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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

A Tough Question for 2016 Candidates

Several developments over the past week in the presidential race seem worthy of note. Hillary Clinton is coming under increasing fire from journalists and opponents for not answering many questions from the media, while former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio probably are regretting answering any at all.

National Journal piece in late April laid out eight questions Clinton had answered from reporters, noting that she had gone out of her way to avoid the press. A more liberal count of 13 was later cited by NPR, but it was a bit more inclusive, including such penetrating questions as, "How are you liking Iowa?"

Clinton was on the receiving end of friendly fire on the subject, with David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama, telling Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that he thought the presumptive Democratic nominee was making a "terrible mistake" not answering more. Todd pointed out that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, answered 39 during that same period. The suggestion is that by not responding to questions, not putting herself out there, she is playing into the meme that the Clintons are arrogant, following a different set of rules...

Ending the Presidential Debate Duopoly

The Democratic and Republican parties—which cannot seem to agree on anything else these days—have conspired to construct and defend a duopoly that closes competition to all other political alternatives. As a result, every current state governor and every one of the 535 members of Congress (save Maine Senator Angus King and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) was elected on one of the two party tickets. Governance in Washington is increasingly deadlocked between two parties that are being dragged to the extremes, while new alternatives that might fashion creative policy options and broader governing coalitions are stifled from competing. The political parties have become rigid and resistant to change, and have lost their capacity to find necessary and imaginative solutions to major problems.

Is it any wonder, then, that the polls show unprecedented disaffection among the American public? 62 percent of Americans do not think the federal government has the consent of the governed, and 86 percent feel our political system is broken and does not serve the interests of the American people.

In The Economist’s 2013 democracy index, the U.S. is looking mediocre by international standards. We rank only 19th in the quality of democracy. We should...

The Many Measures of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s advisors are annoyed by accusations that she’s only adopted economic populism to keep up with Elizabeth Warren. “Mrs. Clinton was the original Elizabeth Warren, her advisers say,” reports The New York Times, “a populist fighter who for decades has been an advocate for families and children.” In the Clinton administration, boasted Democratic Strategist Anita Dunn, “she had this reputation as being the very left-wing, liberal, Elizabeth Warren type.”

That’s true. In the 1990s, Hillary was considered further left on economic issues than her husband, and for good reason. Carl Bernstein has reported that in 1993, when Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and National Economic Council head Robert Rubin wanted to prioritize deficit reduction over new spending, Hillarytold Bill that, “You didn’t get elected to do Wall Street economics.” In 1995, according to Sally Bedell Smith, Labor Secretary Robert Reich convinced Hillary that the Clinton administration should make an issue of CEO pay, something Bill refused to do. George Stephanopoulos called Hillary “the most powerful liberal in the White House.”

But there’s an irony here. If Hillary’s advisors are angry that the press doesn’t describe her as “left-wing” anymore, they themselves are...

Ron Paul, Bill Clinton, and Dynastic Dilemmas

Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton don't have a lot in common, and what they do have, both sides might like to downplay. But the wrangling ahead of Paul's formal declaration that he's running for president shows one interesting parallel between the two—the way they're handling their respective éminences grises, Bill Clinton and Ron Paul. Both men are being treated a little like crazy uncles in the attic—the type everyone knows about but doesn't acknowledge—and a little like wise gurus essential to victory.

In both cases, candidates seek to extend the reach of political dynasties. In both cases, the current candidates largely owe their prominence to earlier dynasts, and understand the fundamental political genius they bring to the table. But the current candidates (and perhaps more importantly, their advisers) also know that these founders like to talk and are liable to say something embarrassing and damaging, making managing them as essential as it is challenging.

In the case of Ron Paul, that meant that the retired U.S. representative and three-time presidential candidate was present at the Galt House Hotel for his son's big speech, but he didn't have a speaking...

Clinton's Rough Road Ahead

The front-page headline in The Washington Post said it all: "Democrats in key states ask: Where is Hillary?" Putting aside the simple facts that the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are both 10 months away and that Hillary Clinton is not expected to officially enter the race before next month, this headline says so much more. In fact, it telegraphs the coming story line.

For party activists in early states—particularly Iowa and New Hampshire, where there is an enormous sense of entitlement, much more so than in Nevada and South Carolina—a presidential contender can't come soon or often enough to satisfy their cravings for attention. This is their chance every four years to bask in the sun of national attention, and they don't want to miss one minute of it. Everyone wants his or her picture taken with someone who could be the next president of the United States or, better yet, give advice to that would-be commander in chief about what really needs to be done.

Then there are the overcaffeinated journalists, who desperately need stories—preferably ones accompanied by conflict and controversy, even when campaigns are in the embryonic stages—focusing on organizing...