In a context of emerging peace, prosperity, and human rights?
This would be big. Transformational, even.
Peter Beinart, in the Atlantic Monthly (among many, many other political observers), has concluded that “Rand Paul is the 2016 Republican Frontrunner.” And two of the Washington Post’s top political observers, Chris Cillizia and Sean Sullivan, say “Hillary Clinton is the biggest frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination ever. Yes, ever.”
The next presidential election is not going to be “Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden.” It bodes to be transformational.
The playing field, meaning the world, has changed. It has changed in fundamental ways. These are ways behind which our political class lags.
Yet our political process, as sloppy and slow as it is, has thrust to the fore the two candidates who, by all appearances, best grasp that change. Rand Paul and Hillary Rodham Clinton would frame the debate — and the alternatives they offer — based on real clear and present issues rather than outworn dogma.
Sen. Rand Paul appears, to this columnist, to best grasp and present the model of classical (small l) liberal (small r) republicanism of any of the present contenders. He stands for smaller government, civil liberties made sacrosanct by inclusion in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, and free enterprise. He defines himself as “an outspoken champion for constitutional liberties and fiscal responsibility, and a warrior against government overreach.” Also, he makes his case with affable optimism and amiable gentility rarely seen within the GOP since Ronald Reagan left the stage.
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton appears, to this columnist, an eloquent champion of (big L) Liberal social democracy. In her Remarks at the Sorbonne, in 1999, she reportedly stated that
“We have lived with the benefits, for 50 years now, of the agreements that were made at the end of WWII, coming out of Bretton Woods to create new financial architectures. Today, we have outlived the usefulness of that particular set of arrangements. And we now have to face up to creating a new architecture that will help us tackle runaway global capitalism’s worst effects; ensure social safety nets for the most vulnerable; address the debt burden that is crushing many of our poorest nations.”
This columnist strongly leans toward liberal republicanism as far better adapted to create a climate of equitable prosperity, job creation, and human dignity. He also considers it better suited to the American temperament. Yet … there is nothing inherently illegitimate to a social democracy if implemented with full respect for the “consent of the governed.”
The perennially happiest countries in the world, after all, such as Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden all were, last time this columnist looked, social democracies. One of the three principles in America’s “mission statement,” the Declaration of Independence, is the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism, in A Little Book in C major, as ‘The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.’ Unless one is a Puritan happiness is nothing to be sneezed at.
So there are two competing visions for America’s future direction. The 2016 presidential election has transformational potential because the world, almost unnoticed, has transformed. Peace, prosperity, and human rights are emerging as the fundamental reality of the 21st century around the world.
The electorate is beginning to wake up to this change. Thus our political leadership is going to have to wake up to it. For one who aspires to lead America outworn dogmas need to go. It would appear that both Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton are transforming their own political parties along fresh lines. Whichever of them (or a dark horse who captures the mood of the electorate even more proficiently) prevails this portends the possibility of a fundamental political transformation.
We in the media generally have done a terrible job reporting to you the nature of how the playing field itself has changed. This columnist was one of relatively few mavericks to point out that peace and prosperity are breaking out, and with profound implications. Please do not blame us wretched pixel-stained wretches. The evidence is that our readers find stories about peace and prosperity dreadfully dull. And columnists do not like being bores.
Nevertheless, hello peace: As noted in a 2011 Forbes.com column The End of Politics: The Dawning Irrelevance of Obama and the GOP:
“The reduction in world mayhem seems alien. TV news and newspapers present freighted drama, not dry facts. That obscures the trend. Also, a dramatic peace trend sounds implausible to those habituated to war.
“But scholars of such matters observe that the number of war battlefield deaths has dropped by a factor of 1,000, falling from 500 per 100,000 in prehistoric times, to 60-70 in the 19th and 20th century (notwithstanding epic wars) to… less than one such death per 300,000 now in the 21st. Genocide deaths have dropped by well over a factor of 1000 from 1942 to 2008.
“Much of this is documented in Steven Pinker‘s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Joshua Goldstein’s Winning the War on War, and in a new study by the Human Security Report Project.”
And hello prosperity. As noted in As 2012 Comes To An End The World Has Never Been Better, The UK’s The Spectator crisply explained Why 2012 was the best year ever:
“It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.
“In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. …. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too.”
Peace and prosperity are breaking out. And now Foreign Policy, in Ken Roth’s December 30, 2013 Silver Lining; The Year 2013 in Human Rights, clues us, with a slightly muted trumpet, to the fact that human rights are breaking out worldwide as well. FP: [“T]here has been human rights progress in many areas in 2013. That is of obvious importance for the immediate beneficiaries, but it also should encourage efforts for progress on persistent abuses elsewhere.” While one could quibble with certain of its selections, this article goes on to lay out an unarguably impressive litany of human rights advances.
As Forbes’s own Christopher Helman observed in a discerning article The Happiest and Saddest Countries, 2013: “[I]n the United States faith in governance is at an all-time low. The fiscal cliff, the sequester, high unemployment, the federal shutdown, the embarrassing roll out of Obamacare. Not only are Americans disgusted with Washington, our allies are, too….”
Historically speaking, great nations typically do not fail from their government’s moving too far right or too far left. They fail from myopic officialdom. They fail from their governing class not recognizing, and capably handling, the presenting issues of the day.
One of the greatest virtues of America’s liberal republican political structure is its remarkable resilience. The “faith in governance is at an all-time low” because our government officials are a little slow on the uptake about absolutely fundamental shifts of the playing field.
But culture shifts slowly. Politics has been more or less defined for a century by war, poverty, and indignities. That’s over. It is disappointing, although not quite reprehensible, that our leadership — and we, the people — are rather slow in adjusting to the startling new epoch emerging. Yet adjusting they, and we, are.
Rand Paul and Hillary Rodham Clinton have emerged as the leading contenders of their respective parties because they best exemplify recognition of how the playing field is changing to one, however imperfect, of peace, prosperity, and human rights. And how best to engage with, and support, these trends.
The world has changed, and changed fundamentally. Each party’s frontrunner presents as a capable, dignified, advocate for his and her party’s vision of how to realign the federal government with the emergent order of peace, prosperity, and human rights. Dr. Paul’s vision is one of classical liberalism. Madame Clinton’s is that of social democracy.
America’s future hangs in the balance. Which candidate more clearly recognizes that the fulcrum of the balance is the worldwide outbreak of peace, prosperity, and human rights? That candidate will have a decided advantage in the upcoming presidential election. It’s a really big deal.
Paul vs. Clinton: liberal republicanism vs. social democracy.