What if Hillary Clinton doesn't run?
But what if she doesn't run? I admit this is unlikely. No one gets as far in politics as she has without being ambitious, and she showed in 2008 that her aspiration to the Presidency is real. She'd be 69 in 2016, but that's three years younger than McCain was in 2008. As her party's strongest candidate, she might even feel an obligation to run, to definitively prevent the disaster which a Republican administration would mean. But the possibility exists. Her health could decline, or she could simply tire of politics. People do. It's a possibility we need to prepare for.
Polls show that Joe Biden is the second choice among Democrats. As a successful Vice President, he'd clearly be the center of attention if Clinton did not run. His debates with Palin in 2008 and Ryan in 2012 showed he'd be a strong campaigner (the latter arguably revitalized Democrats disconsolate over Obama's poor first performance against Romney). And he's hinting that he might be interested. As with Clinton, the main reason for skepticism is age -- if elected in 2016, Biden would be 74 when he took office.
For either Clinton or Biden, the age factor would mean a lot of attention for the VP choice -- as with McCain in 2008. Clinton, as the prohibitive front-runner, would not be under the pressure that prompted a losing McCain to take his disastrous gamble with Palin; not needing a game-changer, she would be free to make a safe, even dull choice. Biden, too, would probably go for a safe choice over a dramatic one; he was such a choice himself in 2008, and that clearly worked to Obama's advantage in contrast with Palin.
I'm intrigued, though, by the strong showing of Elizabeth Warren, who is the third choice of Democratic voters after the big two, despite being much less well-known nationally. The support she does arouse is passionate. And with good reason -- aside from the issue of how likely she is to win, she's what the country really needs. She challenges and confronts the interests of the financial parasite class far more openly than most. There are few politicians whose influence Wall Street has tried so desperately to obstruct. She's our best realistic hope to actually do something about the problem of skyrocketing inequality instead of just wringing hands about it.
The intuitive argument against Warren -- that middle America won't elect a Harvard professor with only one Senate term's experience in politics -- is refuted by the current President. A more substantive objection is that she might be too radical to win. Hard-right Republicans regularly delude themselves that extremist candidates whom they personally like, such as Santorum or Bachmann, are far more electable than is actually the case. We have to beware the same danger on our own side. On the core issues of inequality and the devastation wrought by unconstrained capitalism, much of the country is not yet aware and awake.
But it could be made aware and awake. Ultimately these problems cannot be solved until it is. The scandalous growth of inequality, and the unequal distribution of income gains, over the last couple of decades should have been enough alarm to awaken the dead. Senator Bernie Sanders has done a sterling job of focusing on these issues, but he is only one voice. What if the Democratic party had joined in spreading the message? What if it begins to do so? The last few years have seen an actual test of conservative-style austerity policies in most of the European Union vs. stimulus policy (however weakened by Republican obstruction) in the US, and the contrast in results is as clear as can be. The Democratic party has not clearly and forcefully articulated this fact. It should. If Warren were our nominee in 2016, it would have to, for the campaign would naturally focus in her signature issues.
It would be a big gamble. We'd be accepting a greater risk of defeat in exchange for a much greater pay-off if we won. It's a gamble which, in my judgment, we should take only if the risk of defeat is still minimal. For make no mistake -- a 2016 win by a Republican, any Republican, would be a disaster (see for example the Supreme Court issue, and don't forget the Republican base). The first priority has to be to make sure this does not happen.
How much the risk can be minimized depends on the mood of the electorate in 2016, and on what the Republicans do. If for whatever reason the Republicans look formidable, we'd be wiser to choose a "safe" candidate like Biden who would capably carry forward Obama's work. But if the economy is much improved and Obamacare is an acknowledged success, and/or the Republicans nominate an unelectable extremist and/or end up hopelessly divided from their primary battle, then yes, go for the gold and nominate Warren.