Commentary Magazine


Topic: Elizabeth Warren

The Real Reason Bill de Blasio Hasn’t Endorsed Hillary

Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

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Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

To recap, here’s what de Blasio said when asked directly about endorsing Hillary on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD:

Well, in the last quarter century, they’ll have had a Clinton as president for eight years of that last quarter century, so that’s going to be difficult. Let me ask you this, are you for her now, unequivocally? Or do you want to wait to see if she takes your advice on moving to a more progressive agenda?

BILL DE BLASIO:

I think like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear, bold vision for progressives–

CHUCK TODD:

But you’re technically not yet endorsing her?

BILL DE BLASIO:

No, not until I see, and again, I would say this about any candidate, until I see an actual vision of where they want to go. I think she’s a tremendous public servant. I think she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office. And by the way, thoroughly vetted, we can say that. But we need to see the substance.

The Clintons demand loyalty above all else, and de Blasio was Hillary’s campaign manager for the Senate in 2000. So this certainly looked to some in Clintonland like a betrayal. Clinton ally Hilary Rosen responded angrily on Twitter, with a classic Clintonian threat:

The whole thing was, I thought, blown way out of proportion. But reporters spent the next couple days asking de Blasio if perhaps he had reconsidered his comments about the Central Committee chairwoman. Politico reports this morning that he’s sticking to his story:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is standing by his remarks on “Meet the Press” that he is not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. …

“It’s the same things I’ve said publicly: progressive taxation, raising wages and benefits, investment in infrastructure and education, the willingness to tax the wealthy so we have the resources to actually change the dynamic in this country,” the progressive Democratic mayor said.

This obstinacy has inspired some quizzical looks. Who shrugs off the horse’s head in the bed? What’s de Blasio up to?

In fact, there is a very good reason for Bill de Blasio to keep his initial distance from Hillary: self-preservation. Hillary Clinton, and the crony capitalist aristocracy she represents, is a direct threat to de Blasio’s career.

Remember, de Blasio was swept into office on the combined power of one good television ad and the tide of left-wing populism that sought to turn the animating ideas behind Occupy Wall Street into something productive. The Tea Partiers didn’t just rage against the government (they also didn’t defecate on police cars, as their liberal counterparts did); they got involved, ran candidates for office, formed a congressional caucus, and shaped legislation.

So as terrible as the policy preferences of de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are, and as shallow as their understanding of basic economics continues to be, there was at least something healthy about their elections: it showed left-wingers re-engaging with the democratic process. Warren has secured a place for herself as a national figure. She occupies a safe Senate seat and sits on the banking committee, and even has a legion of fans who want her to run for president. She demonstrated her transformation into the Democrats’ Ted Cruz with her recent attempt to shut down the federal government over a policy dispute. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going anywhere.

The same is not necessarily true of de Blasio. That’s why he scheduled a trip to Iowa to talk about inequality, and why he continues to act as though he’s a single-issue activist instead of an influential political executive.

But far more of a danger to de Blasio is the looming success of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. As Ben Domenech wrote in the September issue of COMMENTARY, the populist base of the Democratic Party will be one casualty of Hillary’s coronation: “She is still the Hillary who spent six years on the Walmart board of directors; the Hillary at her most comfortable rubbing elbows in Aspen, the Hamptons, and Davos; the Hillary whose family foundation depends on the donations of big banks and held its annual donor briefing in the auditorium of Goldman Sachs, which reportedly paid her $400,000 for two speeches last year,” Domenech wrote, adding: “The past few years have been better for Wall Street than anybody, and when it comes to the battles over regulation, taxation, and trade policy, the progressive base seems ready to concede defeat.”

De Blasio isn’t, however. Elizabeth Warren could survive the receding tide of liberal populism because she has transitioned seamlessly into a progressive cog in the bureaucratic statist machine. Warren sold out the moment she was presented with the opportunity to wield state power to settle scores.

De Blasio, however, has no such job security and no obvious fallback plan. What de Blasio has instead is the great media megaphone of New York City. And he intends to use it.

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Did Martin O’Malley Go Off-Script?

Earlier this month I noted the growing Democratic refrain that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would both benefit from Hillary having some real competition for the nomination in 2016. For Hillary, she could test out her responses to various lines of questioning and sharpen her debating skills. For Democrats, they’d get a better nominee or possibly even a different nominee if something emerged to knock Hillary from the race. (Better in the primaries than in the general.) I also noted that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did not seem to be auditioning for the role of genuine rival. But maybe that’s changing.

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Earlier this month I noted the growing Democratic refrain that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would both benefit from Hillary having some real competition for the nomination in 2016. For Hillary, she could test out her responses to various lines of questioning and sharpen her debating skills. For Democrats, they’d get a better nominee or possibly even a different nominee if something emerged to knock Hillary from the race. (Better in the primaries than in the general.) I also noted that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did not seem to be auditioning for the role of genuine rival. But maybe that’s changing.

On Sunday’s This Week, O’Malley took a couple shots at the Democratic frontrunner:

“Let’s be honest here,” O’Malley said. “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

O’Malley also hinted that a Clinton nomination is not a sure thing, possibly alluding to the 2008 primary, when she was also thought to have had it locked down.

“History is full of times when the inevitable frontrunner is inevitable right up until he or she is no longer inevitable,” he said.

Yet as Jesse Walker notes, not only did O’Malley not name Hillary, he demurred when pressed and spoke in generalities about the campaign. “This just isn’t the way an insurgent candidate talks,” Walker wrote.

Isn’t it? I’m not convinced this wasn’t O’Malley’s own timid, slightly goofy way of trying to dispel the notion that he’s the Mikhail Prokhorov of Clinton’s coronation. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose, but I think the subject of O’Malley’s comment is telling.

There are two kinds of criticism of Hillary Clinton from her fellow Democrats. The first is issue-based, designed to portray Clinton as out of touch with the party’s true political identity. For example, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, may run in the Democratic primary as a way to trumpet the issue of inequality. “Today, in my view, the most serious problem we face as a nation is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality,” Sanders told the Brookings Institution last month. “This is a profound moral issue. It is an economic issue, and it is a political issue.”

Bernie Sanders, like most of the potential Democratic candidates, does not pose a serious threat to Hillary’s chances. But Clinton is simply not a credible advocate of the kind of economic-justice policies the far left would like to see. Not only is she too close to Wall Street for the redistributive left, but the entire raison d’être of her current career appears to be to massively increase the amount of money in politics, including from foreign (and deeply illiberal) sources. Hillary’s fine with Sanders’s candidacy, because she’ll always look like a more serious Democrat when running against an actual socialist.

There is, as we’re reminded endlessly, a more threatening version of a populist candidacy: that of Elizabeth Warren, who could actually beat Hillary. But Warren does not seem any closer to actually running today than she was yesterday or the day before, so the smart money’s on Hillary avoiding this particular trap.

Another issue-based critique of Hillary from the left will be her hawkishness. Clinton is a liberal interventionist, a proponent of the kind of light-footprint military intervention we saw in Libya. She is also more open to humanitarian missions than Barack Obama is, and she knows she’s somewhat vulnerable on matters of war and peace because that’s precisely the contrast Obama was able to draw in 2008.

But she wouldn’t be running against Obama. She might be running instead against former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. When he announced his exploratory committee, he said the U.S. must “redefine and strengthen our national security obligations, while at the same time reducing ill-considered foreign ventures.” It’s the sort of broad platitude he repeats from time to time, and it won’t harm Hillary.

Even Webb’s supporters are (for the most part) realistic about this. “Jim Webb, I acknowledge, is probably not going to become our next president,” wrote the Nation’s William Greider. “But he has the possibility of becoming a pivotal messenger.” And Hillary’s just fine with that: any candidate who makes her look more like a centrist without actually threatening her chances to win the nomination, and therefore doesn’t force her to her left during the primaries, is more of a help than a hindrance anyway.

But there’s a second kind of Clinton critique: one that has less to do with policy and more about character. And this one can potentially hurt Hillary even coming from someone who won’t defeat her in the primaries. That’s because the kinds of stories that stick are ones that conform to a preexisting narrative, unfair as it often is. Hillary is nearing the end of her career, which means her public persona is close to set in stone–no matter how many different ways she programs herself to laugh.

Had O’Malley kept his criticism to economic policy or even climate change, it would have been unexceptional. But pointing out Hillary’s sense of personal entitlement and her family’s stature as American royalty risks reminding even some Democrats that they don’t really like the idea of Hillary’s candidacy as much as they’d like to, even if they like her personally.

So is the key takeaway from O’Malley’s comments that he refused to use Hillary’s name–or that he didn’t have to? It’s a distinction that may tell us more about whether he’s really willing to take on the Clintons, or merely aiming to share in the spoils of what he hopes is her eventual victory.

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Jobbers and Crash-Test Dummies Won’t Solve Hillary’s Problems

The Obama administration and its defenders have had the habit of spinning the unpopularity of failing and failed policies by diagnosing the president with a “communications problem.” Now Democrats, horrified by Hillary Clinton’s disastrous press conference and inability to spin away the corruption, secrecy, and national-security scandals related to her time as secretary of state are taking a similar line: she needs to get back in midseason form. Unfortunately for them, their solution isn’t a solution at all.

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The Obama administration and its defenders have had the habit of spinning the unpopularity of failing and failed policies by diagnosing the president with a “communications problem.” Now Democrats, horrified by Hillary Clinton’s disastrous press conference and inability to spin away the corruption, secrecy, and national-security scandals related to her time as secretary of state are taking a similar line: she needs to get back in midseason form. Unfortunately for them, their solution isn’t a solution at all.

Democrats should start with two realizations. The first is that Hillary was unable to offer a good explanation for her decision to jeopardize national security and avoid accountability with her email-server scheme because there isn’t one. What she did was wrong, and dangerous, and smacks of the corruption we’ve all come to associate with the Clintons. There is no excuse for what she did, which is why she’s been unable to offer one–and why she has had to torture language in particular Clintonian fashion to obfuscate the issue.

