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“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

“Congress, Deal-Making, And How The Sausage Gets Made”: If You Want Bipartisan Cooperation, This Is What It Looks Like

The closer one looks at the $1.1 trillion spending package that barely cleared the House last night, the easier it is to notice its flaws. The so-called “CRomnibus” is filled with giveaways, rollbacks, and handouts that almost certainly don’t belong there.

Kevin Drum made a compelling case yesterday that many critics have overlooked an important, big-picture detail: if you want bipartisan cooperation, this is what it looks like.

This is one of those things that demonstrates the chasm between political activists and analysts on the one side, and working politicians on the other. If you take a look at the bill, it does indeed have a bunch of objectionable features. People like me, with nothing really at stake, can bitch and moan about them endlessly. But you know what? For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and it’s petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.

That’s politics. The fact that it’s happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.

I think that’s largely correct. The old line about no one wanting to see how the sausage gets made applies to lawmaking for a reason – neither process is pretty. For many Americans – including plenty of Beltway pundits – there’s a sense that Democrats and Republicans can get stuff done if they just sit in a room and agree to work out a deal.

And here we have an excellent example of what happens when the parties do exactly that.

But I think there’s one other relevant detail to this that I’d add to the mix.

While it’s never pretty when these bipartisan, bicameral talks produce a thrown-together solution, what’s a little different about 2014 is that Congress, by historical standards, really is broken to an unusual degree. The legislative branch still exists, of course, but its capacity for governing has atrophied to a level with no modern precedent.

That’s relevant in this context for one simple reason: lawmakers realized that this spending bill was an extremely rare opportunity to advance their policy goals. Some of those goals had merit, and some were ridiculous, but in either case, members of Congress saw something unusual: a shortcut.

We all know that the usual legislative process is long and arduous. It involves a series of choke points – hearings, committees, amendments, chambers, etc. – all of which make failure easy. Apply that to the contemporary Congress, which struggles to complete even routine tasks, and members understand that their proposals are almost certain to die, regardless of popularity or merit.

But if a lawmaker can get that proposal squeezed into a spending package like this, all of a sudden, the choke points disappear. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the “CRomnibus” is, in legislative terms, the shortest distance between drafting and law.

To be sure, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, but my point is, the need to take advantage of these rare opportunities is more acute when the usual legislative process has broken down to such a farcical degree.

This was members’ only chance to advance their ideas. Are we surprised they exploited it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Day For Liberals”: What We Learned In The Epic Clash Over The Spending Bill

The House passage of the omnibus spending act is on its face a defeat for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that fought to block it. In the end, though, risking a government shutdown over the bill’s ugliest provisions – restoring government protection to risky bank maneuvers and raising the cap on party contributions, astronomically – was probably too much to expect. According to Greg Sargent, Dem sources say that while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fought it ferociously, in the end she signaled that members could vote their conscience.

And what did that vote tell us about the Democratic Party? Most of the departing Blue Dogs who lost their seats voted for the bill, predictably. In a break with President Obama, who lobbied for it, most of the Congressional Black Caucus did not. The remaining House Democrats are going to be more reliably critical of Wall Street, and less inclined to bow to the White House. 2015 is going to be interesting.

I admit, for a few hours on Thursday I thought Democrats might be able to win the public relations battle if they blocked the bill. Why should taxpayers protect risk-taking banks? The story of how Citigroup wrote the provision, and Wall Street’s friends snuck it in, is so outrageous I thought it had a chance to carry the day. So Republicans wouldn’t pass a spending bill without this giveaway to Wall Street? That would make them responsible for a government shutdown. But Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies may have thought the same thing about their message when they shut down the government last year.

We’ll never know if Democrats could have mustered populist outrage over Washington catering to Wall Street in the event of a new shutdown. But what else did we learn from the battle?

We now know that Nancy Pelosi is through guaranteeing the votes for ugly messes liberals hate (like the debt ceiling and sequester deals) but that House Speaker John Boehner can’t pass alone. In a new Congress where many Blue Dogs lost their seats, this sets the stage for House Democrats to block elements of the GOP agenda, especially when there can be left-right alliances.  Tea Party defenders say it was partly inspired by outrage at the 2008 Wall Street bailout and corporate-government cronyism; it would be nice if House adherents remembered those roots.

We also know that Elizabeth Warren wasn’t tamed by her ascent into Senate Democratic leadership; she was emboldened. While her star turn may increase the pressure on her to run for president, I’m with Elias Isquith here: I still hope she doesn’t. A President Warren would lack a Sen. Warren protecting her left flank. Giving Warren more progressive Senate allies would be more politically productive than elevating her to the White House.

We’re also seeing a more clearly defined bloc of Wall Street critics emerge in the Democratic Party, just in time for 2016. The Warren-led battle over Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss is also heating up – and both fights pit the popular progressive against President Obama.

Many news accounts have depicted the spending bill battle as Warren vs. Obama, setting up an ongoing clash between the two Democratic leaders. But I think the Warren vs. Obama story line can be overblown. It’s probably too much to expect the president to veto the spending bill and effectively shut down the government – clearly he doesn’t share my optimism that Democrats could win that P.R. battle.  But if the noxious measures hidden in the bill came to him as individual pieces of legislation, he’d be under a new level of pressure from congressional Democrats to veto them, and I expect he would. Obama made clear that while he wanted Democrats to support the spending bill he shared their opposition to both provisions.

In fact, the next two years will be a test of who the president really is: the change agent who inspired progressives, or the guardian of Wall Street power that his left-wing detractors claim he is. Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel makes the case that Warren, rather than being an Obama opponent, could be the best protector of his legacy that the president has. We’ll see.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Big Banks, Democrats, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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