Face it: Hillary Clinton will be a two-term president, and I’ll vote for her. But a Democratic stranglehold on the White House is bad for America.
- By Daniel AltmanDaniel Altman is senior editor, economics at Foreign Policy and an adjunct professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. Follow him on Twitter: @altmandaniel.
Will demographics be the death knell of the Republican Party? I hope not. I’ve always preferred Democrats, but I’ll be disappointed if I never cast a vote for a Republican candidate. Let me explain.
Times are tough in Republican circles. White men, the mainstay of the Grand Old Party, represent a shrinking share of the American population. Republicans thought they had a chance to recruit Latino voters because of overlaps on some social issues, but their candidates’ apparent allergy to immigration may have destroyed that possibility. The Republicans have been able to control the House of Representatives by aggressive redistricting through state assemblies, but that advantage may also be on the wane.
Only a sort of pendulum reaction by young people disillusioned by the Obama administration — though they are probably as open to other Democrats as to Republicans — offers any hope now. But young voters are among the Americans most concerned about inequality, which many Republicans refuse to take seriously. Moreover, as younger voters begin to appreciate the benefits of health insurance, they may find new faith in the Democratic Party.
Of course, political preferences can change over time. There’s the famous quote often attributed — probably incorrectly — to Winston Churchill: "If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain." I’m a few years past 35, but that’s not the reason that I hope will push me to vote Republican.
No, I want to vote Republican because I think that more than one party can propose a viable plan for the country’s future. The idea that policy can take only one direction, corresponding to a single platform or set of beliefs that isn’t better served in any way by any other party’s platform, speaks more of ideological zealotry that pragmatic realism. Policy issues are not all black and white or arranged along a single spectrum; they can be multidimensional and require complex solutions.
Though neither party in the United States seems prepared to give the other credit for good ideas, voters can be more discerning. In the last presidential campaign, I preferred a few of Mitt Romney’s views on trade and foreign aid to those of Barack Obama. I’ve also liked some of what I’ve heard on taxes from Rob Portman and immigration from Marco Rubio. I still voted for Obama, though — not because I abhorred Romney so much but because I worried about the people who would surround him.
I wouldn’t always have had such fear. When I was a kid, I heard my friends’ parents described as Reagan Democrats. At that time, the gap between the parties on social issues, in particular, was much smaller. You could vote for a presidential candidate without fearing that his party would force him into a much more extreme mandate. That’s less true now. George W. Bush was seen as a centrist before his election; some commentators even wondered whether there was much to choose between him and Al Gore. In the end, Bush became the servant of one of the most warmongering and economically corrosive strands of so-called conservatism that the nation had ever seen. Gore, meanwhile, became the environmentalist antihero of big business’s nightmares. Today, whether through one man’s pliability or the other’s embrace of a signature issue, the difference between them is clear.
For me to vote Republican, the GOP will have to shed some of its more odious baggage — the bogeymen that give even some of their own candidates, like Jon Huntsman, the willies: opposition to gay rights, hostility towards immigrants, hindrances to voting, counterproductive fiscal policy, denial of science, and the like. The sooner they do, the better it will be for the nation.
That’s because the nation needs variety at the top, and it’s heading for a period of very little variety indeed. Like the bookies, I fully expect Hillary Clinton to win the presidential election in 2016, and I fully expect to vote for her. As an incumbent she’ll be hard to beat in 2020, and a victory would mean 16 years of Democratic rule, the longest uninterrupted mandate for one party since Roosevelt and Truman.
But no matter how much integrity Obama and Clinton may have, entrenched power breeds complacency and often, as in the old adage, corruption. (I’m not even mentioning the family dynasties that could pit another Clinton against another Bush sometime in the next six years.) Moreover, the same leadership is not appropriate for every moment in history. Churchill’s Tories led Britain in wartime, but Clement Attlee’s Labour Party oversaw its reconstruction.
To back up the point, consider this list of the most functional democracies from the Economist Intelligence Unit. No party has currently held the position of head of government for more than nine years:
Compare these data to the political histories of countries like Cuba and North Korea, where the same party has ruled for more than half a century; or nominal democracies where a single party dominated for roughly three decades, like Angola and Malaysia; or hereditary monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Brunei. Pluralistic governments need a constant flow of new ideas, and that means turnover.
So how much variety and turnover are enough, or too much? Arguably, the United States would never have elected Obama if part of the electorate hadn’t been so disillusioned with Bush. But would the country have been better off with two presidents whose policies stayed closer to the center? Likewise, are two four-year terms — at most — enough for a president to focus on the long term, especially when Congress has elections every two years?
To be sure, a long reign by Democrats in the White House could eventually spell its own end. Complacency and corruption tend to go hand in hand with prolonged periods in power, even in highly democratic countries, and voters might revolt. I’m not saying this has happened yet — indictments and convictions of high-ranking federal officials are down under Obama versus under Bush — but it might well happen with enough years of any one party at the top. And those years have a way of multiplying in many countries; they can also lead to consolidation of control, as South Africa and Argentina have recently shown.
I would much rather that Democrats’ time in the White House ended because of a strong Republican alternative than because of their own debasement and decay. Hopefully, a worthy Republican candidate — and a more centrist, up-to-date Republican Party — will be able to sway me by 2024.