The second realization is that history suggests this is Hillary Clinton in midseason form. In 1997, upon accepting an ensemble cast award at the Screen Actors Guild awards for Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld stepped up the podium and said: “My name is Jerry Seinfeld and I am a bad actor.” Hillary and her ensemble cast of hacks and spin doctors should take the same approach. Her name is Hillary Clinton, and she is a bad politician. Terrible, in fact. She’s just not good at this. That doesn’t mean she can’t win–of course she can, and she would go into the general election with some structural advantages. But it won’t be on the strength of her political talents.

So Democrats should approach this subject with some practical sense of what kind of changes a talentless politician at the end of her career could possibly be expected to make. And they are, as Jonathan Tobin wrote yesterday, in something of a bind: they’re ready for Hillary and now they’re stuck with her too. The New York Times talked to Democrats and found a more modest rationale for her candidacy:

Congressional Democrats are counting on a strong Clinton campaign to help lift them back into the majority. Party leaders at all levels want her fund-raising help and demographic appeal. And from the top of the party to its grass roots, Mrs. Clinton’s pseudo-incumbency is papering over significant disadvantages: a weak bench, a long-term House minority and a white middle class defecting to the Republican Party faster than the Democrats’ hoped-for demographic future is expected to arrive.

Mrs. Clinton, many Democrats say, is simply too big to fail.

“There is no one else — she’s the whole plan,” said Sarah Kovner, a leading Democratic donor and fund-raiser in New York.

So if Democrats are stuck with Hillary (though in fairness, many are still plenty optimistic about having her as their nominee), they need to make the best of it. And while Democrats would like to believe her recent press conference and her insomnia-curing speeches are just signs of rust, the truth is she’s only slightly worse than she’s been in the past, which is quite dreadful. Can rust rust? If so, then perhaps they’re at least technically right.

The next question, then, is: How do they get her candidacy in better shape? Here it seems pretty clear that the coronation that bestows so many other advantages on Hillary does hold her back in this regard. She needs competition, Democrats agree. But they also agree that she needs–and here’s where this gets comical–“competition” that can’t beat her. She needs jobbers, sparring partners. Stella needs to beat some poor Democrat like a rented goalie to get her groove back.

Not all Democrats feel that way, of course. Some want a real debate over the issues. Over at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent is surely correct when he writes:

The continuing controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails, culminating (for now) in yesterday’s contentious sparring with reporters, is likely to deepen the desire among Democratic activists and voters for a real Democratic presidential primary. That might force Clinton to spend months sharpening her handling of questions such as those swirling around her emails — not to mention her positions on key issues — under questioning from fellow Democrats.

The goal: A real debate pitched to an audience of Democratic voters, rather than an endless, grueling Hillary-versus-the-press death struggle.

But who are Democrats getting instead? Martin O’Malley. The former Maryland governor is not serious competition, and he’s not even trying to be. He’s even pulling punches on the email scandal. Sargent quotes another Post report explaining O’Malley’s approach thus:

His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clinton’s Republican critics.

Sargent is rightfully displeased with this. But what should anybody expect? After all, O’Malley reportedly asked the Clintons’ permission to run. Maybe he’s decided he has to clear all criticism of Hillary with Hillary herself as well. What will O’Malley say about the Clinton scandal? He’ll let you know as soon as Hillary’s staff gets back to him with a list of approved words and phrases.

But even if O’Malley weren’t asking the Clintons’ permission to borrow the car and extend his curfew just this once, he’s still not going to change the dynamics of the race. The concern with Hillary was never that she was going to run literally unopposed. It was that she was not going to have the kind of serious competition who could force her off-message or challenge her in a debate.

Elizabeth Warren could change the dynamics of the race. Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders can’t. But Warren could also win, and the Clinton team doesn’t want real competition, it wants crash-test dummies. And so that’s what they’ll get.

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Democrats and the Hillary Train Wreck

How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

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How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

There are some reasons for the Clinton camp to be confident that nothing in the story about her emails will stop Democrats from nominating her for president. The Clintons have always operated under different rules than lesser political mortals and they and their fans probably think there’s nothing to this issue that should cause Democrats to treat them differently than in the past. But the willingness of the New York Times, the flagship of the liberal mainstream media establishment to run with this story rather than treating it as just another minor sidebar generated by Republicans investigating the Benghazi attacks was an indication that Hillary could not count on getting a pass.

Nor did the story die after a day as Clinton’s camp hoped it would because there was more to it. The revelation that Clinton not only refrained from using a government (and therefore relatively secure) email address but used one whose server was located in her home is even more egregious than one would have thought. That raises questions about whether she violated government regulations instituted in 2009. Though much correspondence was subsequently handed over to the government, the decision as to what was public and what private was made by Clinton’s staff leaving open the possibility that anything that might prove embarrassing or troubling — such as Clinton’s knowledge or encouragement for efforts by her husband to raise money from foreign governments for their family foundation — was either erased or held back from archivists or the State Department.

Some Democrats are claiming that conservative critics complaining about Clinton’s emails are hypocrites because various Republican governors have been hounded about some of their own emails. That’s a fair point but only to a point. Anyone running for president is going to have to be transparent about their official conduct, an issue that Jeb Bush got in front of when he released his emails from his time as governor of Florida. But none of those Republicans were in charge of U.S. foreign policy while their spouse was shaking down foreigners for contributions to their family foundation.

Even more to the point, it is important to play the substitution game. Imagine the reaction from Democrats if highly placed figures in a Republican administration were accused of doing far less than what Clinton has done when it comes to emails. Substitute the words Dick Cheney for Hillary Clinton and just imagine the same liberals telling us there’s nothing to see and that this is mere Republican lunacy about Benghazi as their heads explode.

But actually we don’t have to use our imaginations. We can just find the video of Hillary Clinton speaking in June 2007 about accusations about Republicans like Karl Rove using private email accounts some of the time while working in the White House. Rove wasn’t violating any federal regulations as Clinton did but that didn’t stop the then junior senator from New York from decrying those in her sights of “shredding the Constitution” and engaging in corrupt activities.

Nor will this story go away. There’s plenty of exposure for everyone involved here who didn’t follow the rules. But with news organizations like the Associated Press that have already filed Freedom of Information lawsuits to find out what Clinton has been up to now discovering that there is a lot of data it wanted that the government doesn’t have, the fate of those emails that were not given to the State Department could haunt Clinton.

But none of this bothers Democrats as much as the perception that Clinton and her staff were unprepared for this latest land mine in her path and have no clue about defusing it. Though the Clinton political machine is a formidable entity, she currently lacks the kind of staff with the ability to respond immediately to problems. Instead, they bumble around for days doing little to make things better for their candidate. Clinton’s own public statements have also been entirely inadequate. Merely saying that she wants the public to have access to her emails does little to reassure since she didn’t promise to take any steps that would ensure that these communications will be brought forward or that the process by which private emails will be sorted from the official ones will be supervised by anyone but her personal minions.

As with her gaffe-ridden book tour last year, Clinton has done nothing to make it appear that she has acquired the political skills needed to weather a competitive presidential campaign. With no serious Democratic opposition in sight that means she will head into the general election next year with full coffers but unready to mix it up with what might be a strong GOP opponent. At this point the fact that she has no opposition worth the name inside her party starts to look less like a huge advantage and more like a liability.

Will this tempt Warren to run against her? If she has any interest in running for president — a question to which we don’t know the answer — it ought to. At worst, the email story is the sort of thing that will feed cynicism about Clinton among ordinary voters as well as the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. At best, it shows she has poor political judgment ad lacks the ability to comprehend and deal with problems. Either way, this train wreck makes for a poor presidential candidate and an even worse president. The former should scare Democrats who want to win in 2016. The latter should scare all Americans.

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Howard Dean and the Elmer Fudd Theory of Economic Policymaking

How powerful is Elizabeth Warren? That question, oddly enough, is a key determining factor in the future of the Democratic Party. That’s not because Warren is set for a long career as a Senate powerbroker. It’s because she probably isn’t. Warren is a 65-year-old freshman who is already being encouraged to run for president and who came to government as an outsider. Warren’s power, then, will not be measured as much by her accomplishments in office (though she may accrue some) as by the growth of her faction within the Democratic Party.

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How powerful is Elizabeth Warren? That question, oddly enough, is a key determining factor in the future of the Democratic Party. That’s not because Warren is set for a long career as a Senate powerbroker. It’s because she probably isn’t. Warren is a 65-year-old freshman who is already being encouraged to run for president and who came to government as an outsider. Warren’s power, then, will not be measured as much by her accomplishments in office (though she may accrue some) as by the growth of her faction within the Democratic Party.

Warren’s power will also be evident in how much Hillary Clinton echoes Warren’s political rhetoric. Although Clinton will not consider herself bound by such rhetoric if she’s elected, the fact that she might believe she needs Warren’s approval will speak volumes about Warren’s influence over a Democratic nominating process that is expected to be a coronation and a cakewalk.

Indeed, the last time voters put the Clintons in the White House, it was Bill Clinton who was leading the party’s rhetoric in a new direction. Democrats followed Bill to the presidency. It will be quite a change of pace if the Clintons are next sent to the White House only after recognizing that they were no longer setting the ideological agenda of their party, but merely following instructions.

And that’s a chance centrist Democrats–who insist they still exist, and you are not imagining them after taking too much NyQuil–aren’t willing to take. According to The Hill, the old New Democrat Coalition is back:

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

“I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she’s a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side.”

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, “it’s going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition.”

It’s the revenge of the mushy middle. The rhetoric seems to be the biggest sticking point for these Democrats. How much does the policy agenda need to break with Warren and her wing to be successful? It depends who you ask.

For some, the aggressive anti-business rhetoric is the point. When The Hill asked one Democratic member of Congress about the two emerging camps, they responded: “There’s no need to get me in trouble … I don’t need an angry phone call from Bill Clinton.”

Comments like that suggest that on policy grounds, some of these Warren wingers are in it for the pitchforks and torches, but if they pipe down, the Clintons won’t even realize they think of Bill and Hillary and their supporters as filthy capitalist pigs. Along similar lines, some centrists seem to think that if you don’t tell businessmen and women you’re confiscating their earned income for redistributive schemes, they won’t notice. “Economic growth is a precondition to reducing inequality,” said Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall, another self-styled centrist. “You can’t redistribute wealth that you’re not generating.”

