Elizabeth Warren's surprising compliment: Why comparisons to Ted Cruz are good

It's reasonable to recoil when DC gasbags compare Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz. But here's its less-obvious upside

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 5, 2015 12:00PM (EST)

Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz                  (Reuters/Joshua Roberts/AP)
Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz (Reuters/Joshua Roberts/AP)

In one of the more memorable Senate speeches in recent memory, Senator Elizabeth Warren threw down the gauntlet to Wall Street in words that you don't often hear in that august body: she named names. Responding Citigroup's complaints about financial reform, "let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi[group]. I agree with you Dodd-Frank isn't perfect. It should have broken you into pieces!"

That's unusual. The millionaires club also known as the Senate is an unlikely place to hear anyone call out a major banking institution by name and declare that it should be broken into pieces, especially one that one they allowed to write legislation to loosen regulations. One simply doesn't air the Senate's dirty laundry that way. To address an individual corporation in such unflattering terms, especially one with a strong Democratic Party pedigree is a major breach of decorum. But name them she did and it caused quite a ruckus. If you have watched Warren over the years, you can be sure it won't be the last time.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that at the first sign of progressive life in the congress, the beltway wags would seize the chance to declare that the left had formed itself into a destructive, partisan insurrection force within the Democratic Party. It's been very uncomfortable for them these past couple of years to be unable to say "both sides do it" as the right wing took a swan dive into the rabbit hole, particularly in the face of GOP media companies that hold many purse strings. It's not hard to imagine that many members of the establishment media have been fervently hoping for a return of the hippie left so they could relax a little bit, secure in the knowledge that they don't have to take a side.

And so, one of the first things we saw from the political media were declarations that Elizabeth Warren is the Ted Cruz of the left. (Dana Milbank of the Washington Post patiently demurred, explaining that she isn't the Ted Cruz of the left, she the equivalent of the equally daft extremist Jim DeMint. Whatever.) And progressives rushed to explain why that simply wasn't so. How could it be? She isn't insane!

The extent of Warren's extremism is that she agrees with the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes that Wall Street has been behaving as a malign force in our society. And her allegedly shocking tactic was to try to persuade a bipartisan coalition of Senators who objected to a bill to vote against it. Why she might as well have worn a Che t-shirt and declared her fealty to Mother Russia. Comparing it to shutting down the government out of pique over Obamacare is just a little bit ridiculous. And insulting Citi-group is hardly comparable to Cruz comparing those who doubt the congress' ability to overturn Obamacare to Hitler appeasers:

“Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.' And in America there were voices that listened to that. I suspect those same pundits who say it can't be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on tv and they would have been saying, 'You cannot defeat the Germans.'"

However, it's a mistake for progressives to get defensive over this. The Villagers and the rightwing are desperate to keep their delusion of the crazed hippie left alive even if they have to pretend that a Harvard professor in a conservative suit and a set of pearls is the 21st century equivalent of Bernardine Dorn. There is no point in running from that. People who don't watch Fox News or listen to Rush aren't stupid and they can figure out that this doesn't make any sense. Moreover, wags like Milbank completely miss where the power of the Tea Party really derives. He wrote:

The left’s tea-party equivalent is still in its infancy. But it could be seen recently in the opposition by environmental activists to the reelection of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who lost her seat this month. They wanted to punish her for opposing them on energy issues — even though the conservative replacing her is less to their liking.

The Tea Party didn't scare the hell out of the Party by going after liberal Republicans. That had been going on for decades. The Tea Party scared the hell out of the party by taking on hardcore conservatives in conservative states and districts just to prove they could. That is an unprecedented show of power for power's sake and it's fundamentally changed the GOP. Conservatives no longer have any freedom to compromise.

Likewise, liberals primarying and running ads against conservative Democrats like mary Landrieu has been going on for some time. But they haven't cynically decided to take out liberals as a pure show of power, at least not yet. Still, progressives should be happy to have the establishment think Warren is another Cruz --- Cruz is powerful. He may not be able to fully turn the ship of state by his will alone but he's damned good at changing the momentum. Warren could be too.

And there's a reason for this: neither of them derive their power from cozy relationships with big business but from their cozy relationship to average people. Both of them get most of their money from small individual donations and are heavily backed by grassroots organizations. Let's just say they don't worry as much about losing their seats if they anger the establishment because they have their voters on their side. That kind of independence frightens the powers that be. Indeed, it's a grave threat to the system they've spent so much money to create for themselves.

So I say, don't worry about any D.C. gasbag calling Elizabeth Warren the Ted Cruz of the left. It means she's got clout. And lord knows progressives desperately need some of that.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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