Do the Democrats Need a Backup Plan for 2016?

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US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (C) writes on her cell phone with Roberta S. Jacobson (L), US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs,  and US Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon  (R) in Brasilia, Brazil, before heading to Brussels on Tuesday April 17, 2012.   AFP  Photo / Pool / Jacquelyn MARTIN (Photo credit should read JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton writes on her cell phone in Brasilia, Brazil.Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/Getty Images

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. This week, the magazine asked him about Hillary’s emails, Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, and the alleged potential sale of the Daily News.

The Times revealed that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct business as Secretary of State, which may have allowed her to shield some correspondence from the public record. It’s certainly an odd oversight for someone who knows the level of scrutiny that comes with a run for president. Do you think Clinton made a simple mistake or is she up to something more nefarious, or both?
Are Clinton’s email shenanigans a federal offense? Probably not. But we still don’t know the whole story, and it seems to be thickening by the minute — notably with a new report from the AP that she was protecting her email by cycling it through her own private email server out of Chappaqua. But the more important question is why the Clintons, who more than anyone in American politics understand the high risks of perceived improprieties, have left Hillary’s campaign so vulnerable even before it is officially out of the gate.

Why in God’s name did they change the name of the Clinton Foundation to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation? That gives Hillary full ownership of a stream of potential conflict-of-interest revelations that have been emerging ever since, notably in the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico: that the foundation solicited funds from at least 60 corporations that were lobbying the State Department during her tenure as Secretary of State; that the foundation quietly resumed soliciting donations from foreign governments once she left the State Department; that an Obama Administration ethics framework established to monitor potential conflicts of interest between Bill Clinton’s lucrative foreign speech engagements and State on Hillary’s watch was less-than-exacting.

And one imagines this is only the beginning. At the Post, a lead reporter on the Clinton story is Rosalind S. Helderman, whom some may recall was the dogged investigative journalist whose forensic journalism helped expose the pay-for-play scandal that brought down Bob McDonnell, the former Virginia Governor, and his wife Maureen.

Another question: What is the Democrats’ Plan B if their presumed presidential candidate falls by the wayside? Answer: None. Elizabeth Warren is not running, no matter how many on the party’s left fantasize about it, and, as a Massachusetts liberal, has virtually no chance of winning a national election even if she did. The others toying with a presidential candidacy, like Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb, have no chance either, and neither does Joe Biden. The Democrats ridicule the GOP field at their own peril; they have no field at all. 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress finally took place, to maximum partisan spectacle: Democrats who found a reason to be somewhere else included Joe Biden, John Kerry, Al Franken, and Elizabeth Warren. (President Obama didn’t watch the speech, but after reading it gave the Israeli prime minister’s message a thumbs-down.) Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham said the demand for tickets among conservative donors reminded him of a Garth Brooks concert. So, did it live up to its billing?
Clearly it did for the Republicans, led by John Boehner, who turned Israel into a partisan political football that could be hurled against a Democratic president. We’ll learn on March 17 whether Netanyahu’s stunt had any effect on that day’s Israeli elections. But as for the issues that actually matter — the fate of Iran’s nuclear program and the long-term fate of Israel’s relationship with America — there can be no glib or immediate answers.

Netanyahu’s decision to ally himself and by implication his country with a single American political party, whatever that party, may prove either a quickly forgotten blip in history (especially if he fails to survive the March 17 results) or a fateful step toward an America-Israel divorce. That Netanyahu would roll the dice in this way — that he would risk damaging Israel’s historic bond with the United States — is utterly reckless. And politically boneheaded. Congress has an 18.6 percent approval rating; it’s so dysfunctional that it came close to failing to fund America’s own homeland security on the eve of Netanyahu’s speech pleading for Israel’s security. Whatever his congressional address accomplishes with Israeli voters, it was a tone-deaf move in America, where polls have consistently shown that large margins disapprove of his and Boehner’s insulting end run around the nation’s president.

Certainly Netanyahu fits right in with the party he chose. Like his GOP fellow travelers, he knows he loathes Obama and his policies, but he offered no more plausible alternative to the Obama Administration’s posture in the Iran nuclear negotiations than the Republican Congress has to Obamacare. Netanyahu’s only real policy alternative, as many have pointed out, is essentially the same one posited by John McCain in 2007, when he invoked the Beach Boys to propose that we “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb” Iran.

In further keeping with his Republican allies, Netanyahu is fond of making wild predictions that anything Obama does will lead to apocalypse. His claim that the existing interim agreement with Iran and the accompanying sanctions would implode has turned out to be as bogus as the GOP’s dire, if still fiercely held, assertions that Obamacare would lead to higher health-care costs and increase the deficit. Worse, his trail of repeated claims, now stretching back nearly 20 years, that an Iranian bomb was only a year or two away have undermined his credibility with an American constituency that Israel needs more than ever — not just Democrats but independent-minded millennials, including Jewish millennials. They get their news from sources like The Daily Show, which replay Netanyahu’s greatest hits to portray him as a boy who cried wolf. And Israel will need the firm support of these Americans long after the aging American Jewish Establishment typified by AIPAC has faded from the scene. Even within the GOP, there is a younger demographic, the anti-interventionist Rand Paul brigade, that is reexamining the parameters of the American-Israeli alliance.

If a deal is achieved by the U.S. and its allies with Iran by the March 24 deadline, we can be certain that it will be scrutinized on its merits by all parties and subjected to a fierce and essential debate. Netanyahu’s speech didn’t affect that. Let’s hope, for Israel’s sake, it won’t have any other lasting impact either.

After owning it for 22 years, Mort Zuckerman has hired bankers to explore a sale of the Daily News. If you can believe industry whispers and anonymous tipsters, the tabloid may soon be in the hands of James Dolan, supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, or even Rupert Murdoch or Michael Bloomberg. What’s the appeal for a billionaire of a company that loses more than $20 million per year?
Even before newspapers started going the way of the horse and buggy, owning one was mainly an ego trip for those amateurish plutocrats who got into the game. At the very least, it gets you a perch as an expert on Morning Joe or Charlie Rose. The News, a paper that Zuckerman ruined with constant editorial meddling and crippling budget cutbacks, may have close to zero economic value, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a rich man’s plaything until he gets bored or tires of the torrents of red ink. Dolan, one of the least popular moneybags in the city, and Catsimatidis, whose chain of Gristede’s grocery stores was once deemed among the city’s worst in a News investigation, have real motives to give themselves journalistic mouthpieces. Dolan is one of the most reviled sports team owners in New York history, which is saying something, and no doubt he’d relish shutting down the News sports writers who stand up to him. Catsimatidis, an incompetent Mayoral candidate in 2013, presumably still harbors political ambitions. Good luck with that. If you are going to buy a paper to further an agenda, you’d better be a pro, like Murdoch. He will eat their News for lunch much as he did Zuckerman’s.