That’s true, but also a bit of a mixed message, to say the least.

That’s about where Howard Dean lands on the spectrum too. He told The Hill: “Our program cannot be soak the rich — that’s a mistake and alienates middle class people. But on substance, the Warren wing is correct.”

So, you can soak the rich, then? That’s the “substance” of the Warren wingers’ economic policy. What Dean seems to be calling the “program” is actually the party’s rhetoric. Of course, you could also follow Dean’s advice by enacting policies that are sold as one thing but accomplish another. You could theoretically design, say, a health-care plan that claims to be about providing access but is really a wealth transfer from the middle class to lower-earning Americans whose votes Democrats would really like to lock in for generations. You could call this policy “ObamaCare.”

The economic populists have the advantage of momentum and a president animated by class warfare. But they are at a disadvantage in another area, which Dean alludes to in what can best be understood as the Elmer Fudd theory of economic policymaking. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. According to Dean: “The rhetoric about wealth creation needs to be scaled back because Americans like wealth creation.”

You don’t say. Americans like capitalism and economic freedom. What Americans like, in other words, is the system the Warren wingers want to tear down. It’s also a system that has been very good to the Clintons. If the Warren wing can get Hillary Clinton to run on a program that implicitly delegitimizes the Clintons’ own success, the New Democrats will remain irrelevant.

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Antonio Weiss, Elizabeth Warren, and the Spirit of the Constitution

When Elizabeth Warren led a campaign of misleading demagoguery against President Obama’s nominee for an under secretary of the treasury job, she was trying to make a point at the expense of someone else’s career. But since her success was temporary and Antonio Weiss has, as predicted, joined the administration anyway, Warren’s populist stunt has inadvertently raised questions about the entire premise of the Senate’s role in approving executive branch nominees.

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When Elizabeth Warren led a campaign of misleading demagoguery against President Obama’s nominee for an under secretary of the treasury job, she was trying to make a point at the expense of someone else’s career. But since her success was temporary and Antonio Weiss has, as predicted, joined the administration anyway, Warren’s populist stunt has inadvertently raised questions about the entire premise of the Senate’s role in approving executive branch nominees.

To recap: Obama chose Weiss, but his background in investment banking irked Warren, who loudly opposed the nomination in ways that proved her ignorance of the relevant issues but increased her celebrity and her rabid fan base. It was precisely the type of behavior that should not be rewarded, but unfortunately it’s also the type of behavior that works. So Weiss withdrew his nomination.

But that was not going to be the end of it. Here is what I wrote last month about how this would end: “Weiss will join the Treasury anyway, and give the same advice, not be much undercut by whoever eventually fills the under secretary seat. … Warren’s victory is, then, entirely symbolic. It will have no effect on policy. All it will do is act as an implicit threat to future nominees, pour encourager les autres.”

And that’s precisely what happened. As Bloomberg reports:

Eight days after joining the Treasury Department as an adviser, Antonio Weiss was the lead U.S. official listed at a meeting with Wall Street executives. It’s a role typically played by the undersecretary for domestic finance — the same post Weiss lost after Democratic senators stymied his nomination.

Weiss’s presence at that Feb. 3 meeting on quarterly debt sales shows him diving into many of the same tasks that would have come with the undersecretary’s job. The former Lazard Ltd. global head of investment banking is now working on issues ranging from debt management to housing finance and global market developments. One big difference: his job as counselor to Secretary Jacob J. Lew doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

The question–and it’s a fair one–is this: Does Antonio Weiss’s current job description violate the spirit of the separation of powers and the Senate’s advise-and-consent role in executive branch appointments?

Over at National Review, Charles Cooke says yes. Cooke writes that quality of candidate–and, by extension, the truthiness of the campaign against him–is beside the point: “Ultimately, I couldn’t care less whether Weiss is a better choice than Elizabeth Warren’s preferred candidate. If the Senate didn’t want him, he doesn’t get the job.”

He explains:

At first blush it must seem rather suspicious that the only functional difference between Weiss as undersecretary for domestic finance and Weiss as counselor to Secretary Lew is that the latter position “doesn’t require” the Senate confirmation that Weiss was so publicly denied. But first blushes are for schoolboys and bigots and haters, and for those wild-eyed radicals who would happily risk seeing into what sort of proto-Somalian hellhole the United States might fall if the Treasury secretary were to be denied an adviser for a few weeks. Here, as so often, we should presume that the president knows better than the other co-equal branches, and conclude that politics must not be permitted to intrude upon his getting his own way. Apologies to Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin, who made it their business to block Weiss’s nomination; but you know not what you do.

I support Cooke’s general defense of procedure here, but I don’t think it’s being violated in this case, for three reasons.

The first is that process matters. There is no way to prevent a government official from soliciting the advice he’s looking for. Having a Senate-confirmed spot in government is about more than hiring. It’s why it’s not inappropriate that Susan Rice landed at the exceptionally powerful National Security Council when opposition to her from the Senate chased the administration away from making her secretary of state. Yes, it’s a different job title, but so is Weiss’s. And since policy is made in the White House, Rice is arguably more influential toward the shape of American foreign policy as national security advisor than she would have been at State.

The second is that the purpose of the opposition matters. The truth is that Rice would likely have been confirmed. The problem for Obama was that Republicans wanted to use the confirmation hearings to press the administration (and especially Rice) on Benghazi. For Weiss, it wasn’t clear Warren had the votes to reject his nomination. What she wanted was to make a point about the administration’s supposedly too-cozy ties to Wall Street and demonstrate her growing clout in the Democratic Party. So yes, Weiss was hired this way to avoid the Senate’s “advice and consent” (mostly “advice”), but neither is it fully accurate to say that, in this case as in many others like it, “the Senate didn’t want him.”

The third reason is that you could say the same about recess appointments. But wait, you object, the recess power is in the Constitution! Indeed it is. And what is its purpose? If the purpose is to prevent debilitating vacancies while the Senate is out of session, then its popular use today unquestionably violates the spirit of that process.

Presidents use recess appointments for controversial nominees who would be otherwise “unconfirmable” by the Senate. Does this not trash the very concept of the Senate’s role in choosing nominees? If we follow this line of thinking, we should oppose any appointment that would otherwise go through the Senate. (Cooke may in fact agree; I’m not claiming to know, merely making a broader point.)

And if the spirit of the Constitution is not violated by recess appointments made for this purpose, then the case for Weiss is even stronger. We can then say that the framers allowed for the workaround in cases other than coincidental recess.

And we might glance at the way presidents choose their advisors for some perspective. If we must oppose Weiss’s hiring in this case for these reasons, then we might as well indict the executive branch’s general conduct in foreign policy. Was the diplomatic opening to Cuba arranged by the American secretary of state or even Foggy Bottom appointees? No it was not; it was arranged by presidential advisor (and Susan Rice deputy) Ben Rhodes, whose position is not subject to Senate confirmation. And we could say the same about the entire system of “special envoys” through which presidents approach foreign affairs.

There is a danger here, without question. And the growth of the administrative state and its army of unaccountable bureaucrats would surely horrify the framers, for a variety of reasons. But Weiss’s hiring is probably not one of them.

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Liberals to Exit the ‘Daily Show’ Biodome

The real challenge in writing about Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show is the fact that every time you think you’ve seen the perfect hysterical reaction from the left, someone else tops it. I was sure that when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that “For people under 30, Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up,” the silliness had already reached its apex. But of course, I was the silly one for thinking that.

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The real challenge in writing about Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show is the fact that every time you think you’ve seen the perfect hysterical reaction from the left, someone else tops it. I was sure that when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that “For people under 30, Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up,” the silliness had already reached its apex. But of course, I was the silly one for thinking that.

Because then I was directed toward the New York Times front page, where the Stewart news and the news about NBC’s Brian Williams being suspended (for apparently fabricating war stories) shared a headline: “Williams Suspended, at Low Point in His Career; Stewart to Depart at High Point.” But that absurdity, too, could be improved upon. You might think it’s unfair to Williams–who was an actual news anchor, on a network news program–to be lumped in with the comedian who hosts a clip show of actual news reports to make fun of them. But that’s not how the news media themselves saw it. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour highlighted the shared headline and tweeted:

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There really was something amazing about that comment. Stewart became enormously successful by showing clips of people like Amanpour and then making faces at the camera. Yet Amanpour readily suggests that it’s the comedian, and not the network news anchor, who has “authority” to speak on the issues of the day. It tells you something not just about Stewart, but about the media in general.

In that sense, the Williams suspension really does belong in the same breath as the Stewart departure, at least as far as the press is concerned. If reports are true, they’re both satirizing, in their own way, the news. One of them is just being open about it. And it is the fake newsman who is truly admired, because his fake news confirms the left’s ideological predispositions. It does not seem to dawn on liberals what follows from this: the fact that to bring their worldview in line with the news, it has to be fabricated.

Stewart is a form of escapism, then, for the left. But he’s been around so long, and become such an “authority” (at least according to CNN; keep that in mind for future reference), that they stopped escaping into his reality for a half hour a night and instead simply moved there. At some point during the Bush administration, the left simply decamped and took up permanent residence in StewartWorld–a world that Stewart himself, repeatedly, stressed was fake.

But you could also see how they could be fooled. Stewart put real effort into creating this false reality. For example, one of the most controversial interviews Stewart conducted was with Jonah Goldberg. It was not controversial because Goldberg is conservative; it was controversial because the interview ran long and Stewart handed the tape over to Edward Scissorhands to edit. The resulting mashup was choppy and disconcerting, and it turned out that that was because Stewart had to stack the deck. “Largely left on the cutting-room floor,” Goldberg explained later, “were some important points that might have made my book seem a bit more nuanced.”

If you’ve watched the Daily Show over the years you’ll understand why Stewart did that. A fair fight is one that leaves Stewart at a deep disadvantage. John Yoo, Cliff May, and other conservatives ran circles around Stewart when he brought them on the show. (May famously left Stewart so punch drunk the staggering host called Harry Truman a war criminal, for which he apologized soon after.)

