Bush vs. Clinton. Again.

Bush_Clinton_92I predict the 2016 US Presidential race will be Bush vs. Clinton.

I’m not the first to say this and I definitely won’t be the last. But there are good reasons to believe that the surnames printed on 2016 bumper stickers will match those from 1992.

Here are a few reasons why. First, Hillary.

Without even doing or saying anything related to the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton is already the run-away favourite to secure the Democratic nomination. Her record of public service and her public profile are unmatched by anyone else in the Party. Politco neatly summed up Hillary’s very impressive credentials like this:

A first lady-turned-senator-turned-presidential candidate-turned Secretary of State with 100-percent name ID and deep popularity who would, oh yes, make history as the nation’s first female president.

Jeb_Bush_Hillary_ClintonHillary was the first First Lady in history to have her own office in the West Wing of the White House, no doubt to signify that she is serious about policy. In the Senate she sat on several committees including the Armed Services Committee and her record is positive although, curiously, there are no substantive legislative achievements to her name.

As Secretary of State she has gained her praise from the likes of Google chairman Eric Schmidt who described her as “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson.

Her time at the State Dept. coincided with some major global achievements: the liberation of Libya, the death of Osama Bin Laden (who can forget that picture), the freeing of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, a diplomatic opening to Burma, and the isolation of Syrian President Assad.

There are, however, questions over the extent to which any of these can be chalked up as Clinton victories, rather than events that happened on her watch.

This is partly a result of her relationship with President Obama, as Stephen M Walt explains: “Clinton isn’t a great secretary of state because that is not the role that she’s been asked to play in this administration.”

While there is no doubting Hillary’s energy and activism as SoS, perhaps the recent New Yorker headline describes it best: “Hillary Was a Great Ambassador, Not a Great Secretary of State”.

What is clear is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a formidable candidate with a formidable record. Whoever runs against her in 2016 will need to be a seriously impressive republican with a first-class record.

Step forward Jeb Bush.

After losing in his first attempt at the Florida Governor’s mansion to incumbent Lawton Chiles, John Ellis Bush ran again four years later – and won – focussing on issues normally reserved for Democratic candidates. Jeb Bush was only the third Republican Governor in Florida’s history, and the only one to be re-elected.

Jeb Bush’s record as Governor includes some notable achievements – not to mention a departing favourability rating of over 60%, an achievement beyond many two-term governors who tend to leave office with declining ratings (it’s worth noting that Hillary also left the State Dept. with high favourability ratings).

On healthcare, Jeb Bush enacted Medicade reforms to give patients greater decision making powers by allowing them to choose the coverage that best meets their needs.

He has strong green credentials having succeeded in a project to restore America’s Everglades.

On the economy, Bush cut taxes every year he was in office, he reduced the number of government employees by over 14,000, he vetoed spending programmes, and he created the Centre for Efficient Government to improve government effectiveness.

On education – the area he says he is most proud of – Bush established the A+ Plan for Education, which increased accountability of schools and which in turn resulted in significant grade improvements among students, and he introduced a scholarship programme for low-income students.

Recently, former Chief of Staff to George W Bush, Andy Card expressed glowing support for Jeb Bush as President. This is significant because it suggests that there might be other senior republicans like Card who were loyal to George W Bush and who would also get behind Jeb.

Finally, one major feather in Jeb Bush’s cap is that he will do very well among Latino voters. He speaks Spanish and is married to a Mexican American – Columba Bush – and is even considered by some as an Hispanic Republican!

So there you have it. My prediction. Bush vs. Clinton in 2016.

There are many reasons why this prediction may not come true, not least of which being that neither Jeb Bush nor Hillary Clinton have said that they will even run in 2016. Add to that the much talked about “Bush fatigue” on the one side and, on the other, the sense that Hillary has been here before, and you begin to see why Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 may not materialise.

But I hope it does. Both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton possess a rare quality: statesmanship. Today’s serious issues need to be met with serious solutions by serious politicians. No doubt the 2016 race will have its fair share of gimmicks, slogans, and mud-slinging (as all modern political campaigns do) but perhaps it will also be defined by the quality of debate between two statesmen. I hope so.

