Clinton, Warren, Sanders

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the possibility of Elizabeth Warren running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Much of it stems from this recent article in the New Republic, Hillary’s Nightmare? A Democratic Party That Realizes Its Soul Lies With Elizabeth Warren.  Here’s how the article describes the two sides of the Democratic Party.

On one side is a majority of Democratic voters, who are angrier, more disaffected, and altogether more populist than they’ve been in years. They are more attuned to income inequality than before the Obama presidency and more supportive of Social Security and Medicare.1 They’ve grown fonder of regulation and more skeptical of big business.2 A recent Pew poll showed that voters under 30—who skew overwhelmingly Democratic—view socialism more favorably than capitalism. Above all, Democrats are increasingly hostile to Wall Street and believe the government should rein it in.

On the other side is a group of Democratic elites associated with the Clinton era who, though they may have moved somewhat leftward in response to the recession—happily supporting economic stimulus and generous unemployment benefits—still fundamentally believe the economy functions best with a large, powerful, highly complex financial sector. Many members of this group have either made or raised enormous amounts of cash on Wall Street. They were deeply influential in limiting the reach of Dodd-Frank, the financial reform measure Obama signed in July of 2010.

One thing to quibble with in the above excerpt is that it’s not just one side of the Democratic Party that’s angrier, disaffected, and more populist. It’s the American people as well. That’s the message Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is speaking about, Sanders wants progressive 2016 presence.

Still, Sanders says he is willing to consider making a run if no one else with progressive views similar to his ends up taking the plunge.

It is essential, he said, to have someone in the 2016 presidential campaign who is willing to take on Wall Street, address the “collapse” of the middle class, tackle the spread of poverty and fiercely oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Also, addressing global warming needs to be a top priority, not an afterthought, Sanders said.

“Under normal times, it’s fine, you have a moderate Democrat running, a moderate Republican running,” Sanders said. “These are not normal times. The United States right now is in the middle of a severe crisis and you have to call it what it is.”

The reason these articles are appearing now is that it’s just what happens between elections in The Village. But it may be a welcomed debate for the populist side of the Democratic Party. They don’t want to get left out, again, if another corporate Democrat wins the White House. Being a populist Democrat, who knows our entire political system has been pulled way too far to the right, I know the only way to get back to sane politics is that the left must start pulling our country back. Which is where this comes in, How can progressives influence presidents.

That said, I do think the piece raises interesting questions about how progressives can gain and wield influence in the Democratic Party and over Democratic presidents. When does that process start? How does it work? What tactics will be successful?

Let’s start with a basic point—nominating and electing a progressive president is the ideal. But it doesn’t happen often. If Elizabeth Warren runs and can win the Democratic nomination and the general election, then the strategy is pretty straightforward—elect Elizabeth Warren as president of the United States. That’s why I would never denigrate anyone who is advocating for a Warren for President movement. I don’t think she would run, or win the nomination or win the presidency, but that’s just like, my opinion, man.

I note that Dave Weigel makes a good point that imbuing your favored presidential candidate with progressive bona fides is not a winning movement strategy:

[I]t’s risky, weak strategy to make a presidential primary the test kitchen for policy change. […] Over time, conservatives stopped expecting a president to get elected, lead, and solve all their problems. They built a grassroots machine and a litany of policy goals—the activists would speak, and the president would nod along. By 2012, Grover Norquist could tell a national conference that the next Republican president need only come to the job “with enough working digits to handle a pen.” That’s where progressives need to get, that un-glamorous and under-covered triumph of movement over party.

The only way we’re going to fix our corrupt political system is if we, the angry, disaffected, populists stand up and make our government do what we want. It won’t come easy and will take years and years of hard work.

Further Reading:
Rick Perlstein, The Grand Old Tea Party, Why today’s wacko birds are just like yesterday’s wingnuts.

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