Now compare what Stewart did to Goldberg with how he treated Elizabeth Warren on her first appearance on the Daily Show. Warren was nervous and unprepared, as this Vox piece explains:

And her nervousness shows — she hesitates before she answers, and she even forgets the name of a TARP program she herself was trying to explain to him. In her memoir, Warren herself characterizes the first part of the interview as “terrible.”

So what did Stewart do? He “rearranged his show to give her more time,” and coached her on her messaging. Of course he did.

It became a well-known accepted fact, at least among non-leftists brave enough to be interviewed for sketches on the show, that the Daily Show producers simply re-cut interviews dishonestly in order to make it look like their marks said ridiculous or offensive things. (Here’s a column on it from Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle titled “Don’t Ever Appear on ‘The Daily Show’.”)

So what do liberals do now that, about a decade after running out of jokes, Stewart’s throwing in the towel? There will be a period of mourning, sure. But in the long run, it has to be helpful for them to be forced out of the StewartWorld and back into reality. (Comedy Central may try replacing him, but as the reactions to Stewart’s departure show–“the Beatles,” etc.–StewartWorld requires Stewart to possess its full force and “authority.”) My hope is that we’ll see a transformation similar to what happened to the Truman Show’s lead when he realizes it’s all fake and there’s a whole (real) world out there. Perhaps they’ll challenge the limits of the biodome they’ve called home and venture out in search of the truth.

Or maybe it’ll be too much for them. But I think even if they struggle at first, they’ll adjust. The real world can be exhausting for a follower of Jon Stewart, but it’s worth the effort.

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Scott Walker: the GOP’s Elizabeth Warren?

You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

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You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

That’s one takeaway from yesterday’s fascinating Washington Post story on how in Walker’s attempt to fend off the left’s recall, he built the foundations of a national network of donors and connections. The story rings true for anyone with close knowledge of conservative politics. The attempt to recall Walker showed the national GOP that Walker had struck a chord in his reforms, and that for those reforms to have any positive reverberations outside Wisconsin, Republicans would have to hold Madison and solidify their gains.

It also showed conservatives a rabid side of the public unions. Death threats were received not just by Walker and his family but by donors to and supporters of his campaign as well. Conservatives won their battles through democratic politics; the left responded with antidemocratic stunts and even violence. It proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Walker was in the right, and that public unions had to be reined in. A Walker loss would have been a win for thuggish brute force over democratic debate.

Liberals were right, in other words, that there was much at stake. They were just on the wrong side of the issue. And when the recall became a national battle, both large donors and small donors rallied to Walker’s side. Here’s the Post:

Since surviving the recall attempt, Walker has assiduously maintained his relationships with an expanding roster of top party fundraisers and financiers, courting them with regular phone calls, chummy visits and invitations to his inauguration last month.

“The recall provided him with a really interesting opportunity, because he made so many connections nationally with so many donors,” said Chart Westcott, a Dallas-based hedge fund executive, who introduced Walker at the breakfast fundraiser held last month at his parents’ home in Indian Wells. “He already has this base of people who have given him six figures in the past. Not a lot of the other candidates have a national network like that.”

In all, Walker raised almost $83 million for his three statewide races in the past four years — an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state. Of the nearly 300,000 people who gave to his campaigns, three out of four donated $75 or less, according to people familiar with the figures.

“He has a mammoth small-donor list,” rivaled only by libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He has the big-donor network to rival longtime national establishment figures and the small-donor network like the one that fuels the Paul family’s supporters. It’s a tremendous advantage, especially over other Midwestern politicians, and it gives Walker a head start on many of his opponents.

But while many will (rightly) focus on the advantage of having large donors in your corner, the small-donor network is just as important. It shows the extent to which Walker became a grassroots hero on the right. It built a persona, not just a fundraising apparatus.

This is where the comparison to Warren comes in. Warren was supposed to lead the Obama administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureaucratic watchdog agency hatched in 2010 and launched in 2011. Republicans blocked her appointment in opposition to the agency. But it didn’t prevent the agency from being formed (and working first without a director, then only with an unconstitutionally appointed apparatchik at the helm).

It also left Warren with an unfulfilled desire for power. So she ran for Senate in Massachusetts and beat Scott Brown, who had gone into the election with high approval ratings. Thus the GOP handed the Democrats virtually the only candidate they had who could have beaten Brown in that particular election. (They probably would have gotten the seat back at some point in the future, but for the time being it helped Republicans to have an unlikely “extra” Senate seat in the age of Obama, when they needed all the help they could get.)

Republicans, in crucial ways, created Elizabeth Warren–or at least the phenomenon that is Elizabeth Warren, in which legions of devoted liberals are trying to draft Warren to run for president. Democrats may have done something similar here with Walker.

It’s obviously a long way out from the 2016 election, and Walker will face a strong primary field of which he is not even the frontrunner. But the national sensation that is Scott Walker owes much to the governor’s successful attempt to overcome the left’s campaign to destroy him by recalling him. They tried to kill the king, and what didn’t kill him made him stronger.

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Is It Already Too Late for Hillary to Delay Her Candidacy?

Timing is everything, so it’s no wonder Hillary Clinton is thinking hard about when she wants to go from being an informal candidate for president to a formal candidate for president. But one challenge she’s facing is that it may already be too late to adjust the calculus. The news that she is considering delaying her announcement shows why that is.

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Timing is everything, so it’s no wonder Hillary Clinton is thinking hard about when she wants to go from being an informal candidate for president to a formal candidate for president. But one challenge she’s facing is that it may already be too late to adjust the calculus. The news that she is considering delaying her announcement shows why that is.

Politico broke the news this morning that Clinton, seeing no reason to jump in the race just yet, may wait until this summer, some time around July, to announce. It’s not surprising, since the previous times she was expected to announce have come and gone. She’s in a bit of a holding pattern right now; she could announce at any time, and so she never does. But now that she’s far enough into the prospective campaign, her decisions can’t really be made so quietly. To paraphrase the band Rush, if she chooses not to decide she still has made a choice.

The reason for her not to delay her announcement, in fact, is right there in the justification for it. To wit:

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Democrats tell POLITICO.

The delay from the original April target would give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, without the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”

Advisers said the biggest reason for the delay is simple: She feels no rush.

“She doesn’t want to feel pressured by the press to do something before she’s ready,” one adviser said. “She’s better off as a noncandidate. Why not wait?”

There are two reasons here for her to delay her candidacy. One of them is correct but carries too much risk in acknowledging its truth. The other is probably wrong.

Take the first reason: she’s “expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination.” Unless Elizabeth Warren runs, which doesn’t seem all that likely right now, this is true. And the way you know it’s true is that it’s virtually impossible to claim any of the other candidates poses a threat to Clinton with a straight face.

Go ahead and try it: tell yourself that Martin O’Malley, or Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, or self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, or Crazy Uncle Joe Biden stands in the way of Hillary’s coronation. It’s laughable.

But here’s the catch: Hillary can’t say that. The weak non-Hillary field has become part of the narrative of the election. So saying that she’s delaying her candidacy becomes a statement that she can afford to delay her candidacy because her opposition is a collective joke.

This could easily backfire. It could encourage someone else to jump in the race after Hillary does, on the theory that Clinton miscalculated. It could also breed resentment toward her for acting “inevitable.” And it’s possible it would spook the national party into remembering that when Hillary says she’s inevitable, she might actually be trying to paper over weaknesses that would emerge in the general election instead of in the primaries.

There is no surer way for Hillary to cement her reputation as an entitled legacy candidate and elitist with royal self-regard than to declare the field unworthy of her entrance until the crown has been fitted and polished. Even if it doesn’t attract additional candidates, it’s not a storyline she wants to help along.

The second reason was summed up by her advisor: “She’s better off as a noncandidate. Why not wait?”

But is she? I don’t think so. We’re living in a very different media universe even from the last time she ran. Case in point: the New York Times put a reporter on the Clinton beat in the summer of 2013. Soon after the move was made, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan noted that “Mrs. Clinton may consider her future up in the air, but The Times apparently does not. Or at least it’s hedging its bets.”

It was a smart move by the Times, and Chozick’s reporting has rewarded their bet on Clinton’s candidacy.

Certainly, the types of stories that get filed on Hillary from around the political press are different from the ones that would be filed were Hillary officially in the race. But they aren’t benefiting her. Clinton’s gaffes get covered now, and any policy debate allows her to work off the rust ahead of time.

Also, as I noted in December when the press was on her case over her speaking fees, we were going to get some ridiculous and unfair stories because reporters needed copy. Does Hillary want her early-campaign coverage to be shaped by tales of her demands for the provision of crudité and hummus and rectangular-shaped pillows at each commencement address?

Hillary has learned that she can’t bore the press into submission. And that there’s a danger in believing her own hype. At least that’s what she should have learned. Her most recent actions suggest those lessons have yet to sink in.

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Welcome to the NFL, Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric rise among Democrats has demonstrated one thing time and again: her real talent is in getting the mainstream media to act as her personal publicity agents. And today’s raft of stories, which focus on Warren claiming her first political scalp (sorry, couldn’t resist), are no different. In fact, Warren just outsmarted herself, got outmaneuvered by the White House, and further empowered Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate majority. But you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage, which hews obediently to the existing narrative of Warren’s influence.

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Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric rise among Democrats has demonstrated one thing time and again: her real talent is in getting the mainstream media to act as her personal publicity agents. And today’s raft of stories, which focus on Warren claiming her first political scalp (sorry, couldn’t resist), are no different. In fact, Warren just outsmarted herself, got outmaneuvered by the White House, and further empowered Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate majority. But you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage, which hews obediently to the existing narrative of Warren’s influence.

Last year, President Obama chose Antonio Weiss to be an under secretary at the Treasury Department. Warren vehemently opposed the nomination. Warren’s play was smart: no one outside of the Senate or Wall Street (Weiss works in investment banking) knew who he was, and no one really cared. And though Warren’s objections to Weiss were based on her ignorance of investment banking, tax law, and corporate economics, she had an advantage: her ignorance is shared by her political base.

She was striking a pose for her populist supporters, as I wrote in December, and they wouldn’t know that she was speaking gibberish. Warren is a demagogue in the classic mold: she distorts the truth to play on the fears of her followers in a bid to accrue political power–which she then has been known to abuse. True populists should be horrified by Senator Warren.

