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“The Distracting Game Of Mirrors”: How To Survive The Hillary Hype; Liberal Dreams And The Media’s Big Elizabeth Warren Trap

Hillary Clinton is reportedly set to end the biggest non-mystery in American politics today by announcing her presidential candidacy. But even as we learn that she’s running, along with when and how she’ll make the announcement (via social media and video, we’re told, on Sunday afternoon), it seems the only actual mystery about the race will remain unsolved: How does Clinton propose to restart the engines of American opportunity that built a broad middle class after World War II, which began to sputter and fail over the last 30 years?

With neither a grand thematic backdrop for an announcement – Seneca Falls? Ferguson? McAllen, Tex.? Outside a small-city McDonald’s during a fast food workers’ strike? – nor a big address to outline the themes of her campaign, Clinton will leave defining what she stands for to the media for a little while, at least, and that’s risky. So far, journalists only seem able to define Clinton in contrast to a past or future opponent, asking whether she’ll attack President Obama (it’s a dumb media given that she has to), distance herself from her husband, the popular former president, or push back against the economic populism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, even without Warren in the race.

If that limbo is risky for Clinton, it’s even more dangerous for progressives. As we wait to find out how Clinton will respond to the increasingly populist pulse of her party’s base, we’re beset by substitute, over-personalized storylines, heavy on drama but light on issues: Will Clinton co-opt the Warren wing of the party, or will she stand up to it? Is she going to rebuke Wall Street, a la Warren, or offer succor?

We’ve even got a surrogate battle of Ivy League economists: Is she closer to Harvard’s Raj Chetty, whose studies of upward mobility focus on how to restore it (which is said to be a more optimistic, plutocrat-friendly analysis), or Columbia’s Joseph Stiglitz, who recently wrote, in an essay shared with the Clinton team, that an effective economic policy must go beyond incremental policies like raising the minimum wage and improving education, to include “redistribution” of income – a once-routine assumption of public policy that now sounds like communism to a lot of business-oriented Democrats. (For the record, Clinton has met with both men.)

Without a Clinton challenger – and specifically, without Warren – most of the media struggle to explain what will matter to Democrats in the race. Witness this bizarre exchange between CBS’s Charlie Rose and Warren herself last week. Exasperated at Warren’s failure either to declare her own candidacy or critique Clinton’s, the respected interviewer – the “Charlie Rose” brand has long stood for substance, at least – began to badger the senator for more “specifics” about her agenda – after she’d already talked about reducing student loan interest rates and hiking the minimum wage.

ROSE: It’s hard to get to you be more specific. You talk about the Democratic Party’s a fluid thing and is going here and there and it’s always changing. But we want you to really-

WARREN: I’m sorry, what was nonspecific about let’s reduce the interest rate on student loans to 3.89%?

ROSE: You’ve been saying that in a lot of different–

WARREN: I’m there.

ROSE: I know. You’ve been saying that in a lot of different places and that’s a very specific position.

WARREN: And I have supported our efforts to try to get the minimum wage—

ROSE: And you say, well—

WARREN: I’ve supported it at $10.10. I would support it at a higher number. And I’m willing to sit down and negotiate with those who are willing to raise the minimum wage.

ROSE: What we’re trying to understand is that you represent — you really have become the voice of a wing of the Democratic Party, and maybe all of the party. What we want to know is where does Elizabeth Warren want to see this party go?

WARREN: Oh golly, how could you not know?

ROSE: In terms of minimum wage. In terms of income inequality. In terms of a whole range of things.

WARREN: I’m ready.

ROSE: You’re ready to tell them where you are and where you think the country…And where you differ from former Secretary of State Clinton. Why can’t you tell us that? Why isn’t that interest in the interest of a full debate about the future of the country, the future of the Democratic Party and who the nominee ought to be?

WARREN: Charlie, I’ll tell you where I stand on all of the key issues. It’s up to others to say whether they stand there as well or they stand in some different place. I’ll tell you where I stand on minimum wage. I’ll tell you where I stand on equal pay for equal work. I’ll tell you where I stand on expanding—

ROSE: Name me one thing you would like to see — name me one thing that you would like to see Hillary Clinton do and say and commit to that she has not committed to?

In fact, Warren has laid out her agenda in an eight-point plan to restore the middle class, which includes a minimum wage hike, protecting and expanding Social Security, strengthening labor laws, restoring a more progressive tax code, and building infrastructure. Similar ideas are in the “Ready for Boldness” statement the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is organizing around (Senators Harry Reid and Al Franken are among 5,000 Democrats who’ve signed their names to the statement), trying to “incentivize” Clinton to move to the left. PCCC leaders recently met with members of Clinton’s campaign team.

