Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

US Notebook: No sit-down with Barack Obama, but Robinson and McGuinness heartened by polls showing Hillary Clinton as clear front-runner for President

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness got no sit-down with Barack Obama during their sixth official St Patrick's Day visit to Washington.

Maybe Obama was underscoring just how "disappointed" he was about the Haass talks's failure. Or, given the escalating Crimea crisis, maybe his meeting with the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, was all the face-time he could spare for the Irish that day.

Whatever the reason, those hoping for future presidential St Patrick's Day welcomes for Northern Ireland's First and deputy First Ministers can take heart from the fact that, in spite of not having yet declared her candidacy, Hillary Clinton is the clear front-runner among Democrat Oval Office aspirants.

However, if she does run, although many polls have her currently besting all potential Republican rivals, the former secretary of state would still face a long road in trying to re-occupying her former White House digs.

Before getting the chance to slug it out with a Republican, she'd have to again navigate the tricky Democrat primary season.

Potential Democrat opponents include the likes of vice-president Joe Biden and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. Another possible foe could be independent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Congress's only self-avowed socialist.

The 72-year-old first gained elected office as mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981. In 1990, he was elected to the House of Representatives and in 2006 became one of Vermont's two senators. He won reelection in 2012 with 71% of the vote.

Earlier this month he told The Nation magazine: "I am prepared to run for president of the United States."

This wasn't a formal declaration of his candidacy, just an indication that he's "prepared" to enter the fray. Given the fact that the presidential primary season is still two years away, he has plenty of time to decide.

But could someone like Sanders actually win? His biggest hurdle would be money. If Hillary Clinton makes a second stab at the White House, mountains of establishment cash will row in behind her. She and Bill are connected coast-to-coast like few other politicians in America.

Secondly, in a country where the Right-wing's blatantly inaccurate branding of Obama as a socialist gained significant traction, it's clear that a deep-seated fear and loathing of the "S-word" is alive and well.

A 2012 Pew Center poll found 60% of Americans view socialism negatively, although 49% of those aged 18 to 29 view it positively.

Sanders has always trumpeted an economic leveling of society. Appearing routinely on national TV panel discussion in recent years, he has proven to be a passionate and articulate spokesmen for progressives.

He has kind things to say about Hillary Clinton as a person and politician. But he, like many Leftist Americans, doesn't believe that she's the person who could lead a full-scale assault on the money-soaked reality of Washington politics.

The Clintons embody America's entrenched political establishment. And with huge numbers of people expressing deep distrust and outright hostility towards Washington's political elite, a sizable chunk of Democrat and Democrat-leaning independents would likely be open to hearing Sanders out.

"People are hurting and it is important for leadership now to explain to them why they are hurting and how we can grow the middle class and reverse the economic decline of so many people," he told The Nation.

"And I don't think that is the politics of Senator Clinton, or the Democratic establishment. People want to hear an alternative set of policies."

Still, if he decides to run, Sanders doesn't need to win to succeed. By taking part in primary season debates and campaigning far to the Left of Hillary Clinton, or any other mainstream Democrat, he'd have a chance to shift the Democrat Party's dialogue — and thus the entire national political debate — far more to the Left than it has ever been.

And that's an outcome that Bernie Sanders might consider worth the effort.

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