But it hasn’t caught up with her yet because the left doesn’t really have true populists. It has authoritarian mobs of conspiracy theorists with populist pretensions. So Warren’s influence grew, and we now learn that Weiss has withdrawn his name from consideration.

But why Weiss withdrew, and what he’ll do instead, are two crucial elements of the full picture, which doesn’t flatter Warren nearly as much as she thinks. First, from Bloomberg, here’s why he stepped back from the nomination:

Curiously, the Republican gains in the midterm election strengthened Warren’s personal power, even as they weakened her party. As one bitter Weiss ally pointed out, Harry Reid could have schedule a quick confirmation vote and likely prevailed if Democrats still controlled the Senate. The new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, would relish dragging out Weiss’s confirmation hearing for months as Democrats tore each other to shreds. That same dynamic will obtain for at least the next two years for any nominee that Warren cares to target.

Right: Warren’s power comes from the Republicans, who don’t mind seeing Democrats fight it out amongst themselves. A more powerful Democratic Party means a less powerful Elizabeth Warren, because Harry Reid would run circles around Warren if he were the majority leader and a nominee really needed to get through. Procedurally, Warren’s shenanigans are only possible because the Republicans are letting her get away with it. If Republicans didn’t want her to have this power, she wouldn’t have it. Bloomberg’s headline is “Queen Elizabeth,” but of course she’s merely a pawn in a Senate-White House procedural chess match.

But even more important is what Weiss will be doing instead. Here’s Politico:

But the Lazard banker will still join the administration in the position of counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, which does not require Senate confirmation. …

Instead, Weiss has accepted the position advising Lew on domestic and international issues, which “will allow me to begin serving immediately in support of the Administration’s efforts to foster broad-based economic growth and ensure financial reform that protects consumers and reduces the likelihood of future financial crises,” he wrote.

Weiss will join the Treasury anyway, and give the same advice, not be much undercut by whoever eventually fills the under secretary seat. It may take a while to get a new nominee through the process, and in the interim Weiss will be establishing his place advising Lew. Additionally, the person who takes the under secretary spot will have the title but will be undermined by the fact that not only is he or she the second choice, but that the first choice still works in the building and has Lew’s ear.

Warren’s victory is, then, entirely symbolic. It will have no effect on policy. All it will do is act as an implicit threat to future nominees, pour encourager les autres. But it also raises a point of great irony. Warren’s attempt at governance is being undone here by the very administrative state whose power she has dedicated her political career to increasing. The big-government Frankenstein’s monster is turning on its masters.

The left has gone to great lengths to ensure that their preferred policies can be carried out without much interference from the democratic process. They expend much effort in removing accountability by empowering bureaucracies whose liberal crusades can survive electoral defeats precisely because they don’t answer to the people. Warren herself was supposed to lead one such agency. Republicans blocked her nomination to it, but weren’t able to stop the actual bureaucracy from being created.

Warren opposed Antonio Weiss. The Obama administration will get to hire him anyway. And Warren will continue fighting for the administrative state, completely oblivious to the irony.

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Mario Cuomo: Earnest, Humble, and Wrong

When former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, father of current Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed away last week, the remembrances were strangely silent on the entirety of Cuomo’s career in office save about three quarters of an hour of it in 1984. Like our current president, Cuomo was famous for giving a Democratic National Convention speech. Unlike our current president, this is perfectly ridiculous: he was a three-term governor of New York. But missing from most if not all of the remembrances of that famous speech is the most important aspect of it: Mario Cuomo, for all his poise and eloquence, was wrong.

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When former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, father of current Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed away last week, the remembrances were strangely silent on the entirety of Cuomo’s career in office save about three quarters of an hour of it in 1984. Like our current president, Cuomo was famous for giving a Democratic National Convention speech. Unlike our current president, this is perfectly ridiculous: he was a three-term governor of New York. But missing from most if not all of the remembrances of that famous speech is the most important aspect of it: Mario Cuomo, for all his poise and eloquence, was wrong.

The speech, which aimed populist fire at Ronald Reagan’s economic optimism, is not only being remembered on the national political stage because it was a pretty good speech; it’s also because it created a groundswell of hope among progressives that Cuomo would run for president. The speech survives with its almost mythical legacy precisely because Cuomo was smart enough–or humble enough, to be fair–not to run. Liberals like to wonder what might have been. But the truth is, we know exactly what might have been. Had Mario Cuomo run for president in 1988–the first cycle after his speech and the last real chance he’d have to run for an open presidential seat–he would have lost. And it probably wouldn’t have been close.

As far as the economic recovery was concerned, the sun was already up on Reagan’s morning in America. Here’s CNN comparing the Reagan recovery with the Obama recovery in 2012:

“The Reagan recovery had one of the fastest rates of growth we ever saw,” said Barry Bosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “If anything it was too strong. It was spectacular.”

Just take a look at the numbers:

The economy grew at 4.5% in 1983, with a few quarters of growth north of 8%. In 2011, meanwhile, the economy grew just 1.7%.

In just one month — September 1983 — the economy added more than a million jobs. For the full year, the economy added almost 3.5 million jobs, a trend that continued into 1984, an election year in which Reagan captured 49 states in a landslide victory.

Obama can claim job growth of 1.8 million in 2011. A welcome comeback, but still tepid by comparison.

Looking ahead to 2012, Obama could replicate the 243,000 jobs created in January over each of the next 11 months and still not approach Reagan’s total for 1984 of 3.9 million.

That meant that Cuomo’s speech had to take a “yes, but…” approach to the economic recovery. But even that was fairly weak stuff. Reagan’s economy saw a decline in poverty as well. This wasn’t some recovery for plutocrats. It was a genuine economic revival.

Cuomo’s emotional appeal was, in the end, mostly just an appeal to emotion. Which helps explain why the speech–and only the speech–is so beloved by today’s progressives. One name that keeps cropping up in stories about the speech is Elizabeth Warren. Considering the shallow nature of her populism, this is actually quite insulting to the thoughtful Cuomo. There’s a reason I have Cuomo’s campaign diaries on my bookshelf behind me and not Warren’s big book of grievances. Left-wing populists really ought to take one glance at the comparison between Cuomo and Warren and wonder how they fell so far so fast. Anyone who thinks Warren can or should fill his shoes is selling something (probably on behalf of a super-PAC).

And Mario Cuomo’s nightfall-in-America routine lives on because it wasn’t tested in a national election. I don’t know how Cuomo would have fared in 1992, though I have my doubts. But had Cuomo’s anti-Reaganism actually challenged Reagan’s legacy on the national stage–that is, had Cuomo run to succeed Reagan–it would have been trounced. Perpetual pessimism about American decline did not age well during the Reagan years.

But it’s not about facts; it’s about feelings. And tales of American woe make the far left feel good; the pessimism feeds the belief that there is a wide market in America for their fantasies of national decline and vengeful redistribution on a massive scale. But as with any political platform, timing is key. Americans quite enjoyed seeing their country be both prosperous and free during Reagan’s presidency. Perhaps Warren’s timing is better than Cuomo’s?

And that consideration is really the best parallel between Cuomo and Warren. We don’t know if Warren actually wants to be president. Does she have the fire in the belly that eluded Cuomo? Maybe, maybe not. But it is highly likely she doesn’t have the Clintonian ambition she would run up against (just as Cuomo would have in 1992). It’s rare, but sometimes politicians actually set limits on themselves. Mario Cuomo did. If Warren does as well, she’ll at least earn some of this otherwise incongruous comparison.

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Why Warren Is a Threat to Clinton

In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

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In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

[Hillary] Clinton is obviously tough, but she just can’t speak with a clear voice against Wall Street and Washington insiders. [Elizabeth] Warren’s wing shows increasing passion and strength, both in opposing certain Obama nominees and in last week’s budget fight.

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.

That strikes me as right. Senator Warren has a hold on the hearts of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in a way that Mrs. Clinton does not. And one can imagine that Warren’s anti-Wall Street stand will be in 2016 what Barack Obama’s anti-Iraq war stand was in 2008–an issue that ignites a political fire that consumes Hillary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, of course, and it remains to be seen if Senator Warren–if she decides to run–has anything like the political skills Barack Obama possesses. That’s highly unlikely. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton is quite an average political talent–inauthentic, often stiff and uninteresting, not at all a natural campaigner (as her husband was). And if there’s a compelling rationale for her to run, it’s not clear to me what it is. As President Obama’s longtime political adviser David Axelrod put it, “What happened in 2008 was that Hillary’s candidacy got out in front of any rationale for it. And the danger is that’s happening again. You hear Ready for Hillary — it’s like, Ready for What? And now Hillary’s task is to find what it is she’s running for and running about, and what would the future look like under another President Clinton. … She has to answer that question.”

Mrs. Clinton couldn’t do that in 2008; it’s an open question if she can in 2016.

The current political climate is unusually unstable for both political parties. We’re seeing populist anger from both the left and the right. At this moment it looks to be more on the rise among Democrats than Republicans. And that can’t be good news for Hillary Clinton.

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Warren’s Cromnibus Chaos and Hillary’s Nightmare Scenario

It is fitting that “Cromnibus”–the name given to the spending medley passed by the House yesterday to keep the government running–sounds like a Creature from the Bureaucratic Lagoon, because the chaos it unleashed will haunt Hillary Clinton. Populists on both left and right found things to hate in this spending bill, but the most populist energy was unleashed by Democratic-led opposition to a reform of the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme. That reform has passed Congress overwhelmingly in the past. But that was before Elizabeth Warren brought a level of anti-Wall Street demagoguery to Congress that is not going away.

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It is fitting that “Cromnibus”–the name given to the spending medley passed by the House yesterday to keep the government running–sounds like a Creature from the Bureaucratic Lagoon, because the chaos it unleashed will haunt Hillary Clinton. Populists on both left and right found things to hate in this spending bill, but the most populist energy was unleashed by Democratic-led opposition to a reform of the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme. That reform has passed Congress overwhelmingly in the past. But that was before Elizabeth Warren brought a level of anti-Wall Street demagoguery to Congress that is not going away.