But if journalists can’t frame these ideas in terms of someone “attacking” Hillary Clinton, they’re not interested, and they’ll insist there’s no progressive agenda.

Meanwhile, frustrated in their efforts to gin up a fight between two popular Democratic women, some will find surrogates elsewhere that let them frame the narrative in terms of “centrist” Clinton facing down and “taming” progressive critics –  or being tamed by them. Politico gave us an example this week with “Rahm shows Hillary how to tame the left.”

As Elias Isquith explained, however, the piece took itself apart, as it argued that Emanuel won because he co-opted progressive ideas, not because he ran away from them. Still, it was framed as a “lesson” for Clinton to thumb her nose at the party’s base. Let’s hope she’s not listening.

There are real divisions among Democrats – and maybe even within the Clinton camp – over both tone and substance when it comes to economic policy. Personally, I’m with Joseph Stiglitz, who wrote in an essay shared with the Clinton campaign:

The increase in inequality and the decrease in equality of opportunity have reached the point where minor fixes — such as modest increases in the minimum wage and continuing to strive to improve education and educational opportunity — will not suffice. A far more comprehensive approach to the problem is required, entailing redistribution and doing what one can to improve the market distribution of income and to prevent the unfair transmission of advantage across generations.

But we have no evidence that Clinton herself disagrees, and progressives should ignore the distracting game of mirrors the media will continue to play with the Democratic frontrunner and her base. Personally, I’m not seeing Sunday as the kick-off to Clinton’s campaign (though there are reports that her announcement tweets will deal with issues). That will come when she begins to outline her own substantive agenda for closing the widening income and opportunity divide.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 12, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Run, Elizabeth Warren, Don’t Run!”: She Just Might Actually Have More Leverage As A Non-Candidate

And so the ratcheting up continues: Now The Boston Globe has weighed in with not one or two or three but four pieces, one of them an in-house editorial, urging Elizabeth Warren to run for president. All right; this is the kind of thing hometown newspapers do, and it gets them attention. And it means that more people will press Warren to take The Globe’s advice when they run into her at the Star Market. But does it really raise the pressure on her in any serious way?

The arguments, by the paper’s editorial board and by contributors Bob Kuttner, Josh Green, and Anna Galland, are reasonable and sound. Warren has a huge following (true). Warren is the Democratic Party’s most articulate and high-profile crusader for the middle and working classes (true). Warren uniquely can pressure Clinton to adopt more populist positions on these issues than she has been associated with in the past (true).

But then come two arguments I find less persuasive, and I write as an admirer of Warren’s. The first is that Warren can have more influence as a candidate than not. The second is that a primary run against an opponent who’s in her political weight class (none of the other Democrats are) will toughen Clinton up in all the good ways. I think there are very good reasons to be less sure about the validity of either of those.

Inside the Democratic Party right now, Warren has as much influence as just about anybody short of the president. She has moral authority. She can move armies. But here’s the next thought in that chain, and it’s important: She can move them without much—or even any—intra-party pushback. The Clinton people know that to throw a brushback pitch at Elizabeth Warren is to risk alienating her millions of followers in a deep way.

But if Warren gets into the race, that hesitation on the part of the Clinton people ends. It would not be a gloves-off, no-holds-barred kind of combat, but combat it would be. The Clinton team would plant negative stories about her. Is there even any real dirt on Elizabeth Warren? Not that anyone knows about, now that she danced her way across Scott Brown’s “fake Cherokee” bed of hot coals. But this is politics. There’s always something. Tim Geithner at least would probably try to supply it. Jim Carville would go on the Sunday shows and start popping off about it. So suddenly, her profile would change: Right now, she’s above the fray; as a candidate, she’d be knee-deep in it, against the Clinton operation.

Even so, Warren would probably win a primary or two, or more, maybe several more. What then? It could actually get kind of ugly in a way that damages both of them. Now I suppose we’ve segued into the second argument, about how a good primary would toughen Clinton up. Maybe. But no one who is writing that sentence today can possibly know for certain that that’s how it would turn out.

People say, “Oh, but look at how the 2008 primary process helped toughen up Obama.” Did it? I’m not so sure. Or if it did, this fabled toughening-up process didn’t have much to do with Clinton. The two biggest crises Obama had to work through during the primary process were entirely self-inflicted: explaining away both a) why he spent all those years in the pews of a pastor who hated America and b) what exactly he meant when he said red-state people cling to guns and religion.

