America looks different in 2016 than it did the last time Hillary Clinton ran for president: The economy has come out of free fall, the military has left the quagmire of the Iraq war, barriers to equality have toppled, and universal access to health care has become a reality. Tumultuous as they’ve been, the Barack Obama years have proved transformative — and the priority for Democratic voters should be to protect, consolidate, and extend those gains.
Today, the nation has new challenges, which require a different kind of leader — someone who can keep what Obama got right, while also fixing his failures, especially on gun control and immigration reform. That will require a focus and toughness that Obama sometimes lacked. This is Clinton’s time, and the Globe enthusiastically endorses her in the Feb. 9 Democratic primary in New Hampshire. She is more seasoned, more grounded, and more forward-looking than in 2008, and has added four years as secretary of state to her already formidable resume. Democrats in the Granite State should not hesitate to choose her.
As the recent spate of mass shootings has made tragically clear, the next president will face a crisis of gun violence. Firearms killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2013. The intransigence of Congressional Republicans who’ve blocked reform can hardly be blamed on Obama, but it has become clear that he won’t be able to make a dent in the problem before leaving office.
Clinton promises to close the kind of loopholes that allowed killers like Dylann Roof to obtain weapons, and to lift restrictions on federally funded research into gun violence. She also supports reimposing the federal ban on assault weapons, which expired under George W. Bush.
Clinton’s assertive record on guns stands in contrast to that of her main Democratic opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who voted against the Brady background-check bill and, his claims notwithstanding, is not a convincing champion of gun control. Sanders presents himself as an avowed foe of big business, but his vote to protect firearms corporations from legal liability tells a different story. Clinton is simply more credible on what for too many Americans is a life-and-death issue.
Immigration reform also eluded the Obama White House — in part because the president himself made it a low priority early in his term. On this issue, Sanders, Clinton, and the third Democratic candidate, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, all seem to be on roughly the same page. It’s inexcusable that 11 million Americans are working in the shadows. Illegal immigrants mow your lawn, and wash your dishes at restaurants. They need a reasonable pathway to legalization and eventual citizenship.
But if part of the next president’s job is to tackle the unfinished business Obama will likely leave behind, an equally important goal must be to defend the milestones his presidency achieved on civil rights, health care reform, climate change, and foreign policy.
Obama has committed the United States to aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals to combat climate change, but those promises are easily reversible by the next administration. Likewise, the landmark agreement to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program could collapse without the next president’s backing.
The next president will also need to defeat continued GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare, while continuing to tackle health care costs. Clinton backs allowing Medicare to bargain for prescription drugs, as the VA does now, a common-sense step that should lead to lower drug costs. Sanders backs a single-payer system like those in Europe. Whether or not one believes single payer is a good idea, Sanders isn’t leveling with voters about the cost and disruption the transition to such a system would entail. When his own home state tried to switch to a single-payer system, the effort collapsed. By most measures, Obamacare is working, and his successor’s goal should be to improve it as necessary, not start anew.
Sanders’s great contribution to this year’s primary debate has been his emphasis on income inequality, and on the outsize political influence of Wall Street and other corporations. His entry into the race has pushed Clinton to the left in ways that have made her positions inconsistent — she has come out against a Trans-Pacific Partnership that she helped to initiate as secretary of state. But Sanders’s candidacy has also opened up more room for Clinton to champion working people who are struggling in a changing economy.
Meanwhile, though, issues of income distribution dominate Sanders’s candidacy to the point of crowding out equally substantive matters of foreign and domestic policy. As a temperamentally moderate figure, Clinton can bring these arguments to the Congress and take concrete steps to get relevant legislation enacted.
Few Americans lack an opinion of Hillary Clinton, who has served as secretary of state, a senator from New York, and as the first lady during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. She’s long been the bête noire of conservatives. Their cartoonish conspiracy theories — remember Vince Foster? — and unfounded attacks against her have, at times, triggered so much sympathy for Clinton that some of her actual weaknesses have been allowed to slide. Clinton is not perfect — especially on issues of financial regulation while she represented New York. Her vote in the Senate to authorize the war in Iraq was a mistake, as Sanders has taken every opportunity to point out.
Still, in the same way that Obama caught some lucky breaks in 2008, Clinton has drawn a very good hand this year. Her main Democratic opponent has failed to expand his coalition, and her GOP opponents are undercutting themselves every time they attack her over e-mails, Benghazi, or her husband’s sex life. Even after 25 years in the limelight, her opponents still don’t seem to understand how much stronger those attacks make her.
But the best reason to support Clinton isn’t the weaknesses of her opponents; it’s her demonstrated strengths and experience. Even her most dyed-in-the-wool opponents ought to take a second look at her. While Sanders has made an important contribution to the Democratic primary campaign, it’s Clinton who would make a better president.