Here’s What Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton Have in Common
The annual list of the one hundred most influential people in the world compiled by Time magazine is meant to serve as a summation of those individuals whose opinions and actions are guiding history. It is true that the media plays a role in inflating their importance, and the role lists such Time’s play in defining who is an important figure at the global scale cannot be ignored completely. Yet, with the 2016 presidential election approaching, the reasons why the magazine named a number of U.S. politicians make for an interesting study.
Given the list’s limitations — it allows for only 100 individuals in a number of categories ranging from business to government to science to activism — the compilation significantly distills the major players behind global invents into series of names. But still, in a sense, it sets out those individuals who have serious political capital and media clout. The appearance of U.S. politicians like Kirsten Gillibrand and Scott Walker, who joined the list for the first time, as well as the inclusion of Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have be featured before, speaks to the pre-election mood of the United States. More specifically, these are the names being bandied about as possible contenders in the 2016 presidential race, or at least, its primaries.
1. Kirsten Gillibrand, junior U.S. Senator from New York and former Representative
“When she first ran for the House, I thought that race was impossible to win, but she never gave up and she did it. She has taken that same bright, tenacious spirit I saw in her as my intern to the House and then the Senate, serving her constituents and fighting hard on issues like sexual assault in the military,” former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, a Republican from New York, wrote of Gillibrand, a Democrat. “Don’t ever underestimate her. She can go as far as she likes. If Kirsten Gillibrand wants to be a rock star, she’ll be a rock star. But she’d make a great President. When she draws a line in the sand, everyone knows not to cross it.”
In 2012, Gillibrand raised huge sums of campaign funds for female candidates in close primary races like Democrat Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and in long-shot reelection bids like Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. That fundraising effort has earned her a reputation, and at least one colleague has said she “has walked the walk and talked the talk in a place where talk is cheap.” That characterization may border on cliche, but it does serve to highlight the quality that seems to define her as a politician. In Gillibrand’s five years in the senate seat Hillary Clinton vacated to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet, she has proven herself to be an active politician in a Congress that has become famous for its inaction.
For Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton was more than just the senator that left empty a seat. Clinton — along with her husband, former president Bill Clinton — campaigned in her favor and raised money for her race — a practice Gillibrand has adopted. Her willingness to campaign for women on either side of the aisle, plus her legislative agenda, has drawn comparisons between Gillibrand and Clinton. They have both styled their political agendas to focus on what might be called promoting the power of women. An October edition of the National Journal emblazoned with the title “Building Kirsten Gillibrand” with “brand” highlighted that, “People call her the next Hillary Clinton.”
2. Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, New York Senator, and Secretary of State
“Tough. Indefatigable. Patient. Smart. Knowledgeable. Superior political instincts. Funny. Loyal team player. Finds opportunities in crises and challenges. Skilled global advocate for American interests and American values. That is my job description for U.S. Secretary of State. Fortunately, the job has been filled for the past three-plus years by someone who has all those qualities: Hillary Rodham Clinton,” wrote former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2012 of the politician. Even though Clinton has not held public office for more than a year and has not openly declared her candidacy, she was once again included on Time’s 100
Now, with her name topping polls of possible Democrat presidential candidates, Clinton’s qualities are under the national microscope. Of course, Clinton may still not run for president — no formal announcement has been made and no documents have been filed with the Federal Election Commission. Part of the preoccupation with the question of whether Clinton will run for office is the dearth of strong alternatives. With her massive political persona — built from eight years as first lady, two Senate terms, a presidential campaign of her own, and a four-year tenure as Secretary of State — she poses strong competition for any would-be candidates among the Democratic party. That reality could also serve to explain her strong polling numbers.
But harsher critics are asking what Clinton really accomplished in her years in public office. While the New Yorker’s John Cassidy writes that she would do best to position her foreign policy self as “Iron Hillary,” she will have to defend her record as Secretary of State. When State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked Tuesday by a reporter to “identify one tangible achievement” from a key project executed under Clinton’s leadership — the first audit of the Department of State — she was unable to name a single one. The State Department did later release a list of seven key changes that took place, but still, Republicans took advantage of the opportunity to criticize Clinton’s tenure.
“It speaks volumes that the State Department is having trouble naming the accomplishments from Secretary Clinton’s tenure,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “Americans are quite familiar with Hillary Clinton’s role regarding Benghazi and the failed Russia Reset initiative, but they’re still scratching their heads on what exactly she accomplished as the secretary of state,” he added. Those are some of the ghosts that could haunt her campaign.