And anyway, Obama did not win the 2008 general election because a long primary season toughened him up. He won for three reasons: America was psychically ready to elect a black man, this particular black man, as its president; the financial meltdown happened on GOP watch; and John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. It had very little, or indeed arguably nothing whatsoever, to do with the primary process.

One could well argue that a long primary fight between her and Clinton would mainly work to the Republicans’ benefit. Especially with the media acting as they inevitably would with two women running against each other—that is, playing up the catfight angle as much as possible, running deep into the ground every cliché from the kingdom of nature about emasculating females.

I have speculated in the past that maybe Warren doesn’t even really want to be president (for foreign policy-related reasons). I also suspect there’s a part of her that doesn’t want to risk doing anything that might end up helping the GOP and allowing the media to indulge its Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford fantasies at the expense of the party.

Finally I suspect Warren knows that she has a tremendous amount of power and leverage as things stand right now. She can sway Clinton’s course plenty as a non-candidate. She doesn’t even have to say or do much. She just needs, every so often, to remind Clinton that she exists, and that her army exists.

So, presidential candidate? She doesn’t need to bother. The things people say she would gain from such a candidacy she in fact has already. However…vice presidential candidate…think about it. Clinton-Warren. I’ve been chewing on this one for months. Mold-shattering. Exactly like what Clinton’s husband did in choosing Al Gore. Precisely the kind of bold play she needs to make to shed her image of caution. Two-thirds of women voters, easy. They’d be a great team on the trail. And imagine that closing-night convention visual. And in office, they could be a great governing team, too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, my contention is that Warren is at a point of very high leverage as it is, and no one from anywhere inside the Democratic tent wants to lay a glove on her. That would change if she ran. I can understand why her most ardent partisans want her to run—there’s only one gold ring in American politics, and that’s the presidency. But she has been absolutely insistent that she does not want to run. At some point, people ought to accept that she means it. Besides, she’s actually in the catbird’s seat now. She has the power without having to endure the scrutiny. I don’t know many politicians who wouldn’t take that.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 25, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rove’s New Game; Split Warren & Clinton”: Typical Rovian Dishonesty, Using Warren’s Words Out Of Context To Attack Clinton

So now, America’s most overrated political consultant has decided that the foundation that has handed out free AIDS medications to millions of Africans and done far more in a few years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world than the Republican Party has in its entire history is Hillary Clinton’s great Achilles’ heel. I’ll admit that time might prove Karl Rove right, although I don’t really think so. More on that later.

But one thing Rove has accomplished with his new web ad that uses Elizabeth Warren’s words to attack Clinton is to show us that Warren, while she may not be running for president, is definitely out to maximize her leverage over the presumptive nominee. Here’s the story.

The ad, in case you’ve missed it, shows both Clintons posed for photos with various be-keffiyehed petro-garchs with flash cards announcing that the Clintons’ foundation has accepted millions from “foreign governments.” This is not illegal, and if the governments in question had been Iceland and Lichtenstein, the ad wouldn’t even exist. But they were the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, a “prominent backer of Hamas,” which has given the foundation “potentially millions.” Uh…potentially?

But here’s where the ad gets cute. There is a voice-over, a woman’s voice, which warns that “the power of well-funded special interests tilts our democracy away from the people and toward the powerful.” That voice, of course, is Warren’s. Boom!

The ad wants to make the viewer think that Warren was inveighing against the Clintons when she spoke. But Warren was not, when she said those words, thinking about the Clinton foundation taking oil money at all. In fact, the ad cobbles together Warren quotes from different occasions. For example, the line I quoted above was taken from a September 2013 event of the Constitutional Accountability Center about the dangers of Citizens United and other Roberts Court decisions (here’s a video of that; the line comes at 11:28). In other words, she was lambasting the people Rove loves—two of whom, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, he helped elevate to the Court.

And get this. The full quote as Warren spoke it isn’t quite what you get in the ad. The full quote goes: “The power of well-funded special interests to blanket our politics with aggregate contributions tilts our democracy away from the people and toward the powerful.” Doesn’t sound to me much like a denunciation of nonprofit cup-rattling, even on the Clintons’ operatic scale.

In another of the ad’s sound bites, Warren cries out that “action is required to defend our great democracy against those who would see it perverted into one more rigged game where the rich and the powerful always win.” Did she wake up enraged that morning that the Clintons were perverting our democracy by funneling Saudi dollars into childhood nutrition programs? Not quite. She was on the floor of the Senate in September 2014 speaking in support of a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and states the authority to regulate campaign finance.

So it’s typical Rovian dishonesty. Nothing new there. Warren was lambasting a system of corruption that Rove supports, indeed lives and breathes, and has done far more than his part to advance.

