OPINION: The 2016 presidential field lacks viable, fresh ideas

By John Irwin

I first started following politics in the fall of 2008. I couldn’t have picked a better time.

It was one of the most tumultuous points in American history. The economy was in freefall, the housing market collapsed, the auto industry was in shambles and the U.S. was in the midst of one of the most consequential and exciting presidential campaigns in history.

Barack Obama and John McCain offered two distinct paths forward for the country, and Obama’s won out. One of the great what-ifs of history might always be what if McCain hadn’t chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate and sustained his small lead prior to that point.

In short, the 2008 presidential campaign offered two distinct visions for the United States, as did the 2012 campaign to a slightly lesser extent.

The 2016 campaign will also offer a choice, but this time it might not be quite like the previous two. Instead, the choice might be between a return to 1990s center-left triangulation and either an experiment in far-right government or a return to 2000s-style neoconservatism.

As a young voter, that’s not a very exciting choice for me.

For starters, the Democratic Party will almost certainly be nominating Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state. While the election of Clinton would be historic, there’s little that Clinton would offer as president that would excite me as a voter given her history and her positions.

It was telling that Wall Street’s collective reaction to Clinton’s new populist bent was a shrug. There’s little to suggest that the Clinton America might elect as president would be different than the centrist, Wall Street-friendly one it’s known since the 1990s.

The Democratic Party, which brands itself as the party of new ideas and faces, appears to be heading back to the past.

The Republican Party, alternatively, is offering some new-ish faces this time around. Many of the announced and likely candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, including Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, were elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. Some names, like Sen. Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, made names for themselves even sooner.

There are two problems with them, though.

The first is that most of those names do not have a legitimate chance at winning the nomination for a variety of reasons, whether it’s fundraising issues, relationships with the establishment GOP, or whatever else. The second is that most of those names have stances so far to the right that they’ve rendered themselves unelectable in the general election. The Republican Party has veered to the right since Obama took office, and while that might make for good politics as the opposition party, it probably wouldn’t make for good government.

The Republican leadership knows that, and that’s the reason why Jeb Bush looks like the favorite to win the GOP nomination. He’s beloved by the GOP leadership and establishment and is closer to the center on a few issues (relatively speaking) than the other contenders. The nomination is his to lose.

While he has a different public persona than his brother, George W. Bush, there is little on his resume that suggest he would govern any differently than him as president.

That means America might be facing a choice between two blasts from the past come November 2016. It might be a pick between a ’90s-style centrist Democrat or a ’00s-style neoconservative Republican, when what America needs is a newer, more modern approach to politics.

Please excuse me if I find 2016 a little tough to get excited for.


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