Democrats face a daunting task in 2016, as they contemplate a new leader for the party. With Barack Obama preparing to step down, the Democratic establishment will again have to find a candidate who can re-energize party activists. This is not very easy for a party with an uncertain legacy and an unclear agenda.
For all the Republican charges that the Democrats are liberals , this is not entirely clear among the party faithful. For some economics is most important. These are the ones that have generally been disappointed with Obama. His White House represents the highest echelon of international business and financial institutions. Obama has embraced free trade with gusto, and the American labor movement is still in the doldrums.
On issues of civil rights Obama has been stellar, but not so on those of class. The gap widens between the super rich and the middle class.
Certainly a Hillary Clinton presidency would reverse none of this. Bill Clinton's administration was a bonanza for those elites that came from fashionable eastern universities and who live in the finest zip codes. Indeed, a great deal of nonsense was spewed out by Bill when he talked about those "who play by the rules" being allowed to succeed. If the business community has such a set of living instructions it is a surprise to many. Indeed, it is a world economy, not a national one, so local practices and aspirations are no longer considered to be a relevant concern.
Since the New Deal, Democrats have tried to find new outlets for passion. Economics have usually been approached from the direction of Wall Street.
The 1964 tax cut pushed by Lyndon Johnson was every bit as regressive as Ronald Reagan's in 1980. Medicare was sold to the health care community by sweetening the pot. Federal grants for local hospitals increased the take and increased administrative staff.
As for physicians, from 1966 to 1973 they saw their income go up 11 percent per year on average. If it was socialism it was the high-end version. Federal housing became a boom for landlords.
This has left the party a legacy of overpromising. Many of these programs with their practices of subsidy created those very social imbalances which they decry. Productive manufacturing was eschewed in favor of foreign investment and monetary manipulation.
This also partially explains the party's rich history of vagueness. In 1960, "it was a time for greatness" for John F. Kennedy, while 1976 saw "why not the best" for Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton's slogan was so vacuous that few remember it. And of course, Obama offered "Hope."
Whether or not Hillary can spark the old enthusiasm is still yet to be seen.
As with Republicans, Democrats will be seen as simply another backer of the system. If the economy goes through another jolt, what then will Obama be able to say to the least of those in the party. Another two terms of unrealized promise may persuade many to give up on politics altogether.