Will the Warren wing take flight?
Whether it was an effort to tame some of the restive rebellious energy she has helped unleash, to tap into it at a time when the party’s fortunes have hit a new nadir, or some combination of both, Elizabeth Warren is now officially a Democratic Party insider. Or at least some version of one.
Last week, soon-to-be Senate minority leader Harry Reid announced that Warren will join the Democratic leadership team in a newly created post centered on policy and communications. There is talk that she will now have a central role in the party’s “messaging.” But the biggest message may simply be the one sent by tapping a senator not even halfway through her first term for a top role in the Senate Democrats’ apparatus.
One thing the appointment does not seem to mean is that Warren will trim her sails when it comes to her campaign against the “millionaires and billionaires” who she says wrecked the nation’s economy with their Wall Street-friendly rulemaking and regulatory outlook. Just as her leadership post was being announced, Warren’s office said she will oppose President Obama’s nomination of Wall Street investment banker Antonio Weiss as treasury undersecretary for domestic finance. A Warren advisor told Politico that “she’s had growing concerns with the Administration being loaded with so many appointees from Wall Street rather than more people who would bring different perspectives.”
Of course, one undercurrent to any developments in which Warren’s star rises is speculation over whether she might, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, eventually entertain the idea of entering the party’s 2016 presidential sweepstakes. That, of course, would be unwelcome news to Hillary Clinton, who most presume will be in the race.
You would never have had any such idea listening last month to Clinton gush about Warren when they both appeared in Boston at a rally for Martha Coakley. “I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve it,” Clinton said of Warren’s attack-dog rhetoric against Wall Street.
Writing in Politico under the headline “Why Wall Street loves Hillary,” William Cohan called Clinton’s populist pitch b.s. Moreover, he said this of how the titans of capitalism view her effort to match fiery Warren rhetoric with fire: “Down on Wall Street they don’t believe it for a minute. While the finance industry does genuinely hate Warren, the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president.” “None of them think she really means her populism.”
Closely related to all the 2016 speculation, of course, is the bigger question of what has ailed the Democrats, particularly in the midterm election drubbings they seem to so regularly experience, and what sort of ground should the party stake out to try to reverse that pattern.
On that question, the disagreement couldn’t be more stark. While “Ready for Warren” backers of a would-be presidential run are cheered by Warren’s new Senate post and by the prospect of her voice being a more prominent one in setting the party’s direction, others see that as calamity just short of putting Vermont’s socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, in charge.
“It’s clear that, if we even have a shot at the White House, we can’t get there if we have someone more left-leaning than Hillary Clinton,” Vince Insalaco, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, told the Wall Street Journal.
Others say Warren is offering exactly the medicine that the party needs. Michael Brenner, writing for the Huffington Post, says Democrats have been on a 30-year “exercise in political obtuseness that has seen a steady estrangement from the party’s roots and a fatal mimicking of their Republican rivals.”
Kevin Baker, in yesterday’s Times, picks up on the same theme, arguing that the problems for the party did not start, as conventional wisdom has it, with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the forfeiting of the “Solid South,” but date more recently to the last 20-year period. He lays out a pretty compelling set of numbers on the huge switch in Southern Senate and House seats, governorships, and control of state legislatures that has occurred since 1994.
Baker argues that the Democratic dominance of the roughly 50-year period starting in the 1930s came from thinking big about broad economic issues — things like the GI Bill — that united those who might not agree on all the social issues of the day. It’s an approach that sounds a lot like Warren’s politics.
“Democrats made a big mistake by not running very strongly on the issue of the viability of the middle class and economic mobility,” David Axelrod, the strategist for Obama’s presidential campaigns, said of this month’s midterm elections. “We ran a timid election campaign and we paid a price for it. One thing about Elizabeth Warren, she’s not timid.”
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