“Sliding Doors” is one of my wife Gail’s and my favorite movies. It explores the perennially fascinating theme of alternate histories–“what if” or “counterfactual” histories.
Although it is too early for me to attempt any serious discussion of the race to be elected president in 2016, it is not too early to rerun the what-ifs raised by the 2008 Democratic primary that came down to a hard-fought battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Most political observers believe that Hillary would also have defeated John McCain in the general election, as Barack did, so the Democratic primary in 2008 comes closer than the general election to providing a “sliding-doors” moment when history could easily have gone either way. If I had the technical skill, I would photoshop the “Sliding Doors” poster above to have Barack on top and Hillary on the bottom, instead of blond and brunette Gwyneth Paltrow.
I would be interested in your opinion about how the world would be different if Hillary had won instead of Barack. I have two thoughts on that subject, that I am happy to have you dispute.
First, I think the 2008 Financial Crisis was baked in the cake by the time of the 2008 primaries, so whoever became president would have had to deal with the same type of economic problems, and the differences between Hillary and Barack could have been crucial. I think Hillary, having been burned on the health care reform front before, would have pursued health care reform, but would have put it as a lower priority relative to economic recovery than Barack did. As I wrote in “What Should the Historical Pattern of Slow Recoveries after Financial Crises Mean for Our Judgment of Barack Obama’s Economic Stewardship?” I think it was a mistake for Barack not to devote every ounce of his political capital to getting a bigger stimulus package for economic recovery; so at that juncture, it was a mistake to let the goal of health care reform distract from the goal of economic recovery.
In my book, to the extent a health care reform steamroller would then have been impossible, that also might have been a good thing. Given how little we know about what works in health care reform at a systemic level (see my column “Don’t Believe Anyone Who Claims to Understand the Economics of Obamacare”), I believe that Medical Reform Federalism would have been the best course, and this might have been exactly the kind of compromise eventually reached had Barack not been in the presidency to push through Obamacare. As I wrote in my post “Evan Soltas on Medical Reform Federalism–in Canada” here is what I mean by Medical Reform Federalism:
Let’s abolish the tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance, with all of the money that would have been spent on this tax exemption going instead to block grants for each state to use for its own plan to provide universal access to medical care for its residents.
Second, I think that Hillary would have helped the Syrian rebels more as President than she could as Secretary of State, which in turn would have projected enough more toughness that Vladimir Putin would not have dared to seize Crimea for Russia and Ukraine would not be facing that loss of the Crimea and possible further loss of territory right now. Supposing that is true, even greater differences between the two alternate histories I am considering (actual history and Hillary winning in 2008) are likely to open up as time goes on.
I was stimulated to think again about Hillary vs. Barack by a Washington Post article this morning by Philip Rucker and Zachary A. Goldfarb that can be found online here:
Here are some memorable passages from that article:
Referring to Rove’s remarks, [Bill] Clinton chuckled and fired back with humor.
“First they said she faked her concussion, and now they say she’s auditioning for a part on ‘The Walking Dead,’ ” he said, referring to a television series about zombies. “If she does [have brain damage], then I must be in really tough shape because she’s still quicker than I am.”
2. Asked whether [Hillary] Clinton is still a stateswoman operating above the political fray, Republican presidential strategist Mark McKinnon wrote in an e-mail, “There is no ‘above the fray’ in politics anymore. There is only ‘the fray.’”
3. [Bill] Clinton, who has faced criticism that income inequality worsened on his watch in the 1990s, defended income growth during his term but acknowledged that the gap between the rich and the poor represents a significant problem.
“You can say, ‘Well, inequality has still increased,’ because the top 1 percent did better, but I don’t think there’s much you could do about that unless you want to start jailing people,” he said.