Ultimately, Cromnibus passed the House, even after Warren whipped up Democratic opposition. But it was close, and it required the intervention of President Obama to prevail upon his party not to shut down the government and make him look like the world’s biggest hypocrite in the process. That Warren could sow such discord in the House from her perch in the Senate shows she’s been modeling her career on that of Ted Cruz, her conservative counterpart across the aisle. Though she is not nearly the rhetorical talent that Cruz is, she mimicked Cruz’s tactics and strategy to such a degree as to leave one with the impression Cruz is her (unwitting) mentor, if not her (unacknowledged) hero.

So Warren was a big winner last night. Republicans were too. The bill passed the GOP-controlled House despite the revolt. But even if it hadn’t passed, the GOP still benefited. They would have put up a clean continuing resolution to fund the government for another month, at which point they would take over the Senate and Democrats’ influence would be greatly weakened in crafting the next omnibus bill.

The big losers from last night are Obama and Hillary. The president, to borrow Bill Clinton’s quote, may still be relevant here, but not very. Obama had to use his office and his influence and his spokesmen and his advisors just to beat back a freshman senator from his own party, and just barely. Democrats, as Dave Weigel notes in an excellent tick-tock on last night’s mess, “proudly told reporters that calls from the White House — especially calls from Citigroup’s Jamie Dimon — did nothing to move them.”

Obama has dragged his party down enough. The midterms were the end of Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party, because even Democrats now understand they can win by separating themselves from Obama’s toxic legacy. And what about Obama’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton? The Cromnibus chaos was a nightmare for her.

What the Democrats proved last night was that there exists a significant and restive segment of the base. Being Democrats, they still need someone to fall in line behind; unlike the Tea Party, these restive Democrats prefer to take orders from someone. They just would like to take orders from a different brand of statist. Elizabeth Warren is the one they’ve been waiting for.

Warren’s populism is very different from that of the Tea Party. Conservative grassroots value liberty; Warren argues for increasing state power over its citizens and is not above abusing that authority when she has the opportunity. What Warren wants is power concentrated in her hands. What Hillary’s supporters should fear is the possibility that Warren will pursue her quest for power to its logical conclusion and run for president.

She still seems far from making that leap. But ironically what works against Hillary here is not her own age but Warren’s. If Warren passes on running for president in 2016, she is most likely passing on ever running. If Hillary wins two terms, Warren would be 75 for the 2024 election. She’s not running for president at 75. It’s a stretch even to think she’d challenge a sitting Republican president, if that’s who wins in 2016, after that Republican’s first term, though that’s at least a more realistic scenario.

Additionally, the Clintons are infamous for their lust for political revenge. They hold grudges, and that fact is going to help clear the field of prospective candidates who can bide their time. If Warren chooses to challenge Hillary and loses, the Clintons will retaliate. But Warren is not at the beginning of her career (even though she’s a freshman senator); how much does she really have to lose?

There is also another factor: if Warren runs, she is unlikely to lose. Hillary is a terrible candidate who believes in nothing. What Warren proved yesterday is that she can mobilize and inspire support on a large scale, and that there are far more Democrats who prefer Warren’s statism to the creepy there’s-no-such-thing-as-other-people’s-children statism of Hillary.

American leftists are an angry bunch. Elizabeth Warren matches their anger. And they don’t know the issues well enough to know that Warren isn’t telling them the truth–a fact that the Democratic establishment has tried to point out. Hillary doesn’t exemplify anger; she exemplifies entrenched privilege. In 2008, Democratic primary voters chose anger over privilege. The nightmare scenario for Hillary would come to pass if they have the chance to do so again in 2016.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Government Shutdown

The specter of a potential government shutdown is haunting Washington today. But it isn’t Ted Cruz and what the liberal mainstream media considers his gang of Tea Party obstructionists who are the principle threat to the passage of the so-called Cromnibus bill that will avert the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 standoff. Instead it is the darling of the liberal media, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking to derail the compromise forged by House Speaker John Boehner and Democrats. Warren is calling on liberals to vote against the deal because among its provisions are measures raising the limits on campaign contributions and scaling back some of the onerous regulations on banks and Wall Street firms in the Dodd-Frank bill that have caused such havoc. But don’t expect the same media that labeled Cruz an arsonist to speak ill of Warren’s efforts to thwart efforts to keep the government funded.

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The specter of a potential government shutdown is haunting Washington today. But it isn’t Ted Cruz and what the liberal mainstream media considers his gang of Tea Party obstructionists who are the principle threat to the passage of the so-called Cromnibus bill that will avert the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 standoff. Instead it is the darling of the liberal media, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking to derail the compromise forged by House Speaker John Boehner and Democrats. Warren is calling on liberals to vote against the deal because among its provisions are measures raising the limits on campaign contributions and scaling back some of the onerous regulations on banks and Wall Street firms in the Dodd-Frank bill that have caused such havoc. But don’t expect the same media that labeled Cruz an arsonist to speak ill of Warren’s efforts to thwart efforts to keep the government funded.

Cruz has been loudly and frequently criticized both by liberals and some conservatives for deciding that his efforts to thwart the implementation of ObamaCare took precedence over the need to keep the government funded. Even those who sympathized him on the substance of this issue thought he was unreasonable in his insistence that voting for a compromise-funding bill made Republicans complicit with measures they opposed. The notion that principle ought to trump political reality and the necessity to avoid a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown (for which President Obama and his supporters were just as responsible as anything Cruz and the Tea Partiers did) was viewed as a disruptive approach that interfered with the responsibility of both parties to govern rather than to merely expound their views.

But the question today is why are those who were so quick to tag Cruz as a scourge of good government for his opposition to often messy yet necessary compromises to bills that require bipartisan support not putting the same label on Warren.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Most of the press clearly sympathizes with Warren’s rabble rousing on behalf of ineffective campaign-finance laws as well as a regulatory regime that has caused as much trouble as the problems it was supposed to solve. Warren’s rhetoric denouncing the rich and Wall Street is catnip for a press corps that shares her political point of view. By contrast, few in the media sympathized with Cruz’s last stand against ObamaCare, something that most in the president’s press cheering section viewed as a reactionary position that deserved the opprobrium they hurled at it.

Yet Warren’s attacks on the spending bill are no less extreme than anything Cruz was saying in 2013 or even now as he has ineffectively sought to rally conservatives to oppose the Cromnibus. Her claim that the Dodd-Frank changes were slipped into the bill in the middle of the night are false since they were negotiated with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, who is every bit the liberal that Warren claims to be. So is the notion that they are the product of a right-wing conspiracy is flatly false since, as the Washington Post notes, Democrats like Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Nita Lowey voted for them in a stand-in alone vote last year.

But whatever one may think of these parts of the bill, the point about it is that getting something done in Washington requires both sides to hold their noses and accept that they can’t get their way on everything. The principle critique of conservative Republicans in recent years is that they are so besotted with ideology that they’ve forgotten that part of their duty as members of Congress is to ensure that the apparatus of government functions even if they are not getting their way on all issues. One can argue about whether there are times when such stands are required by the seriousness of the situation. But whether you agree with the Tea Party on ObamaCare or immigration or with Warren on Dodd-Frank, that critique applies just as easily to one as to the other.

Warren might not have the ability to rally enough liberals in the House to her side on this issue just as Cruz seems not to be able to stop Boehner’s deal. But if you think Cruz is an obstructionist, there is no distinction between him and Warren in this respect anymore. At least not unless you think it’s OK for liberals to shut down the government but not conservatives.

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Can Moveon Nudge Warren to Run?

While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

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While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

The Moveon.org effort may be nothing more than a stunt by a group that has struggled to maintain its once central role in pushing the liberal agenda in recent years. Once George W. Bush left the presidency and was replaced by Barack Obama, his administration, with its top-down culture that squelches disagreement and debate, has dominated the Democrats leaving left-wingers to kibitz impotently on the sidelines. But with Obama moving into the lame duck period of his presidency, the time may have come for the left to get into the fight again as they seek to emulate the success of their Tea Party antagonists on the right, as Politico noted in an article today.

Moveon does have a huge mailing list of what they claim are eight million left-wing activists that belong to their movement. But while that sounds impressive, it has yet to be seen whether Moveon still has the ability to mobilize these people in a coherent way so as to emulate the kind of local grassroots activity that made the Tea Party such a force in 2010 even if its national leadership was far more divided than that of Moveon.

Just as problematic is the question of whether Warren is even interested in running. She has, as her staff again said yesterday, repeatedly told those asking about the possibility that she won’t do it. Whether that was merely a case of a prudent politician not wishing to tilt against windmills by challenging the Clinton machine or a genuine lack of desire for the presidency, we don’t know.

Can Moveon start something that could lead to Warren changing her mind?

It cannot have escaped the Massachusetts senator that Clinton’s post-State Department public appearances have been less than successful. Most of the party is treating Clinton as if she is the presumptive nominee but as everyone remembers from 2008, she is not a brilliant politician. Her string of gaffes during her book tour and subsequent misstatements have not dented her poll numbers when matched up against the motley crew of other potential Democratic presidential candidates. But Warren is someone who, like Barack Obama, can capture the hearts of the party’s liberal base. Moreover, being opposed by an even more liberal woman would rob Clinton of the main narrative of her presidential juggernaut: the effort to elect the first female president.

Any challenge to Clinton would be politically perilous and a savvy operator like Warren is rightly shy about jumping into a fight with a family that plays for keeps. Warren may not be sure that her left-wing support will be enough to compensate for the money the Clintons can raise or their ability to cash in IOUs from politicians around the country. But while waiting her turn seems like the smart play, at 65, 2016 may actually be Warren’s best shot at the presidency, especially if Clinton does run and serve two terms.

In the coming months, Warren will concentrate on leading a liberal guerilla war against moderate Democrats in Congress and hope to become the face of resistance to the GOP majority. But at the same time she will probably stay out of the presidential fray and watch and wait to see if Clinton is still stumbling through 2015 as she prepares for an inevitable run. But if Moveon can provide a viable platform for left-wing resistance to Clinton’s nomination, a Warren candidacy will be made a bit more feasible. Though Moveon isn’t by itself enough to scare Clinton, she should be very afraid of Warren and the passion of an aroused left-wing base. If the senator runs, Hillary will be in for the fight of her life.