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Short-Termism

Short-termismShort-termism is a major hindrance to economic prosperity in the UK, says a new report published today. While I am sure this is true, I would add that short-termism is also a significant hindrance in political life too.

Perhaps one of the best examples of short-termism in politics is found in the campaign slogan of Ronald Reagan during the 1980 Presidential election. One week before the American people went to the polls in 1980, Reagan famously asked: are you better off than you were four years ago?

As a piece of rhetoric this is superb. As a basis for serious political discourse it is not.

While there are, no doubt, some policies that can be assessed after a single term in office, there are many that cannot. This is even more pertinent in times of austerity than in times of plenty.

Transforming the economic performance of a nation is not something that is achieved in a single term (I doubt very much whether it can be achieved in two). Not only is the path uncertain, but along the way it is inevitable that many – if not most – members of the public will be worse off than they were previously.

It’s like paying-off a huge credit card bill whilst expecting to live at the same high standard to which you became accustomed when you were spending all the credit in the first place. There’s only one way to do that: get another credit card and run up more debt, thereby exacerbating the problem and delaying the inevitable repayment.

It’s worrying that Ed Miliband has decided to adopt Reagan’s famous campaign slogan. Not because it is highly effective and will gain traction come election time (it is and it will), but because it ignores the bigger political reality: UK plc has run out of money. This country has huge public sector debt and regardless of who is in power after the next election we cannot keep spending more than we take in.

Asking the electorate if they are better off than they were at the last election is irresponsible. It implies that things can be significantly different under a new regime. The reality is that any government – whether Conservative, Labour, or Coalition – will need to make cutbacks that will be felt by members of the public.

To suggest otherwise is to prioritise short-term political gain over our future economic security.

Dinner with David Frum

DFrumAt the Legatum Institute we recently hosted a dinner featuring David Frum as the guest of honour. The topic of conversation was the future of conservatism (US and UK). Below is a short summary of the evening, which first appeared here

 

“Insult fewer people next time.” This was David Frum’s advice to the Republican Party following its defeat in the 2012 Presidential Election.  While this analysis is no-doubt deliberately facetious it can almost certainly be filed under the “it’s funny because it’s true” category of jokes.

Over dinner at the Legatum Institute David Frum explains that there are three dominant theories circulating inside the Republican Party as to why, in 2012, it lost one of the most winnable elections in modern history. The first, he says, is trivial, the second is false, and the third is pernicious.

Theory number one says that the Republicans were simply caught off guard by a better organised, more social media-friendly Democratic Party. This, of course, may well be true but it is not the reason for defeat. In fact, Frum suggests that the failure to be as well organised as the democrats was more a symptom of defeat rather than a cause.

Theory number two says that the Republican message on immigration was wrong. The Party failed to tailor its message towards non-white voters and ultimately paid the price at the polling stations. Again, there is some truth to this theory but it is not the main reason why the GOP lost in 2012.

The third explanation is that the Republicans were simply the victim of a huge historical tragedy in which the American public made a grave error in not picking the right party. Put another way, the Republicans didn’t lose the election, rather the American people failed in their responsibility to elect the right person! “If the customer doesn’t like what you are selling, that’s not the customer’s problem”, suggest Frum.

While these reasons may provide a partial answer, the primary reason why the Republican Party lost the 2012 election,  explains Frum, was much simpler than that: it did not have a message for middle class Americans. Rather than focussing on immediate issues such as jobs, Republicans instead focussed on a deficit reduction plan, the effects of which will not be seen for 20-30 years. That message, argues Frum, lacks relevance for the middle class American voter.

In a wide ranging discussion on the future of conservatism – on both sides of the Atlantic – David Frum concluded with another piece of advice to conservatives seeking election: to be successful conservatives need to have an inclusive message that is culturally relevant. On top of that, the manner of discussion needs to be more responsible, less socially reactionary, and less rage-filled. On this point he is certainly right. Let’s hope he is listened to.