As pundits spend much time commenting about the factions dividing the Republican Party — Tea Party radicals poised in opposition to mainstream, old-guard, establishment liberals — the Democrats are suffering their own largely unreported symptoms of a serious new dividing line.
Look no further than Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. As the Washington Post reported on Sunday, “a more liberal and populist voice is emerging within a Democratic Party already looking ahead to the next presidential election.” And its candidate is none other than Senator Warren. The new movement is what journalist Zachary A. Goldfarb calls “both a critique of Obama’s tenure and a clear challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party’s presumptive presidential front-runner, who carries a more centrist banner.”
Leave aside Goldfarb’s characterization of Hillary Clinton as a centrist (many would simply describe her as an opportunist who will shift to whatever stance the base wants in order to obtain their votes). While many conservatives see our current president as a man of the Left (which he undoubtedly is), his leftist critics see him as a man who bent to Wall Street, who keeps his private views to himself, and who only tries to achieve his social-democratic aims by stealth means.
Warren, to the contrary, is upfront about what she favors: taxing the rich in order to fund left-wing economic programs.
Warren would not even countenance any reforms to Social Security that might save the program by major fixes. Instead, as Jon Cowan and Paul Kessler write:
Sen. Warren wants to increase benefits to all seniors, including billionaires, and to pay for them by increasing taxes on working people and their employers. Her approach requires a $750 billion tax hike over the next 10 years that hits mostly Millennials and Gen Xers, plus another $750 billion tax on the businesses that employ them.
This is the program the new Democratic Party far left is calling “economic populism,” itself a misleading term masquerading the upfront socialist economics advocated by its proponents. Their new program includes calls for taxing the rich, demanding legislation that would create a giant increase in the federal minimum wage, and concentrating on programs they claim would greatly reduce “economic inequality.” Aiding them in this new propaganda offensive is, of course, the pages of the New York Times. A few days ago, the paper debuted a new series on the topic in the Metro section, which ended all pretense of separation of the news pages from those of the editorial section and the views of its editors.
As Ira Stoll wrote at Smartertimes.com yesterday: “The Times metro section as propagandist for the de Blasio administration’s grim class warfare focus is off to quite a start.”
The Times began the series by profiling a man who purportedly has two jobs after being laid off from a higher-paying job (“Life on $7.25 an hour”). As Stoll points out, this man lives in a home worth over $500,000, receives about $75 a day in tips, has three cars — two of those for his children — on which he pays insurance costs, a gas stipend for deliveries, and a second job paying $13 an hour. As Stoll writes, in world terms this man is actually well-off. His wife moved out of state. The paper does not explain why he isn’t trying to sell the home and to move to where his wife lives to try to get a job there.
To deal with such problems, the Democratic Party is on a new path, and its candidates on the Left will now openly push for more programs that force economic redistribution of wealth from the supposedly wealthy — which actually includes many who are middle-class — to the poor. As Goldfarb explains, this has great political risks:
Many Americans are uncomfortable with the notion of the government redistributing income far beyond what happens today in order to accomplish basic elements of the populist agenda. Liberal congressional or presidential candidates could pressure more moderate candidates to veer to the left, perhaps reducing their electability.
The problem facing Hillary Clinton is simple: will she appease the so-called populists by adopting a Warren-like leftist economic program, or will she adopt the kind of program her husband did as he moved to the political center? Bill said “the era of big government is over,” and adopted welfare reform and new trade agreements passed with Republican support. He generally tilted his party away from the far Left in accordance with the “third way” or New Democrat programs associated then with the Progressive Policy Institute and the New Democratic Leadership Council.
Most interestingly, the Left is wary of Hillary Clinton and is trying hard to push her on the issues. They view her husband’s presidency as one that worked with Wall Street against a populist agenda, and embraced “conservative thinking on the virtues of spending reductions and entitlement cuts.” They want her to do what de Blasio has done in New York City, adopting his local programs for the nation as a whole.
As Cowan and Kessler explain in a must-read op-ed, there is a tremendous fantasy of the Left, whose adherents really believe that if the wealthy pay higher taxes — in our large country, there are only 300,000 people who earn more than $1 million a year — and take some other redistributionist measure, we could both pay for and even expand entitlements. At the same time, government could then have funds to do all that is necessary yet has been put aside in the present: invest in K-12 education, build new roads and improve existing highways, expand health care, and develop new clean energy sources.
All this, they point out, is sheer fantasy.
Social Security is on the verge of collapse, and by 2031 it would have to slash benefits by 23% to continue. Its benefits are increasing faster than inflation, and payouts to seniors already exceed payroll taxes collected from workers. Yet Warren advocates increasing benefits and paying for them by taxing working-class and middle-class citizens as well as their employers. The Medicare crisis is even worse.
Cowan and Kessler estimate that in ten years, America will spend $5 on major entitlements for every $1 on public investments.
All of Warren’s ideas might be popular in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, but these two writers from “Third Way,” a group advocating centrist solutions, point out that a de Blasio-type proposal was defeated in a referendum in Colorado in the last election by a landslide. Colorado was a state the Democrats won in 2008 and thus a realignment of the electoral map took place, but they put in Democrats who stood against what they call “fantasy-based blue-state populism.”
So will Democrats take this lesson to heart, or follow Warren and the far Left to political oblivion? Hillary and Bill Clinton’s old associate John Podesta has started yet another new leftist think-tank: the Center for Equitable Growth. He believes Hillary connects to working people like no other potential candidate, and can indeed run on her own populist program; he believes she can out-Warren Warren.
And if Warren doesn’t run, there is also old-reliable: the openly socialist senator from Vermont, Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Sanders has said that if Warren does not run, he will enter the fray in the Democratic primaries as a challenger to Hillary Clinton on the Left. “Somebody’s got to be out there,” he told the Washington Post, “and if nobody is, I’ll do it.”
Sanders has no national popularity, and does not energize the base in the manner that Warren does. What he could do, however, is serve as an energizer of the leftist base, forcing Hillary Clinton or another prospective nominee with a chance of winning the Democratic primaries to also move to the far Left.
Say one thing for Bernie Sanders: he does not hide his true beliefs. He says he believes in socialism, and continually wins the support of his constituents although he advocates old Marxist solutions to today’s problems. He does not run as a “populist” or a “progressive,” and is unusually honest. One must give him credit for being forthright as to what his goals are.
Warren simply promotes socialist programs without using the term, and would push the nation to the Left and potential bankruptcy and collapse. Old strategists like Al From, in his new book, are trying to resurrect the old centrist coalition before it’s too late, but the chances for success look slim.
What does all of this mean? If they don’t blow it with their own volatile extremists, the Republicans are on the verge of potential major victories in the coming congressional elections.