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Dem Civil War and Demographic Destiny

Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Schumer’s political analysis is must reading for both conservatives and liberals. Though he insists that tackling health care was a good idea in principle, he points out that although the plight of uninsured and rising health-care costs are important problems, 85 percent of Americans were getting their insurance from either their employers or the government (via Medicare or Medicaid). Since most of the uninsured are either not registered or don’t vote even if they are:

To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, the Democrats are not paying enough attention to “me.”

But Schumer shouldn’t have stopped with his second-guessing of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. The same argument can be made about President Obama’s executive orders mandating amnesty for five million illegal immigrants.

Though this measure is assumed, with reason, to be popular among Hispanic voters, the notion that it will ensure their monolithic support for Democrats in the future is a theory, not a certainty. But even if we are prepared to make that assumption, by investing so heavily in a measure that is focused on appealing only to minorities and which, at the same time, has the potential to alienate large numbers of working class and middle class voters who worry about the nation’s inability to control its borders and intensely dislike the president’s end run around the Constitution to accomplish this goal, they increased their demographic weakness in other areas.

Republicans have spent the years since their 2012 loss in the presidential election pondering their problems with Hispanics, African-Americans, unmarried women, and young voters. The ensuing debate has created an ongoing argument between those who urge greater outreach to these constituencies and those who believe the GOP has to concentrate on mobilizing its base. One needn’t choose either option to the exclusion of the other, but this discussion has become a keynote of the simmering conflict between the party establishment and its Tea Party and conservative base.

But while the mainstream press has obsessed about this Republican civil war, it ignores the looming battle among Democrats. That civil war pits people like Schumer, who may be hardcore liberals but understand that ideological policies carry a hefty price tag, against left-wingers like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appears to speak for the Democratic base in the same way that Ted Cruz represents Tea Partiers. Democrats paid the price that Schumer spoke of in the form of two midterm election landslides even if Barack Obama’s historic status and personal popularity enabled them to hold onto the White House in 2012.

The two presidential wins interspersed with two midterm losses has led many pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle to conclude that the two parties are fated to continue this pattern because of the larger turnout of Democratic constituencies in presidential years. That has led many to embrace the notion that demography is destiny, which holds that the increasingly larger share of votes cast by non-whites will not only ensure that the pattern continues but that Republicans will never again win the presidency until they become more attractive to minorities. That’s not an idea that the GOP should ignore, but it may be that the Democrats’ decision to embrace policies that alienate a far larger group—white middle class and working class male voters—will be as much of handicap in 2016 as it was in 2014.

All indications are that, like that ultimate weathervane Hillary Clinton, many Democrats prefer to follow Warren’s example and steer to the left. That may endear them to minorities as well as their liberal base. But in doing so they may be the ones dooming themselves to future disasters, not Republicans who understand that so long as they avoid looking foolish or extreme they are well positioned to reap the benefits of opposition to both ObamaCare and amnesty for illegals. Having spent the last six years branding their opponents as extremists, it seems Democrats have forgotten that the same problem exists on the left as it does on the right.

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Elizabeth Warren Strikes a Pose–And the Establishment Strikes Back

Thanks to a recent controversy over an Obama administration nominee to serve in a key post at the Treasury Department, two lingering questions about Elizabeth Warren’s place in the Democratic Party have been answered. Warren is the leader of the populist wing of the party, which–faced with the prospect of their party leadership going all-in on the soulless crony capitalism of the Clintons–hope to see a Warren presidential candidacy. But to gauge Warren’s appeal, two questions had to be answered: Does the Democratic establishment see her as a threat or a sideshow? And does her populism have a serious economic foundation or is it airy claptrap?

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Thanks to a recent controversy over an Obama administration nominee to serve in a key post at the Treasury Department, two lingering questions about Elizabeth Warren’s place in the Democratic Party have been answered. Warren is the leader of the populist wing of the party, which–faced with the prospect of their party leadership going all-in on the soulless crony capitalism of the Clintons–hope to see a Warren presidential candidacy. But to gauge Warren’s appeal, two questions had to be answered: Does the Democratic establishment see her as a threat or a sideshow? And does her populism have a serious economic foundation or is it airy claptrap?

Warren has given us insight into those questions with her forceful opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Antonio Weiss to serve as under secretary of Treasury for domestic finance. For this president, Weiss has the one clear credential necessary: he’s a rich Obama donor. It’s unclear whether Obama even saw the rest of the resume.

But Warren did. She saw that Weiss serves as an advisor to the investment bank Lazard. And more importantly to Warren, Weiss was apparently an advisor to the recent merger of Burger King and Tim Hortons, the latter based in Canada. The deal was initially thought to be a kind of tax “inversion,” in which a company relocates in order to escape onerous U.S. taxes. This is entirely rational behavior.

But it does not appear to be what Burger King was doing in this case. As Matt Levine explained in Bloomberg, for U.S. companies the inversion strategy “will vary in direct proportion to how much business you do in the U.S. and how much you do” elsewhere in more competitive tax environments. The majority of Burger King’s business is done in the U.S. and Canada, not tax shelters. And Burger King is not a pharmaceutical company, Levine notes: “You can’t really assemble a burger in Bermuda and then sell it in Canada.”

Levine also points out that “Tim Hortons and Burger King’s effective tax rates are basically the same.” And finally: “This inversion is not all that inverted. Tim Hortons is actually bigger than Burger King, on revenue and net income though not on stock market capitalization. This is not just an aesthetic point.” Indeed, it has important legal implications.

What became clear was that critics of the Burger King “inversion” didn’t initially understand the deal or U.S. tax law. This is understandable; the federal government and especially the IRS would prefer that Americans not understand these laws, because understanding them would result in 1.) outrage at the legalized theft and 2.) a reduction in the amount confiscated in penalties.

But it is not so forgivable for, say, a sitting U.S. senator on the banking committee not to understand it, because that has consequences. Elizabeth Warren does not understand inversion law, the economics of corporate relocation and merger, or how various business taxes are assessed. This is a problem. It also answers the second question about Warren: she is not an expert in her field. She is, rather, an uninformed bureaucrat who spouts vapid populism in a bid to gather ever more power for herself and the government.

Just ask, for example, the Washington Post editorial board:

To the extent we know anything about Mr. Weiss’s actual policy views, they seem consonant with Ms. Warren’s. For example, he is a co-author of a Center for American Progress tax reform paper that called for a more progressive system and $1.8 trillion in tax increases on upper-income Americans over 10 years.

The populists’ case against Mr. Weiss so far amounts to a grab-bag of symbolism and epithets, not a rationale.

Or the New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin:

Ms. Warren’s wrath is misdirected, and her understanding of the so-called inversion deal on which she bases much of her opposition appears misinformed. On these issues, as she might say, “Enough is enough.” …

Unless Ms. Warren wants to prohibit all cross-border deals and pursue a nationalism agenda, it is hard to imagine any rule that would have stopped this one. It was not, as she contended, “a tax deal, plain and simple.”

Sorkin’s most enlightening detail was this:

Ms. Warren might have learned some of this if she had been willing to meet with Mr. Weiss, as is the customary process, especially among nominees from the same parties. An aide to Ms. Warren allowed that she would meet with him but that she had told the Treasury Department that she would still vote against him.

Warren didn’t know, but more than that, she didn’t want to know. She chose to remain ignorant of the relevant law so she could make a public show for her populist supporters. Those populist supporters don’t understand economics (in this they have much in common with their fellow Democrats) and therefore their support hinges on making an example out of someone who doesn’t deserve it built on falsifications and distortions. Remaining ignorant probably kept Warren’s conscience cleaner that it should have been while engaging in this behavior.

And it also answers the first question, this time in Warren’s favor. How much of a threat does the establishment perceive her to be? Enough of one to start pushing back on her tendency to demagogue on issues that deserve a fair hearing. The Democratic establishment sees the momentum Warren has and believes–almost surely correctly–that she’s still on her way up. That’s bad news for the American economy and the cause of limited and non-abusive government. But it’s also bad news for the Clinton wing of the party, even if it doesn’t end up posing a threat to Hillary Clinton herself.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Temptation

When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

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When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

Unlike most efforts to persuade a person to run for president, the would-be candidate or friendly media isn’t orchestrating the Warren boomlet. Rather, it seems to be a genuine uprising on the part of many liberals against the impending coronation of Hillary Clinton and what is perceived on the left as her establishment cronies whose loyalty to hard-core liberal ideology on domestic and foreign issues is very much in question.

Moreover, Republicans aren’t the only ones who have noticed that the willingness of most Democrats to assume that she will be President Obama’s successor can’t conceal her weakness as a candidate. Clinton’s book tour was a gaffe-ridden public-relations disaster rather than a triumph. Her interventions in the midterms demonstrated the weakness of the Clinton brand. Even worse, her attempts to play to the left and imitate Warren, such as her absurd suggestion that corporations don’t create jobs, fell flat and once again her lack of authentic convictions.

No sensible politician would take on the Clinton machine blithely. The Clintons have wisely attempted to try and sew up the Democratic nomination so as to avoid the possibility of another charismatic challenger jumping in to take it from her as Barack Obama did in 2008. The strategy seems foolproof if for no other reason that the weak Democratic bench seems to be populated only with gadflies like Bernie Sanders and James Webb or lightweights like outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But if there is anyone who can fit the Obama profile of a candidate who has a better connection with the base than Clinton, it’s Warren.

The Warren rationale also could tap into the fact that both party’s bases take it as a matter of faith that it is smarter to run conviction politicians who are true believers than establishment-style moderates. Liberals are convinced that the Democrats lost the midterms because they ran away from Obama and tried to move to the center instead of highlighting left-wing talking points. A Warren candidacy plays right into this belief that Clinton may be a loser in spite of her generally strong favorability ratings because she has spent her career trying to be all things to all people.

Like Obama, Warren’s candidacy could not have been predicted only a few years ago. In just two years, Warren has gone from being an obscure figure whose chief ambition was to lead a new federal regulatory agency (Republicans have long since realized that blocking her appointment as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau backfired) to being a leader in a party that seems to have lost touch with its grass roots and has few other rising stars.

Assuming that she has any appetite for the presidency, and few who are offered a chance for it have the character to say no, there are two key questions to be asked.