But here’s an interesting thing. Warren hasn’t denounced this misuse of her words. Why not? I was on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show Monday night with David Axelrod and others talking about this ad, and O’Donnell raised the point of Warren’s silence, and Axelrod said yes, “that’s surprising to me. I would think she would speak out. The last place I’d think she’d wanna be is narrating a Karl Rove Crossroads ad.” You might think that Warren would be anxious to say hey, bub, I wasn’t talking about the Clintons! I was talking about you and your kind!

But she hasn’t. I emailed Warren’s office asking about this and got silence. I emailed Clinton’s office asking if they had asked Warren to issue a statement and got the same silence. So it seems on some level Warren doesn’t mind being used in this manner. She probably figures something like: To the extent that ads like this create pressure that pulls Clinton in the direction of eschewing special interests, she’s all for them. That may increase her leverage over Clinton in the near term. But undoubtedly other Republicans are going to notice her silence, and they’re going to try to drive a wedge between her and Clinton, and she’s not going to be able to stay silent forever.

On the broader question of the foundation: As I said on O’Donnell, sure, the Republicans will hit it hard, and it will remind some voters of some of those Lincoln Bedroom-y aspects of Clintonist politics. And they’ll raise questions about whether all of Bill’s glad-handling and hustling might compromise his wife’s White House in some way. But A, the Clintons can and should counter with the massive amount of good the foundation has done in the world, and B, unless some hot new smoking gun emerges that blossoms into an actual scandal, as opposed to a Fox News Scandal, the foundation is probably a second-tier issue.

A lot of voters can be troubled by something like the Clintons’ fund-raising. But most of them still like old Bill fine and know how he rolls. Elections are about the state of the economy and the alternate futures of the country the two candidates present to voters. Those are both matters the Clintons have always understood better than Rove, whose vision of America’s future was so wobbly that he was predicting a permanent conservative realignment shortly before the bottom fell out of George W. Bush’s presidency. That is reality. He can splice all the dishonest sound bites he wants.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Karl Rove | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elizabeth Warren’s Real And Imaginary Appeal”: The Trap Of The ‘Hidden Majority’ Is Too Often ‘Fools Gold’

Friday night on the floor of the U.S. Senate as part of a doomed effort no one is much paying attention to is not the ideal context for a Big, Memorable Speech. But the excerpts of Elizabeth Warren’s speech against the Wall Street derivatives swap language of the Cromnibus touted by Miles Mogulescu at HuffPost are indeed pretty powerful, though again, comparing them to Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention speech viewed live by a big chunk of the politically active population seems more than a bit of a stretch.

If, however, Warren keeps this up, she could very quickly make herself the kind of big public figure she has long been to smaller circles of progressive activists. What’s most interesting about her speech is that she placed as great an emphasis on Wall Street influence in the Obama administration Treasury Department as she did on the legislative provisions in the Cromnibus. She’s pulling no punches. And not only does this indicate she will go to the mats to stop the nomination of Antonio Weiss to a top position at Treasury–a fight she looks likely to win–but that she’s launching a broad challenge to the acceptability of any recent Wall Street vets in the ranks of Democratic executive branch officials or advisors. This represents a clear collision course with the administration, and with Hillary Rodham Clinton (Warren’s constant references to Citi in her speech–so closely identified with the key Clintonian advisory Robert Rubin–could not be a coincidence), even if Warren’s public disavowals of interest in a primary challenge to Clinton represent an unshakable private conviction. You could see, say, Bernie Sanders taking up the banner of a primary challenge with Warren playing a key role in the background whether or not she’s formally in the insurgent camp.

Mogolescu, however, probably reflects the views of a lot of Warren’s fans in thinking that she and only she can topple Clinton, but that she can also put together the transformative super-partisan coalition that progressives once thought Barack Obama might spearhead:

It [Warren’s speech] transformed the conventional wisdom about American politics that the main divide is between left, right, and center, when it is really between pro-corporate and anti-corporate. Her declaration that neither Democrats nor Republicans (meaning the voters, not the Washington politicians) don’t like bank bailouts rings loud and true. Tea party supporters don’t like bailouts and crony capitalism any more that progressives do.

I’m afraid we need to call B.S. on this idea of Elizabeth Warren (or any other “populist) becoming a pied piper to the Tea Folk, pulling them across the barricades to support The Good Fight against “crony capitalism.” Yes, many “constitutional conservatives” oppose corporate bailouts. But they also typically support eliminating not just subsidies but regulation of big banks and other corporations; oppose most if not all of the social safety net (and certainly its expansion); and also oppose legalized abortion and marriage equality, for that matter. It’s not even all that clear that Warren-style “populism” will improve Democratic prospects with the white working class, which harbors a host of grievances with the traditional liberalism that Warren embraces beyond her signature financial “issues.”

