Hillary The Indispensable?

Douthat’s Sunday column proclaimed Clinton the only thing holding the Democratic party together, pointing to Obama’s dwindling approval ratings and the party’s “ramshackle” coalition of constituencies:

If her party is Austria-Hungary, she might be its Franz Josef — the beloved emperor whose imperial persona (“coffered up,” the novelist Joseph Roth wrote, “in an icy and everlasting old age, like armour made of an awe-inspiring crystal”), as much as any specific political strategy, helped keep dissolution from the empire’s door …  But without her, the deluge.

I found it a sprightly piece – and certainly a helpful reminder of how Clinton’s ascendancy has marginalized many other potential Democratic leaders. But I tend to agree with Larison, that the diversity of the Democrats’ Austrian-Hungarian empire is a strength, not a weakness:

The Democratic Party has long been “a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement,” but that hasn’t stopped it from winning the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.

It cobbles together majorities by being “sprawling” and “heterogeneous,” and doesn’t depend on a particular nominee to do this. The extremely narrow margin of Bush’s re-election in 2004 points to this. Democrats have a coalition of competing, sometimes opposing interest groups and constituencies, but then they usually don’t pretend to be anything other than that. One of the stranger conceits that many Republicans have about their party is that it is a so-called “real party”: it supposedly represents some coherent set of beliefs that makes it substantially different from being an “incoherent amalgam” of interest groups. Perhaps because Democrats don’t try to paper over the contradictions and tensions in their coalition as much, they are able to appeal to a wider variety of voters than their opponents.

Danny Vinik reminds Ross that the Republicans’ policy problem is much more damaging than the Democrats’ lack of an alternative to Hillary:

Whether you like his policies or not, Obama has governed. The same cannot be said of the GOP. For instance, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has often written, House Republicans are unable to pass any type of immigration reform, because they cannot agree on what it should look like. Republicans never had any jobs agenda to help us recover from the financial crisis. On health care and tax reform, political promises have made it almost impossible for them to propose conservative ideas. Americans have not greeted Obama’s policy platform with cheers, but they recognize the dearth of policies in the current GOP agenda.

And I’m not sure that even the best collection of reform conservative ideas, even if they get a chance to be enacted, has a real appeal to voters. Ross responds by looking on the bright side:

The recent springtime for reform conservatism may be just a few shoots in a barren field … but that’s still more shoots than at this time four years ago, and nearly everything that’s pushed through the ground, whether it’s been Mike Lee or Dave Camp on taxes or Marco Rubio on the safety net or various senators on health care reform, would have been an improvement on the party’s non-message in 2012. The roster of presidential hopefuls may not be as impressive as it looked before Chris Christie’s scandal and Marco Rubio’s immigration reform detour … but we’re still very unlikely to see a replay of the “9-9-9″/Bachmann Overdrive nonsense, and much more likely to see a group of plausible nominees having a relatively-serious debate.

At some point, you’ve got to admire his optimism. But I’ll tell you this: the Republicans will have a far more interesting primary race than the Democrats. And while that can be bad news at times, it will ensure that the GOP is front and center on the question of “change”. What they don’t have yet is a candidate to pierce through the clutter, or a policy proposal that can address real problems and win wide support. Absent that, it will be ressentiment and Clinton-hatred all over again. Can’t wait.