One is whether there is an issue on which her candidacy could be leveraged in the same manner that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War both endeared him to the liberal base and differentiated him from Clinton in 2008. Economic populism would be Warren’s chief issue but while Clinton’s record is weak, there is no equivalent to her vote for the Iraq War to hold against her. Warren could however compensate for that by putting herself forward as a fresh face for a party that may not wish to be dominated by the Clintons and their baggage. A Warren candidacy would also not suffer, as would any male Democrat challenging Clinton, from the idea of stopping the country from electing its first female president.

The other question is whether 2016 really is Warren’s best opportunity. Should Clinton lose to a Republican in 2016, Warren might be the presumptive front-runner for 2020. If she wins, the Democratic nomination wouldn’t be open again until 2024. But here the comparison with Obama argues in favor of her running now. Obama could have waited his turn in 2008 and looked to the future but rightly understood that he would never have a better opening in any other year. Warren could wait but although she is new to elective politics, she is not young. At 65 now, the idea of waiting until 2024 when she would be 10 years older may not be realistic.

But the most important argument in favor of her running is the fact that the grass roots of her party would embrace her. Rather than merely having a liaison to the Democratic leadership to the Senate, most liberals would prefer to be running the show. It’s clear the Democratic base agrees with President Obama’s decision to ignore the verdict of the midterm elections and push ahead with a radical left-wing agenda regardless of the consequences. That same spirit would pump life into a Warren candidacy in which Democrats could swing away at Wall Street without having to worry about offending a key Clinton constituency.

Against anyone else, Clinton would have no trouble in the primaries. But Warren would change the political equation. With Clinton looking vulnerable, Warren still has time to reconsider her decision to stay out of the 2016 fray. If she does, she may find her path to the nomination is not as steep as the Clintons would like us to believe. If she is at all tempted by the presidency, now may be her moment.

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For Dems, All Roads Lead to Hillary

The conventional wisdom on whether the shellacking experienced by the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was good for Hillary Clinton’s prospects is shifting slightly. It began even before the elections, when the writing was on the wall. “If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years,” a senior Capitol Hill Democrat told TIME magazine’s Zeke Miller for an October 15 story.

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The conventional wisdom on whether the shellacking experienced by the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was good for Hillary Clinton’s prospects is shifting slightly. It began even before the elections, when the writing was on the wall. “If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years,” a senior Capitol Hill Democrat told TIME magazine’s Zeke Miller for an October 15 story.

Miller continued: “In Democrats’ telling, likely-candidate Hillary Clinton could run on a narrative of Republican obstruction to passing legislation on issues like income inequality, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women.” Indeed, President Obama’s attempts to run against a “do-nothing Congress” were always ridiculous, since the Democrats controlled the Senate, shut the GOP out of the process, and everything had to go through Harry Reid (and thus, Obama) to make it to the Senate floor. But once the Republicans actually won the Senate and controlled both houses of Congress, the thinking went, the fiction of a do-nothing Congress controlled by the other side becomes plausible.

After the election turned out even worse for Democrats than expected, this spin held steady. It was argued that when Democrats lost the race to succeed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, it weakened an already shaky prospective challenger to Clinton. And as one Democratic operative told the Washington Post, Republicans would likely spend the next two years trying to undo some of the Obama administration’s handiwork, enabling Hillary to “both make the case against the Republicans while currying favor with the Obama base.”

As time went on, however, the Democrats’ attempts to spin the loss caused a clash of two self-soothing narratives. The idea that a Republican majority could help Hillary be the savior in 2016 ran up against the White House’s preferred narrative: that the low turnout of the midterms compared to presidential elections meant the Democrats really didn’t have a crisis on their hands. They didn’t need a savior because, they argued, demographics still favored them in presidential years. That meant that not only were they in good shape for 2016, but that a good turnout could give them back the Senate only two years after losing it.

Such consolation was temporary, however, when Democrats realized the implications of their spin: gridlock, not liberal triumph. After all, if they would struggle in midterm congressional elections, it meant they could kiss their emerging Democratic majority goodbye. All of a sudden it didn’t matter quite so much if 2014 was good for Hillary’s 2016 hopes: they already held a built-in advantage in presidential elections. And yet, here’s the situation in which they found themselves the morning after, as the Washington Post reported:

While the GOP is likely to control 54 percent of all Senate seats and 56 percent (or so) of the House come January, it also will now control more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers across the country — as in nearly seven in 10. And given Republicans also won at least 31 governorships, they are basically in control of the state government in 24 states. That could soon hit 25 if they win the still-undetermined governor’s race in Alaska.

That meant, according to the WaPo, “47.8 percent of Americans will now be led by GOP-controlled governments with little/no ability for Democrats to thwart them. …Democrats, meanwhile, will govern unilaterally in states with just 15.6 percent of Americans — less than one-sixth of the country. And that’s with the nation’s biggest state, California, firmly in their back pocket. Without that, they would govern over just 3.5 percent (less than one-25th) of the nation’s residents.”

The new spin was that Democrats had to find some way to animate their base so they could chip away at local Republican dominance. One way to do that would be to draft a challenger to Hillary Clinton from the left. There are not many to choose from after Elizabeth Warren, who almost certainly isn’t running. Jim Webb isn’t a threat to Hillary, and neither is the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. What to do?

A better idea, as Noam Scheiber points out in a smart piece for the New Republic, is to expand the coalition. That’s what Republicans did to win these midterms so resoundingly. Democrats need to win back some–not all, nor even most, just some–white working-class voters, Scheiber writes. Democrats’ ability to do so has deteriorated because the populism that appeals to some of their voters repels other voters, and the same goes for social issues.

What can Democrats do to solve this puzzle? Scheiber has good news: once again, it’s a problem that is in the process of solving itself. Thus:

there’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class. … The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece, as opposed to the mix of mildly progressive economic policies (marginally higher taxes on the wealthy, marginally tougher regulation of Wall Street) and staunchly progressive social policies that define the party today.

Scheiber raises one glaring weakness in this strategy: Hillary’s not a great fit for the role. And that, in the end, tells us why Democrats will end up with Hillary anyway, and that even if she doesn’t give them their permanent majority she’s still their best choice. The Democrats don’t have anyone on their bench who is both a populist firebrand and can win. So we’re back to square one: Democrats can run a populist from Hillary’s left. Hillary will mimic whatever populism she needs to, even though she doesn’t mean it, to win the nomination. And the Occupy Democrats will recede back into irrelevance.

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Warren Is Hillary’s Unwitting Collaborator

There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

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There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

So Warren not only doesn’t have to run to impact the party’s political future; she’s probably better off not running. Her actual policies range from nonsensical to intellectually bankrupt, but her shallow applause lines are perfectly calibrated to what the economic illiterates of the leftist fringe want to hear. Warren can be a hero without ruining the economy, because she won’t have the power to ruin the economy. Put her in the Oval Office and the calculus changes. She would also be exposed further as a suffocating regulator with an academic’s flimsy and theoretical understanding of complicated economics.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have such an obstacle holding her back, because her fan base doesn’t care about serious policy. The cult of Hillary is powered by pure identity politics, and Clinton is a mainstream figure in Democratic Party governance. That is to say, she intends to be the figurehead of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, much like Obama has been. Obama’s one major policy “accomplishment,” after all, was a launching pad for newly created regulatory behemoths to make policy that fell outside the intent or oversight of Congress.

When it comes to Hillary, it’s about what (and who) she represents. As an executive, all indications are that she’s a terrible manager, as her time at Foggy Bottom proved. And she’s interested in symbolic politics, not nuts-and-bolts governance–again, her time as secretary of state showed her to be risk-averse and image hyperconscious.

Ideologically, the contrast is interesting. Hillary doesn’t actually believe in anything, so she’s running as a representative of her Wall Street funders who appear to be even writing her “populist” talking points for her. This is one reason Warren won’t go away and wants to at least keep Hillary on her toes. For Clinton, it’s all a game. Nothing has any real significance for how she’d govern. Clinton is coopting Warren’s populist rhetoric for the express purpose of empowering precisely those economic actors Warren is railing against.

So how to handle the contradiction? Warren’s supporters liked the idea of Clinton having to look over her shoulder and see Warren because they knew it meant pushing Clinton to the left. But it really meant pushing Clinton’s rhetoric to the left. In actuality, it allows Clinton to crowd out any space there might be for Warren by mimicking her and then forgetting she and her supporters even exist.

That’s why Clinton’s populist rhetoric is so strained and clumsy. The most recent example was when she made the ridiculous statement that businesses don’t create jobs. It’s not that Clinton actually believes instead that the Job Fairy leaves jobs under the pillows of good liberals. It’s that Clinton has no idea how to play the populist because she doesn’t think along those lines economically and she very clearly doesn’t like interacting with the populace at all.

Haberman is exceedingly generous, calling the gaffe “a misdelivered line about businesses not creating jobs.” That kind of life-raft spin from the media to cover for Hillary will crop up throughout the campaign. But it didn’t cause a bigger splash because the expectations for Hillary’s discussion of policy are so low. Haberman also includes Hillary’s own pushback:

Clinton allies are quick to point out that the woman who was synonymous with the government-led “Hillarycare” effort has a claim on economic populism. She gave a speech discussing the anger people feel in the current economy earlier this year. Her speeches for other candidates this fall have hit the core issues of the new Democratic populism, and she has woven in a message similar to her husband’s from 1992 about raising the middle class.

But she is not yet a candidate delivering her own pitch, and she has shown she is still figuring out the notes to strike.

And that last line gives it away. What jumps out about Hillary’s campaign is the soullessness of it all. She’s still “figuring out the notes to strike” because she doesn’t write her own songs. She’s a cover artist, down at the local pub mangling Mr. Jones and waiting for the next request.

Warren might actually be enjoying all this–though temperamentally, she does not appear to be a person who enjoys anything, ever, and doesn’t want you too either. That’s something she and Clinton have in common. But humorlessness is just another box to check to win the favor of the American left, and Hillary fulfills that requirement. Warren may think she’s influencing Hillary or the campaign, when in reality she’s merely an ornament. The corporatists in her party, who hold the real power, are happy to keep up the charade.

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