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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Three interesting reactions to Third Way’s malicious ad-hominem attack on Elizabeth Warren and progressive Dems

It appears that some of the chaps at The Third Way have overestimated their cred as critics of liberalism, along with their assessment of thoughtful voters’ appetite for ad hominem attacks.
In her Daily Kos post, “Social Security expansion now very real. Thanks, Third Way!,” Joan McCarter explains:

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA.), honorary co-chair of Third Way and gubenatorial candidate, is now a cosponsor of a bill to expand Social Security. That’s after Third Way president Jon Cowan, Jim Kessler, the group’s senior vice president for policy called the legislation “exhibit A of this populist political and economic fantasy.” The “fantasy” that is going to doom, DOOM, Democrats. Of course, Schwartz isn’t leaving Third Way. And she’s also coming pretty late to the “expand Social Security” party.
…Schwartz isn’t running on that, on her pro-austerity, cut Social Security record, but is instead essentially repudiating it. Not just that, she’s now embracing that “populist political and economic fantasy” that Third Way swears is political ruin for any Democrat. Go figure.
When Sen. Sherrod Brown signed on to the bill to expand Social Security, it made news. It gave the movement real momentum. When Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined the team it catapulted the issue into what could be a centerpiece in the 2014 and 2016.
And that’s what put Third Way and the whole world of Wall Street “Democrats” into panic mode, coordinating a full-frontal assault against her and this issue. That assault has fallen completely flat. Nothing proves that more than Allyson Schwartz’s name on the Strengthening Social Security Act.
So thanks, Third Way! Now we’ve got ourselves a real rallying point for real Democrats.

The Third Way’s populist-bashing seems tethered to a long-dead template, which mistakenly assumes that most voters are ideologues who actually care where candidates fit on political spectra. As Paul Waldman puts it in his Politico post, “Left Turn = Dead End?Why class warfare won’t defeat Hillary in 2016“:

The real question isn’t so much whether there’s ideological room to stake out on Clinton’s left flank–there certainly is–but whether another candidate could capture the liberal imagination the way Obama did in 2008. Part of the problem is that when your party is in power, the hunger for victory doesn’t gnaw nearly so intensely at your gut as when you’re on the outside. Liberals felt a powerful combination of anger and hope in 2008, but today their sentiments are a much quieter mix of defensiveness and disappointment. The president they elected then has done some admirable things, but his second term is likely to be defined largely by defending those gains and fending off an increasingly reckless GOP. It’s necessary work, but it’s not the kind of thing you write songs about.
Obama might have been the liberals’ choice in the 2008 primaries, but it wasn’t because he was the most liberal. It was because he embodied almost everything liberals wanted in a candidate, most of which had little to do with ideology. He was new and fresh, multiracial and cosmopolitan, and untainted by the compromises and cowardice Democrats saw their party gripped by in the previous decade.
Most of all, Obama made voters understand what a vote for him said about them. If you were an Obama supporter, you were supposed to be forward-thinking, creative, optimistic, courageous and youthful. (That was the genius, for instance, of hip-hop artist will.i.am’s viral campaign video.) It wasn’t too different from the marketing message that has worked so well for Apple, and after feeling beaten down for eight years, it was just what liberals wanted.
It’s possible that another Democratic politician could make people feel something like that again, even with the idealism of the 2008 Obama campaign ground down in the messy reality of governing. Some believed Elizabeth Warren could be that candidate, and no one has spoken more often or more eloquently about inequality in recent years than the Massachusetts senator. But Warren now says she isn’t going to run (though, of course, she could change her mind). There might well be a governor or senator out there who could emerge as a liberal champion, but if so, whoever it is is lying low at the moment.

As for the Third Way’s cred in the wake of their Warren-bashing, Paul Krugman says it well in his “Pathetic Centrists” post:

I mean, going after Warren and de Blasio for not being willing to cut Social Security and their “staunch refusal to address the coming Medicare crisis” ??? Even aside from the question of exactly what the mayor of New York has to do with Medicare, this sounds as if they have been living in a cave for years, maybe reading an occasional screed from the Pete Peterson complex.
On Social Security, they’re still in the camp insisting that because the system might possibly have to pay lower benefits in the future, we must move now to cut future benefits. Oh, kay.
But anyway, they declare that Medicare is the bigger issue. So what’s this about “staunch refusal” to address Medicare? The Affordable Care Act contains lots of measures to limit Medicare costs and health care more generally — it’s Republicans, not progressive Democrats, who have been screaming against cost-saving measures (death panels!). And health cost growth has slowed dramatically, feeding into much better Medicare projections…
…So what does Third Way think it would mean to “address the Medicare crisis”? They don’t say. But my strong guess is that they mean raising the Medicare age; living in their cave, they probably haven’t gotten the memo (literally) from CBO concluding that raising that age would hardly save any money.
It’s just so tired and tiring. If being a “centrist” means fact-free denunciations of progressives for not being willing to cut entitlements, who needs these guys?

None of this is to disparage the legitimate role of political centrists in the Democratic party’s internal debates. But next time they pop off, Third Way polemicists might try bringing their ‘A game,’ and give the juvenile liberal-bashing a rest.

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