of democracies is that they can breed a people enslaved to desire and fear, easily led and vulnerable to the artful words of interested men. Obama alluded to these dangers in his furious statement after the Orlando shooting:

This is the madness Obama has been calling us away from for the better part of his presidency. The existential threat is not ISIS or global terrorism.  It is the danger we pose to ourselves.

The principal task of the human race in the 21st century is to decarbonize the global economy by developing scalable renewable energy sources, a project that famed energy scientist Amory Lovins has dubbed “reinventing fire.” For this to have a chance of happening, the US must lead the way. Pace the Decline of the West narrative, The US still has an essential role to play in global leadership. For it to lead, it must cut loose the baggage of the conservative movement holding it back. To do that, it must hold the line against the populist revolt fueling Trump and haunting Europe. Reacting to the Brexit, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair captured the significance of the moment. His plea contains the kernel of the rationale for Clinton and Kasich to unite:

The political center has lost its power to persuade and its essential means of connection to the people it seeks to represent. Instead, we are seeing a convergence of the far left and far right.

The center must regain its political traction, rediscover its capacity to analyze the problems we all face and find solutions that rise above the populist anger. If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe [and the United States] on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division.

The center must hold.