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Only Clinton can keep Democratic coalition from splintering

Posted: 07/14/2014

by Paul Green
Published in the Chicago Sun-Times on July 14, 2104

The tea party movement in the Republican Party has been the hot political party topic for the last several years. Calling themselves true conservatives with a splash of libertarianism, these individuals have won and lost primary and general elections, have caused United States House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, countless headaches and have made huge policy efforts to push the GOP farther to the right.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Democrats have had a relatively peaceful time generally uniting behind President Barack Obama’s governing record. This record, with only a few exceptions, has been center-left on the political/philosophical scale.

The question I raise today is the following — will the Democratic Party’s left wing start making some serious political noise about moving their party to the left as 2016 looms closer? Issues such as income inequality, real immigration reform, taxing the rich, punishing Wall Street (especially the concept of too big to fail) expanding the social welfare state, reducing defense spending, etc., are out there, but few Democrats have been willing to buck Obama’s positions on these matters. Why?

Obviously, as a re-elected president, he has received in 2008 and 2012 massive support from his party’s left wing. Moreover and equally important is the issue of race. African-American loyalty to Obama has been, and still is, incredibly high — so any intra-party attack or even dissent against him or his views could and probably would be political suicide for ambitious Democrats. Still, these folks sitting on the party’s left wing are getting itchy, and it is my belief as Obama becomes more and more a lame duck there could be a “drink movement” in the Democratic Party. No, the liquid will not be tea, rather it will be “Chablis.”

These Chablis Democrats will be a cross-section of individuals coming from public employee unions, academia, young college grads unable to find good jobs or pay off their higher education debt, liberal not-for-profits and various upscale professions. And with Obama’s dominant presence waning, they will seek out support from African-Americans, Hispanics and working people in general. To push my metaphor to the limit — the only possible “cork” to stop this Chablis movement from spilling out across the country is the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

In the epic 2008 Democratic presidential nomination tussle between her and Obama — quite clearly race trumped gender. This factor will not repeat itself in 2016. Despite some fumbles on her current book tour, e.g., “the flat-broke” phrase — on leaving the White House — Mrs. Clinton remains the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Using old-fashion Chicago political logic — her gender political shield and the nonstop attacks of Republican pols and their pundit fellow travelers gives her a nomination insurance policy that makes it nearly impossible for any potential serious left-wing 2016 Democratic challenger. As a result of the above, the former secretary of state’s quest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination appears unstoppable and thus will keep the Chablis Dems on the shelf.

However — if she blinks and decides her last “hard choice” will be not to run in 2016 — the “Chablis will flow.” At the moment, the names of potential Democratic presidential candidates in a “Clinton-less” nomination battle are not important — what is critical in the overall political scheme is seeing the party lunge to the left.

If this later scenario takes place — the current concerns about polarized politics and a divided electorate will seem like a “Kumbaya” moment compared with the vitriol and anger generated by the potential of “winged politics.”

Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University.