Given that she has spent twenty years as insider in the Washington political scene, she is not quite the change wanted by an American electorate largely convinced the political system is broken. In that sense, her expertise and sound judgement — which she advertises as her best qualities — may not win over voters.
3. Rand Paul, the junior Senator from Kentucky
“Any political party worth its salt is always on the lookout for converts,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, of his colleague. “But no one in either party today brings the level of missionary zeal to the task that Rand Paul does. From Berkeley, California to Detroit, my Kentucky colleague has been cheerfully clearing a path for Republican ideals in the unlikeliest precincts.” If he runs for president, Paul — who joined the Senate on the wave of Tea Party conservatism — would have trouble attracting moderate voters, yet his libertarian stance on federal drug policy and foreign relations would likely appeal to a broad swatch of voters.
It could also be said that he alone (or among a very small percentage of his Republican peers) has recognized the party’s main flaw. Paul realizes that the GOP needs a transformative candidate. “I think Republicans will not win again in my lifetime unless they become a new GOP, a new Republican Party,” Paul said during an interview with conservative radio host Glenn Beck that aired in early March. “And it has to be a transformation. Not a little tweaking at the edges.” More importantly, the GOP needs to be inclusive. “There are many people who are open among all these disaffected groups, who really aren’t steadfast supporters of Obama or an ideology,” he explained. “I think they’re open to listening, but we have to have a better message and a better presentation of it.”
In her 2012 description of Paul, one-time vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wrote: “When the Tea Party movement wanted to send a message to the Senate in 2010, it elected a clear-sighted eye doctor from the Bluegrass State. In a D.C. too often defined by the venal equivocations of a permanent political class more interested in consolidating its own power than in upholding the Constitution or defending the common good, Senator Rand Paul is a voice of reason awakening the public to what must be done to restore our prosperity and preserve the blessings of liberty for future generations.”
While her description of the Senator very firmly ties Paul’s ascendancy to the Tea Party, she does highlight the qualities that have made him a successful politician as well as a Senator often involved in high-profile congressional debates. His tendency to push for strict interpretations of the Constitution and distance himself from the so-called permanent political class has won him followers. As he has risen in prominence as a possible Republican presidential candidate, Paul is also working to build up a donor base of wealthy libertarians.
4. Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin
Time called Scott Walker the “heartland’s Republican hopeful,” and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie penned a laudatory exposition on the Wisconsin governor who could be his rival in the Republican primaries. Christie, who was included in last year’s edition, was noticeably left off of the 2014 most influential list.
Currently, Walker is serving his first term, having survived a recall attempt in 2012 that was begun after his introduction of a controversial budget repair plan, which modified collective bargaining rights for most state employees, cut a more than $1 billion dollars from the state’s education budget, and decreased its biennial Medicaid budget by more than $500 million. Yet, in the gubernatorial recall election he won more than 53 percent of the vote. To Christie, that victory signals that the American public does respect an officeholder that will remain true to his convictions.
Walker has generally espoused a clear and direct conservative approach to fiscal and governance issues. “His battle to bring fairness to the taxpayers through commonsense reform of the public-sector collective-bargaining laws brought him scorn from the special interests and a recall election,” wrote Christie. “Despite these threats, he stood tall. His reforms have brought tax reductions to his citizens and economic growth to his state. They have allowed public workers the freedom to choose whether to belong to a union. They have made Wisconsin a better place to live and work.”
In his essay, Christie hit all the key Republican talking points: Walker treated taxpayers fairly; employed commonsense reforms; and brought prosperity to his state. As numerous polls have show, these are issues that most concern the American electorate, and are problems that need to be addressed on national scale. While that makes a strong basis for a presidential bid, it should be noted that Walker’s political career is relatively young. Furthermore, Christie’s description of the first term governor does not touch on his record with the social issues, which is an area where the GOP has trouble appealing to independent voters and overcoming its own schisms. But perhaps his focus on fiscal and governance issues has broaden his appeal to the party as whole; along with Representative Paul Ryan, he may be the only possible contender not disliked by one faction of the Republican party.
The nation’s current dissatisfaction with its political leadership is also an interesting lens with which to view the list. The Obama administration still has a sizable presence on the compilation, but the appearance of names such as Gillibrand, Paul, and Walker indicates that politicians who do not embody the political status quo of Washington are appealing to a growing number of voters, and that makes them more-important power players. But of course, Time’s 100 list also featured the usual suspects: United States President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, and the Koch brothers — all of whom have undoubtedly done much to shape the United States’ current trajectory. Yet, as an important signal of the national mindset, it was not a politician or government official, nor even a scientist or activist, that earned top billing. It was Beyoncé.
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