The right’s hopes are dashed: Why there’s no civil war among Democrats

Hacks and pundits are desperately seeking conflict between the Warren and Clinton “camps.” Democrats shouldn't help VIDEO

Topics: Video, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, 2016 Elections, Third Way, Andy Stern, Economic populism, Editor's Picks, The Right, The Left, Democratic Party, , ,

The right's hopes are dashed: Why there’s no civil war among DemocratsElizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Joshua Roberts/AP/Charles Dharapak)

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Philip Rucker apparently made it official, for the Beltway, anyway: There’s a split in the Democratic Party that threatens its post-Obama future. The party is supposedly torn between the populism of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, and the centrist caution of President Obama and the current Democratic presidential front-runner (should she run) Hillary Clinton.

Reading the Balz-Rucker piece, you might recognize its central argument: It’s essentially a reported-out version of the Op-Ed penned by centrist Third Way leaders in the Wall Street Journal in December, stigmatizing De Blasio and Warren for their “dead end” populism. Except Balz and Rucker don’t entirely take sides – and they even talk to nominal progressives who sound a little bit like the Third Way folks.

“I think it’s really not helpful for the Democrats to turn this into an attack on the one percent,” former SEIU president Andy Stern told the Post reporters. “I don’t think it’s in the American spirit, or at least the Democratic Party’s future spirit. As Republicans attack immigration, we attack rich people? If you learned anything from the president, selling hope is better than selling hate.”

Personally, I think it’s really not helpful for Democrats to caricature other Democrats as selling “hate” if they point to the disproportionate income, wealth and political power currently enjoyed by the 1 percent. Hell, even some 1 percenters think the pendulum has swung too far. (Not crazy sore winners like Tom Perkins, of course.)

I debated Third Way’s Matt Bennett about this topic on “Hardball.” It was a friendly, civil debate; you can watch at the end of this post. But I was struck by a couple of things. Bennett — correctly, I think — insisted candidates and parties win when they have a vision for the future. And yet he – like his centrist comrades in the Balz-Rucker piece – continue to push Third Way’s 30-year-old Democratic Leadership Council approach, on a country that’s crying out for new ideas. It’s Third Way that’s looking backward, not progressives.

In our “Hardball” debate, I gave the DLC credit for one thing, even though, overall, I’m not an admirer. The DLC made a contribution in the ’80s and ’90s by telling Democrats that they had to talk about economic growth, not just wealth redistribution; that they could admit some government services had become inefficient and/or corrupt; that they shouldn’t be merely the tax and spend party. But Third Way and other centrists also forget that Clinton himself ran and got elected as a populist, with a platform of “Putting People First” and building a “bridge to the 21st century” with investments in education and infrastructure and opportunity. Without Clinton’s populist political instincts, the DLC’s castor-oil approach to politics, heavy on “responsibility” and “sacrifice,” especially for the non-wealthy, would have been an electoral dead end.

Ultimately DLC Democrats went too far, trying to outdo Republicans on who could be the pro-business party — particularly the Wall Street party. By 2008, Barack Obama was the candidate of both Wall Street and the entire FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate), outraising John McCain by 40 percent. Over those same 30 years, we saw top tax rates fall and investment income get ever more special treatment. Banks were deregulated with tragic results. The minimum wage has languished, labor rights have atrophied, and now a quarter of Americans toil in the low-wage work swamp, where they make so little they’re eligible for public assistance.

So a dose of economic populism is sorely needed, and it’s destructive for centrist Democrats to sound like Tom Perkins and suggest that those of us who favor higher taxes for the 1 percent are demonizing them. Advancing economic populism, progressives are using policy, not pitchforks. Why pretend that proposals for raising taxes or expanding Social Security or letting the post office resume small-banking services it used to offer are a scary lurch leftward?

It’s not to say there aren’t differences within the party. Fifteen senators signed a letter this week, penned by Bernie Sanders, asking the president to remove his proposal for the Social Security cut known as the “chained CPI” from his next budget. But they spanned the spectrum from Warren to moderate Mark Begich of Alaska. Begich is not helped by fellow centrists caricaturing him as a wealth-redistributor.

And while Obama finally presided over a tax hike for the top 2 percent, taxes aren’t back to the level of Third Way’s favorite president, Bill Clinton. Just in the last two years, even as Obama has escalated his anti-inequality rhetoric, he’s backed off, some, on higher taxes. There’s no more talk about the Buffett rule, or ending the scandalously low rate for “carried interest,” and he’s even taken higher tax rates for the wealthy “off the table.” That’s beggaring the future.  Building “ladders of opportunity” — Third Way prefers that term to “fighting income inequality” — from universal pre-kindergarten programs to expanded higher education funding, are going to require a more progressive tax code with higher taxes on top earners.

I’ve come to believe that the backlash against economic populism from the centrists is a perverse way of making the world safe for a Hillary Clinton candidacy. But with friends like these, Clinton doesn’t need enemies. Sharpening the distinction between economic populists and the presumed platform of Clinton only hurts Clinton. The fact is, we don’t know yet what she’ll run on, if she runs, but it’s wrong for centrists to claim her – and for progressives to cede her.

I’m on record worrying that Clinton is too close to Wall Street. But she can’t be blamed (or credited) for every policy of her husband’s. She was always thought to be the more progressive of the pair. And on economic issues, in 2008 I thought she was marginally more progressive than Sen. Obama – she favored a moratorium on foreclosures that he opposed, and her healthcare plan was more inclusive.

So we’ll see whether Clinton runs, and if she does, whether and how she addresses the surging populist energy of her party. But hyping a conflict between her and Elizabeth Warren is destructive. It ignores two facts: One, Warren insists she’s not running, and two, the Massachusetts senator signed a letter, along with other female Democrats, urging Clinton to run herself.

I think Markos Moulitsas wrote the best take on how progressives should view a Clinton candidacy. It may not even happen. But in the meantime, her centrist allies and other critics of Democratic populism ought to be more concerned with figuring out areas of common ground with progressives than trashing them in the media. I would also say that progressives should sometimes do the same. Those pushing the “It’s Elizabeth Warren’s party” hype are disrespecting both the leadership and the progressive accomplishments of our first black president (however incomplete they may be). That risks the support of African-Americans, the party’s most loyal voters. Not smart either.

In that spirit, Andy Stern was nice enough to reply to my “Hardball” critique with this elaboration of his Balz-Rucker quote.

I totally believe we need to attack income inequality, fairly redistribute the success of a country or company, protect a women’s right to choose, provide for universal pre-k, legalization of undocumented immigrants, and national healthcare, close tax loopholes, and stop bad trade deals. I don’t think we serve our electoral future well by turning these political and policy differences into broad sweeping personal attacks either on rich people or business or unions or union leaders. People want real change in their lives, and we should offer the ideas, and the organizational structures that provide hope and the chance to fight for change.  Call out people when it is appropriate based on policies not merely politics.

I couldn’t agree more. Here’s the “Hardball” debate with Matt Bennett:

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...