To most Democrats most of the time, Warren is raising important and legitimate concerns about Wall Street that must be addressed, not just dismissed as “class warfare.” To some Democrats some of the time, she represents a decisive break with the Clinton and Obama traditions that is morally necessary. But let’s don’t pretend there’s a slam-dunk “electability” case for this kind of politics. Yes, the “median voter theorem” of politics that dictates a perpetual “move to the center” by general election candidates has lost a lot of its power just in the last few years. But the countervailing “hidden majority” argument for more ideological politicians of the left and the right is hardly self-evident, and has in the past often been fool’s gold.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 15, 2014

December 16, 2014 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren, Politics, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Elizabeth Warren Makes A Powerful Case”: Who Does The Government Work For?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she isn’t running for president. At this rate, however, she may have to.

The Massachusetts Democrat has become the brightest ideological and rhetorical light in a party whose prospects are dimmed by — to use a word Jimmy Carter never uttered — malaise. Her weekend swing through Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa to rally the faithful displayed something no other potential contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, including Hillary Clinton, seems able to present: a message.

“We can go through the list over and over, but at the end of every line is this: Republicans believe this country should work for those who are rich, those who are powerful, those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” she said Friday in Englewood, Colo. “I will tell you we can whimper about it, we can whine about it or we can fight back. I’m here with [Sen.] Mark Udall so we can fight back.”

Warren was making her second visit to the state in two months because Udall’s reelection race against Republican Cory Gardner is what Dan Rather used to call “tight as a tick.” If Democrats are to keep their majority in the Senate, the party’s base must break with form and turn out in large numbers for a midterm election. Voters won’t do this unless somebody gives them a reason.

Warren may be that somebody. Her grand theme is economic inequality and her critique, both populist and progressive, includes a searing indictment of Wall Street. Liberals eat it up.

The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it,” she said Saturday at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. The line drew a huge ovation — as did mention of legislation she has sponsored to allow students to refinance their student loans.

Later, Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) — a rare Democratic incumbent who is expected to cruise to reelection next month — gave a heartfelt, if less-than-original, assessment of Warren’s performance: “She’s a rock star.”

In these appearances, Warren talks about comprehensive immigration reform, support for same-sex marriage, the need to raise the minimum wage, abortion rights and contraception — a list of red-button issues at which she jabs and pokes with enthusiasm.

The centerpiece, though, is her progressive analysis of how bad decisions in Washington have allowed powerful interests to re-engineer the financial system so that it serves the wealthy and well-connected, not the middle class.

On Sunday, Warren was in Des Moines campaigning for Democrat Bruce Braley, who faces Republican Joni Ernst in another of those tick-tight Senate races. It may be sheer coincidence that Warren chose the first-in-the-nation nominating caucus state to deliver what the Des Moines Register called a “passion-filled liberal stemwinder.”

There once was consensus on the need for government investment in areas such as education and infrastructure that produced long-term dividends, she said. “Here’s the amazing thing: It worked. It absolutely, positively worked.”

But starting in the 1980s, she said, Republicans took the country in a different direction, beginning with the decision to “fire the cops on Wall Street.”

“They called it deregulation,” Warren said, “but what it really meant was: Have at ’em, boys. They were saying, in effect, to the biggest financial institutions, any way you can trick or trap or fool anybody into signing anything, man, you can just rake in the profits.”

She went on to say that “Republicans, man, they ought to be wearing a T-shirt. . . . The T-shirt should say, ‘I got mine. The rest of you are on your own.’ ”

The core issue in all the Senate races, she said, is this: “Who does the government work for? Does it work just for millionaires, just for the billionaires, just for those who have armies of lobbyists and lawyers, or does it work for the people?”

So far this year, Warren has published a memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” that tells of her working-class roots, her family’s economic struggles, her rise to become a Harvard Law School professor and a U.S. senator, and, yes, her distant Native American ancestry. She has emerged as her party’s go-to speaker for connecting with young voters. She has honed a stump speech with a clear and focused message, a host of applause lines and a stirring call to action.

She’s not running for president apparently because everyone assumes the nomination is Clinton’s. But everyone was making that same assumption eight years ago, and we know what happened. If the choice is between inspiration and inevitability, Warren may be forced to change her plans.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 20, 2014

October 23, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Elizabeth Warren, Financial Reform | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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