Sunday, December 14, 2014

Elizabeth Warren's Moment In the Sun

I'll be honest, Elizabeth Warren's speech was awe inspiring. I had goosebumps watching her on the floor of the Senate. Visions of Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" danced through my head. Her truth was so self-evident, her passion so real, it gave me hope that one day, this toxic waste dump of a city might actually resurrect itself and reclaim its heritage.

Of course I'm waxing poetically here. We both know what really happens in Washington. Jimmy Stewart doesn't really prevail; Claude Rains doesn't really waltz onto the Senate floor and confess his crime; and life never really imitates art. That's why it's called art. In Hollywood, the hero is exonerated and the villain defeated. Batman triumphs over Bain. The audience wouldn't have it any other way. In real life, however, Bain nukes Gotham. There is no Batman to save it; there never was.

But, for just that moment, Elizabeth Warren wasn't having any of it. She had had enough and she made a decision to stand up and speak her mind. Like Peter Finch in the movie "Network," she was mad as hell and she wasn't going to take it anymore. So she challenged not only Wall Street, but her own party leaders, who, thanks to her, now have a lot of egg on their faces and a whole lot of 'splainin' to do.

Know who else has a lot of 'splainin to do, and quickly? Hillary Clinton, that's who. Not only did Elizabeth Warren read out Democratic leadership, she boxed in her party's prohibitive front runner for the presidential nomination. Warren may or may not run for president in 2016, but, unless you've been living under a rock or on another planet in a distant galaxy, the only way Hillary doesn't run is if an alien spaceship abducts her. The question isn't if but when she will announce her candidacy.

But before she makes that announcement, you can bet the ranch she will be asked what she thinks about Warren's speech. And her answer will go along way towards determining whether or not she will go down as the next Al Gore. Assuming Jeb Bush tosses his hat into the ring for the GOP and actually manages to win the nomination - a long shot, I know - we could have a repeat of 2000. And we all know how that turned out.

Make no mistake about it, Hillary and the Democrats have a huge problem on their hands. There is a disconnect between the Party and the base and it reared its ugly head in the 2014 midterms. It's convenient to shrug off, as many pundits have mistakenly done, the election results as your typical midterm swoon. Democratic voters stay home, Republican voters turn out. In presidential elections, Dems turn out in droves. It's always been that way.

Except this year, there was a monkey wrench thrown in the works. While Democrats were getting trounced at the polls, progressive initiatives like raising the minimum wage were passing, some of them in Red states. What does that tell you? What it tells me is that the country is moving to the left, in spite of what the wingnuts on the right keep insisting.  And while most Democrats were desperately trying to pivot to the center, the base that has historically propelled them into power has grown increasingly disenchanted.

This disenchantment did not spring up overnight. It began during the Clinton years. The ascendancy of Bill Clinton is a political paradox of sorts. While he captured the center, many on the left felt betrayed. For a long time they swallowed their wounded pride, buoyed by the fact that he beat the GOP, not once but twice. Not since FDR had a Democrat won back to back presidential races.

But Al Gore was the first casualty of the Left's indifference. In what should've been a cake walk, Gore lost a very tight election to George Bush in 2000. Four years later, John Kerry lost another close race. The latter left a lot of people scratching their heads. By 2004, the Iraq War was becoming unpopular, as was Bush. The election was there for the taking, but Kerry was unable to drive enough Democratic voters to the polls.

Barack Obama was supposed to be the progressives' savior. The Messiah, as many sadly called him. But almost from the start, Obama governed more like Clinton than FDR. The half-measured stimulus that Paul Krugman correctly predicted would be insufficient to jump-start the economy; the hybrid, bastardized healthcare law that nobody likes and few defend; all were evidence of a man who couldn't find his moral compass and who all too often threw his base under the bus. He might've been the smartest man in the room, but he often came off looking smug and detached.

By any and all accounts, Obama should've been a one-term president. The economy was improving but still sluggish. The mood of the electorate was hardly reassuring. Had it not been for the fact that he was running against a party that could fuck up a sunset, Mitt Romney might very well have won in 2012. The sad an undeniable truth is that for the last six years, the Democratic formula for success has been to sit back and wait for Republicans to implode. That strategy worked brilliantly until this year. This time the GOP didn't fall on their sword. This time they pushed the ball over the goal line. And they did it against a Democratic Party that didn't so much as put up a fight. If anything, Democrats ran away from who they were and played right into the waiting arms of their opponents.

For most of the last six years, the talk around Washington has been about the civil war raging within the GOP between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party.  Few paid any attention to the growing rift within the Democratic Party between progressives and centrists. Elizabeth Warren's speech has given voice to progressives within the Party that have felt abandoned and betrayed for years. They finally have their champion, even if it's a reluctant one.

And if Hillary Clinton knows what's good for her, she will commit that speech to memory, word for word, and do whatever it takes to win them over. It won't be easy. She's never been their favorite. She's a hawk and a corporatist, two huge strikes against her from the start. And then there's her husband. Bill's signing of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a stupendous blunder and indirectly played a role in the '08 financial meltdown. Warren went out of her way to cite it. If push comes to shove, Hillary may have no choice but to throw him under the bus. The worst possible scenario would be for her to win the nomination only to lose the general because the base stayed home.

Then there's the Party itself. It drastically needs a course correction. The fissure that this budget deal has created will undoubtedly lead to a crack as the remaining Blue Dogs attempt to push the Party even further to the right. If Democrats have any hope of recapturing the Senate in 2016, they must resist this push at all costs.

And finally, there's Obama. Less than a month removed from what many progressives were calling his boldest stand since taking office, he has seemingly retreated back to the safety of his old pragmatic ways. He took the lead in the budget negotiations and pressured many Democrats in the House to vote for it, angering Nancy Pelosi and most of her caucus in the process. While it was laudable and somewhat encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats come to the table and agree on something, the way in which this bill got cobbled together left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. And the way in which Wall Street managed to strike down a key provision in Dodd-Frank was frightening.

For months I have been insisting that people like Elizabeth Warren have no chance of winning a general election. I'm not so certain anymore. Voters are fed up with crony capitalism and crooked politicians. Warren may just be the perfect tonic for what ails the country; the one ray of sunshine that can pierce through the gray clouds that shroud it. If nothing else, she has provided a road map for her party.

It would behoove them to follow it.

3 comments:

mike clark said...

Tell me her net worth now and her net worth when she announces. That will decide for me if she's worth my vote.

steve said...

Problem is, even if Hillary adopts some of Warren's progressive rhetoric, whom would she convince? She would probably only be seen as even more cynical. The base has been burned and badly, and only a true blooded progressive will do.

Prof. Walter Jameson said...


Sir:

Well, I guess someone had to eventually educate the populace on what an actual Democrat stands for. Good for her! It's not enough to just go out and win elections anymore. People within the Democratic party are getting tired of this centrist pablum that offers no real solutions to people's problems. How much more can anyone take? Election cycle after election cycle of amorphous candidates lacking in principles and passion.

There has to be a better reason to vote for a candidate other than that tired, worn-out bulls**t that it's (at least) better than having the other guy or gal in office. C'mon, seriously, who is going to continue participating in a system offering only THAT as a rationale for one's electoral choices?

Good essay!

Thank you for the opportunity to respond.