Republicans began licking their chops when organizers for the Democratic convention in Charlotte announced that Elizabeth Warren would get a plum speaking slot in prime time — just before Bill Clinton’s formal nomination of Barack Obama as the party’s nominee. That bolsters the Republican strategy of tying Obama to Warren’s anti-business tirade in Massachusetts, roughly equivalent in argument if not in tone with Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe last month. Politico’s headline for an analysis of this choice asks whether Warren will be a plus or minus for Democrats in that sense, but the better question comes further into the article, which is whether Warren and her class-warfare rhetoric represents the modern Democratic Party better than anyone who believes in free enterprise:
After Obama opted not to nominate her to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the face of strong Republican opposition, Warren became a hero to the progressive left, which already talks about her for national office in 2016. Long before she ever launched her Senate run, the liberal base was drafting her.
More important, she represents a growing force within the party — a progressive agenda coupled with disdain for the type of transactional politicking that former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his colleagues in the Clinton administration were known for.
To some extent, that’s what progressives thought they were buying in 2008 with Obama. Their disappointment with Obama for not being more leftward in governing philosophy is partly what animates the momentum for Warren within the party. However, as one analyst points out, what sells in Massachusetts might be a lot more limiting nationwide:
Warren has “that one elusive quality that we all want in our leaders, but can’t ever seem to get — freshness. Few people can combine newness with competence — Palin demonstrates the obvious pitfall — but she’s one of them. That was obviously a big part of Obama’s allure in 2008,” said former Democratic Governors Association executive director Nathan Daschle.
“At the same time, her anti-Wall Street message is powerful but limiting. As Obama learned, what works in Massachusetts isn’t necessarily what will work nationally,” he added.
“Most Americans are optimists, not pessimists. They don’t see themselves as victims. They see themselves as upwardly mobile, and that’s the product of their own sweat and labor. They work so hard to provide for their families that they naturally resent anyone they perceive as taking credit away. What they hear is ‘You didn’t work hard enough to deserve what you have.’”
The real question about Warren’s momentum is whether the Democratic Party will shift even further to the extreme Left, both in policy and in tone — especially with Warren, whose recent campaign ad wondered why the US didn’t spend more like China on its infrastructure. That kind of argument works well with the Tom Friedmans and Paul Krugmans of the world, who have openly admired China’s authoritarian efficiency without noting that (a) China has a very long way to go to catch up to American infrastructure, (b) China uses slave labor on a lot of those projects, and (c) Beijing has been burned on a number of occasions on overbuilding without demand. The argument that China’s policies are somehow better than the US might make for interesting cocktail conversation at faculty meet-and-greets, but it’s going to flop badly if used on the campaign stump.
Over the weekend, Martin Peretz — the former publisher of the center-left The New Republic — lamented the takeover of the Democratic Party by the “McGovernites,” a trend he says he tried to stop with his purchase of TNR:
‘I bought the New Republic to take back the Democratic Party from the McGovernites,” the legendary editor and publisher Martin Peretz says. Now, he fears, George McGovern’s ideas may be back in vogue within the party. …
“You know, I disagreed with Bill Clinton on some things and I didn’t disagree with him on others,” Mr. Peretz recalls. But Mr. Clinton’s administration “was in the deep tradition of the Roosevelt-Truman idea.” He concludes: “In any case, I think the Democratic Party was restored to a center role. Yes, it took a lot for the Clinton administration to rescue Bosnia. And it took a lot for the Democrats to admit to a mistake in Somalia.” But they eventually did both.
“We’re now in a new era,” Mr. Peretz warns. “I think that Obama is a child, or maybe let’s say a grandchild, of the New Left, with casual moral judgments made about very intricate ethical alternatives.” Later he thunders: “Leading by following—it’s really a sick phrase.”
One case in point for Peretz’ narrative of shifting to the extreme was the criticism leveled at Romney last week for what Peretz believes is an objective truth:
To Mr. Peretz, the notion that Arab cultures are beset with endemic pathologies is noncontroversial, almost a banal point. “[Mitt] Romney was said to have made a tremendous faux pas when he said that the difference between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a matter of culture,” alluding to historian David Landes’s book, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.”
“Mostly David discusses their social cooping up of women as a factor in Arab poverty, backwardness, et cetera,” Mr. Peretz explains. “Now, this would be, if you were talking generally, a very acceptable and progressive critique.” Indeed, “one of the reasons that you have economic backwardness is that women do not work and women do not get education.”
That Mr. Romney should have to go on the defensive over his remarks, Mr. Peretz thinks, has to do with the fact that “the magazines and the websites that are popular among the liberal, semi-intelligent, semi-intellectual readership of America have their own ideological blinders.”
Indeed. So while Warren gives the Republicans a very easy way to link Obama to her class-warfare rants, her prime-time speaking slot may be the most honest way that the Democratic Party can represent itself to voters. That’s also good news for Republicans.