Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Democrats' Liberal Siren


When Barack Obama became president in November 2008 he embodied both the hopes of liberal Democrats looking for a more assertive leadership after the Clinton years, and of black Americans who saw it as a major step forward in the realisation of full civil rights.  Six years on, both groups have to some extent been disappointed.  The current riots inFerguson, Missouri may have specific local causes but they also represent an on-going, wider disconnection that exists in much of America between black communities and law enforcement agencies.  The Ferguson riots are still playing out, so any conclusions from them must wait.  Liberal Democrats, however, may already consider that six years of unrequited love from the Obama White House make a new political direction imperative.  Step forward Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

For those disappointed with the political tenor of the Obama administration as a liberal government, Elizabeth Warren provides an admirable lightning conductor.  She ousted Republican Scott Brown from what had been Ted Kennedy’s senate seat, and she says the things about taxes and poor families that many ordinary Democrats firmly identify with. 

Take this clear challenge to that standard right-wing notion that self-made people get where they are without the help of the state:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Given that President Obama has proved relatively Clintonian on fiscal issues then, Elizabeth Warren represents a useful counterpoint who may not be a presidential candidate herself – she has publicly declared for Hilary Clinton – but who could act as a liberal counter-weight to a Hilary candidacy, and a rallying point for the Democrat liberals.

Michael Tomasky provides a cogent assessment of Warren’s position in his review of her autobiography in the current edition of “Foreign Affairs”, and while he concludes that the Democrats are not as ideologically riven as the Republicans, the policy debate is out there and Warren’s presence gives it fire.

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