For the past painful year, the Republican presidential contenders have been bombarding Americans with empty propaganda slogans and competing, bizarrely, to present themselves as the least experienced person for the most important elected job in the world. Democratic primary voters, on the other hand, after a substantive debate over real issues, have the chance to nominate one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.
Hillary Clinton would be the first woman nominated by a major party. She served as a senator from a major state (New York) and as secretary of state - not to mention her experience on the national stage as first lady with her brilliant and flawed husband, President Bill Clinton. The Times editorial board has endorsed her three times for federal office - twice for Senate and once in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary - and is doing so again with confidence and enthusiasm.
Clinton's main opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, has proved to be more formidable than most people, including Clinton, anticipated. He has brought income inequality and the lingering pain of the middle class to center stage and pushed Clinton a bit more to the left than she might have gone on economic issues. Sanders has also surfaced important foreign policy questions, including the need for greater restraint in the use of military force.
In the end, though, Sanders does not have the breadth of experience or policy ideas that Clinton offers. His boldest proposals - to break up the banks and to start all over on health care reform with a Medicare-for-all system - have earned him support among alienated middle-class voters and young people. But his plans for achieving them aren't realistic, while Clinton has very good, and achievable, proposals in both areas.
The third Democratic contender, Martin O'Malley, is a personable and reasonable liberal who seems more suited for the jobs he has already had - governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore - than for president.
Clinton is a strong advocate of sensible and effective measures to combat the plague of firearms; Sanders' record on guns is relatively weak. Her economic proposals for financial reform reflect a deep understanding of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act, including the ways in which it has fallen short. She supports changes that the country badly needs, like controls on high-frequency trading and stronger curbs on bank speculation in derivatives.
Sanders has scored some rhetorical points against Clinton for her longstanding ties to Wall Street, but she has responded well, and it would be comical to watch any of the Republican candidates try to make that case, given that they are all virtually tied to, or actually part of, the business establishment.
One of the most attractive parts of Clinton's economic platform is her pledge to support the well-being and rights of working Americans. Her lifelong fight for women bolsters her credibility in this area, since so many of the problems with labor law hit women the hardest, including those involving child care, paid sick leave, unstable schedules and low wages for tipped workers.
Clinton is keenly aware of the wage gap for women, especially for women of color. It's not just that she's done her homework - Clinton has done her homework on pretty much any subject you'd care to name. Her knowledge comes from a commitment to issues like reproductive rights that is decades old. She was well ahead of Sanders in calling for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which severely limits federal money to pay for abortions for poor women.
As secretary of state, Clinton worked tirelessly, and with important successes, for the nation's benefit. She was the secretary President Barack Obama needed and wanted: someone who knew leaders around the world, who brought star power as well as expertise to the table. The combination of a new president who talked about inclusiveness and a chief diplomat who had been his rival but shared his vision allowed the United States to repair relations around the world that had been completely trashed by the previous administration.
Clinton helped make it possible to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, which in turn led to the important nuclear deal now going into effect. She also fostered closer cooperation with Asian countries. She worked to expand and deepen the dialogue with China and to increase Washington's institutional ties to the region. Clinton had rebuked China when she was first lady for its treatment of women, and she criticized the Beijing government's record on human rights even as she worked to improve relations.
In January 2011, before the Arab Spring, Clinton delivered a speech that criticized Arab leaders, saying their countries risked "sinking into the sand" unless they liberalized their political systems and cleaned up their economies. Certainly, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis deepened during her tenure, but she did not cause that.
Clinton can be more hawkish on the use of military power than Obama, as shown by her current call for a no-fly zone in Syria and her earlier support for arming and training Syrian rebels. We are not convinced that a no-fly zone is the right approach in Syria, but we have no doubt that Clinton would use U.S. military power effectively and with infinitely more care and wisdom than any of the leading Republican contenders.
Clinton, who has been accused of flip-flopping on trade, has shown a refreshing willingness to learn and to explain, as she has in detail, why she changed her mind on trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She is likely to do more to help workers displaced by the forces of trade than previous presidents have done, and certainly more than any of the Republicans.
Clinton has honed a steeliness that will serve her well in negotiating with a difficult Congress on critically important issues like climate change. It will also help her weather what are certain to be more attacks from Republicans and, should she win the White House, the possibility of the same ideological opposition and personal animus that Obama has endured. Some of the campaign attacks are outrageous, like Donald Trump's efforts to bring up Bill Clinton's marital infidelity. Some, like those about Clinton's use of a private email server, are legitimate and deserve forthright answers.
Hillary Clinton is the right choice for the Democrats to present a vision for America that is radically different from the one that leading Republican candidates offer - a vision in which middle-class Americans have a real shot at prosperity, women's rights are enhanced, undocumented immigrants are given a chance at legitimacy, international alliances are nurtured and the country is kept safe.
A Chance to Reset the Republican Race
The battle to be the Republican choice for president has been nasty, brutish and anything but short. The hope among some Republicans is that the Iowa caucuses on Monday and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 will promote a candidate who can appeal to the half of their electorate that doesn't support the two current front-runners.
Those two, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are equally objectionable for different reasons. Trump has neither experience in nor interest in learning about national security, defense or global trade. Even unemployment figures, which he's pegged at 23 or 42 percent (the correct number is 5 percent) don't merit his attention.
From deporting Mexican immigrants and barring Muslims to slapping a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports, Trump invents his positions as he goes along. His supporters say they don't care. What they may not know is how deliberately he is currying their favor. At a meeting with The Times' editorial writers, Trump talked about the art of applause lines. "You know," he said of his events, "if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, 'We will build the wall!' and they go nuts."
Cruz's campaign isn't about constitutional principles; it's about ambition. In his three years in the Senate, he has helped to engineer a shutdown of the government and has alienated virtually the entire chamber, both of which he bills as accomplishments since he lacks real ones. Now, whether he's threatening to "carpet bomb" Syrian villages or pitching a phony "flat tax" that would batter middle-class consumers, Cruz will say anything to win. The greater worry is that he'd follow words with action.
More than a half-dozen other candidates are battling for survival. Jeb Bush has failed to ignite much support, but at least he has criticized the bigotry of Trump and the warmongering of Cruz. Sen. Marco Rubio, currently embracing the alarmist views of the front-runners, seems to have forgotten his more positive "New American Century" campaign, based on helping the middle-class. The terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino exposed Ben Carson's inability to grasp the world. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has said he would shoot down Russian planes, engage with the dead king of Jordan and bar refugees, including orphaned Syrian toddlers.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race. And Kasich is no moderate. As governor, he's gone after public-sector unions, fought to limit abortion rights and opposed same-sex marriage.
Still, as a veteran of partisan fights and bipartisan deals during nearly two decades in the House, he has been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives. He favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and he speaks of government's duty to protect the poor, the mentally ill and others "in the shadows." While Republicans in Congress tried more than 60 times to kill Obamacare, Kasich did an end-run around Ohio's Republican Legislature to secure a $13 billion Medicaid expansion to cover more people in his state.
"I am so tired of my colleagues out here on the stage spending all their time talking about Barack Obama," he told a town hall crowd in New Hampshire. "His term is over." Kasich said recently that he had "raised the bar in this election. I've talked about hope and the future and positive things." In this race, how rare that is.