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.”

MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

Governor-elect Charlie Baker has a one-on-one with Keller@Large and talks mostly about his focus on the economy when he takes over in January, getting his arms around the projected budget gap and promising to streamline regulations for small businesses as his first order of business.

Baker is tapping Republican state Rep. Matthew Beaton of Shrewsbury as his secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Baker faces a tall task and high expectations as he looks to reform the state’s human services bureaucracy.

The new Health Connector website relaunches successfully, WBUR reports.

Greg Bialecki, the outgoing secretary of housing and economic development, looks back on a Springfield project that is a point of pride.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Robert Campbell says the architecture and design of Boston’s much-vaunted Innovation District has “all the charm of an office park in a suburb of Dallas.”

Braintree officials are putting pressure on the owner of a long-abandoned flooring plant to do something with the building after firefighters were called to put out two fires there in the last week that were apparently set.

Lowell officials would like to restore the Smith-Baker Center downtown, but the estimated $6 million cost is daunting, the Sun reports.

Easton is in danger of losing control of housing projects under Chapter 40B if it doesn’t approve one of several major development projects before officials that would raise the town’s affordable housing stock to state-mandated levels.

The salary of the former Methuen housing director increased at a rapid pace after 2008, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

CASINOS

The remaining third casino license looks a lot less lucrative than the other two, the Globe reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is trying to rally other sheriffs from across the country for a gathering in Washington to speak out against President Obama’s executive order to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.

The Wall Street Journal previews the working relationship between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.

Steven Rattner, in a New York Times op-ed column, argues that efforts to tamp down income inequality are the real losers of the 2014 midterm elections: “the prospect of addressing income inequality grows dimmer, even as the problem worsens.”

ELECTIONS

Democratic strategist Dan Cohen says the 15 percent rule promotes insiders and should be abolished.

CNN reports that Republicans and outside groups used coded anonymous tweets to communicate with each other during the runup to the election.

Economic pessimism drove the GOP midterm gains, a polling expert says.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Peabody City Council imposes restrictions on a new electronic cigarette shop, the Salem News reports.

While marriage on the whole is on the downswing, remarriage is going up, with four in 10 new marriages including at least one partner who has been married before bringing with it economic stability for households and benefits for the economy.

EDUCATION

The new president of long-troubled Roxbury Community College has the place back on track, but with a long way to go, reports the Globe.

HEALTH CARE

Jonathan Gruber’s “stupidity” comments were, well, sort of stupid, says Joan Vennochi. The MIT economist who helped craft the Massachusetts health care law and the Affordable Care Act expounded on his thinking in this 2007 Conversation interview in CommonWealth.

TRANSPORTATION

The number of workers commuting by car declines slightly, Governing reports.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Dramatically lower oil prices will be a boon to those receiving federal heating assistance, stretching grants a lot further than in recent years.

Opponents of the Kinder Morgan pipeline gather in Fitchburg to plan ways to block the project, the Sun reports.

The Eagle-Tribune begins a five-part series examining individual cod fishermen with a look at Capt. Richard Sherman, whose retirement looks uncertain with the recent cod ban.

RELIGION

Cardinal Sean O’Malley thinks women priests would be a great thing — if only Jesus had thought of it back in the day.