Liberals aren't in love with the idea of anointing Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. And now they are doing something about it -- launching an active (and well financed) effort to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) into the presidential race this week.
All of which makes the timing of former Vermont governor Howard Dean's op-ed in Politico on Wednesday, formally endorsing Clinton's not-yet-announced presidential campaign, very, very interesting. Dean became a hero to the left during his 2004 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, a bid largely premised on his staunch opposition to the war in Iraq. Over the intervening decade, Dean has remained an anti-establishment, speak-truth-to-power type and remains influential among a certain segment of liberal activists.
Dean's op-ed, then, is rightly read as a sort of "liberal's case for Hillary Clinton" and a way of pushing back against the rising Warren tide. (Remember that Dean has been in favor of Clinton's presidential campaign for a while now. "If she is president, which I hope she is, I think she is going to be a terrific president," he told CNN back in July.)
The thrust of Dean's piece is that Democrats badly need another Democratic president because of rightward movement of the Supreme Court in recent years. Writes Dean:
America needs a thoughtful President who will appoint judges and justices who will stand up for the Constitution and the law instead of catering to the dictates of those who fund the right-wing Federalist Society. I am confident that Hillary Clinton will provide that leadership.
That's a stone-cold winner argument to liberals who believe the Roberts Court has drastically overreached in its decisions -- "this Court has repeatedly made decisions that have harmed our country for the sake of extending a political and ideological agenda," according to Dean -- especially on matters of campaign finance and voting rights.
With Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 81) and Stephen Breyer (76) -- both appointees of Bill Clinton -- aging, there is considerable awareness (and concern) in liberal circles about how a Republican president could remake the Court for a lifetime if elected in 2016. Dean is playing to those fears, making the argument that Clinton, as a Democrat, is better than any Republican president when it comes to picking the next members of the Supreme Court.
Dean makes a similar argument when it comes to the pet issue of Warren (and the left): income inequality. Again, Dean: "In the coming months, I expect [Clinton] to lay out her plans to attack income inequality and help rebuild the middle class. She knows how to sell a broad range of Americans on these policies, and has shown how to stand up against extremist economic policies." What Dean stays entirely away from is talking about Clinton's ties to Wall Street, a major point of contention in the eyes of liberals.
What Dean argues broadly in the op-ed is that Clinton is the best choice among the candidates who are a) running and b) can win. It's a see-the-forest-through-the-tree argument; no, Clinton isn't the candidate liberals would dream up in a political laboratory, but she is a heck of a lot better than the Republican alternatives out there. "I value and respect her enough that whatever differences may exist will be minimal compared to the tasks we really need to do for the good of restoring our country," writes Dean.
It remains to be seen whether the she's-not-perfect-but-she's-pretty good case for Clinton will be enough to convince liberals to stop actively looking for someone who fits their beliefs better. (It may not matter how convincing Dean is if Warren, who has said she isn't running and signed a letter urging Clinton to run, doesn't change her mind.) No matter what, however, that Dean felt the need to reiterate his support for Clinton and make the case for why other liberals should (or at least could) be for her is a telling indication of the nervousness among allies of the former secretary of state about the possibility of a liberal uprising complicating her coronation for the nomination.