A Senator, whose reelection campaign is eclipsed by speculation about her running to replace Donald Trump breeds a certain impatience, a smart alec scoffing “what makes her so special.”
One way to meet this challenge is with oration, a deft presentation of ideas. This is what Elizabeth Warren did with a rousing speech to the democratic wing of the Democratic Party at the Netroots Convention. These activists support candidates who reject corporate money and are fed up with neo-liberalism and its failure to energize much less offer substantive benefits to the 99%.
Her remarks in New Orleans weren’t off the cuff, the speech was prepared — an optimistic program for uniting the left with their uneasy compatriots in the center.
Her compelling argument for unity spells out left wing principles but with a presentation that commands the respect from more traditional Democrats. In this reading, she addresses how she would govern. It’s only a sketch but it displays a clarity that hold out the promise that would make her a leader of Congress and the nation
The Senator has close ties to these political geeks, she reminded her audience that Netroots pressed Congress to pass the Consumer Financial Protection Board, her brainchild as a Professor at Harvard Law School. The scholarly article captured the popular imagination with this persuasive argument — consumer protection agencies safeguard children from dangerous toys or make cars safer for adults and children, but no agency protected the public from dangerous financial agreements.
The CFPB wasn’t created “just because a professor had a good idea.” Warren called it “an uphill fight. Wall Street spent more than $1 million a day lobbying against this agency. They called in every favor, pulled every string, hired every lobbyist they could find, trying to stop us.”
“But we beat ‘em.”
“We built a broad coalition of people” and that is the grand object of her speech, creating a “broad coalition” that will turn the November midterm election into a blue wave putting Democrats back in power.
But her unity isn’t of “can’t-we-all-get-along” variety. In this era of Trump, she calls it a “fight.” The “question, hanging over people’s heads, determining their fate: Who does government work for?
“The powerful corporations – the banks, the credit card companies – that had ruined these families’ lives just to make a few extra bucks? They were getting away with it because those who ran the government weren’t willing to stand up for working people.”
She promises that behind closed doors she will fight for the many not the few. A promise she kept with a new bill that requires America’s billion-dollar corporations to put employees on their board of director.
Her respect for the left and her opposition to corporate greed makes her different from Democrats who plead for unity and while asking the left to tone it down and be “realistic.”
Her message is the opposite, the people united can emerge victorious and wrest control from the rich and powerful.
Like Abraham Lincoln, who described his childhood as “the short and simple annals of the poor,” Warren has distilled her upbringing into the pithy phrase, “I grew up in Oklahoma on the ragged edge of the middle class.” Saving nickels, her family made the down payment on a home, and then her father’s heart attack left him too frail to earn a good wage in a strenuous job. The bills piled up, fear cast a pall over the family, foreclosure loomed, her mom at 50 went to work for a minimum wage.
The pain and tension of life on the “ragged edge” remains seared in Warren’s memory. One morning, she went into her parent’s bedroom, and “my mother had out her best black dress. You know the dress. It’s the one that only came out for weddings, graduations, and funerals. She was crying. She kept saying: ‘We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house.’ She was fifty years old. She’d never had a regular job.”
One obstacle facing the Senator is uncertain black support. It is my opinion that Elizabeth Warren can go to any black church or meeting and tell this story and walk out having establish a bond with her audience. She evokes the fear, recognizes the courage it takes to overcome the helpless feeling as bills pile up faster than the paycheck. These are experiences that unite the races, experience common to millions of Americans.
She also joins hands with Black America and repeatedly damns “racist law enforcement” and its spawn the war on drugs. She ties her support for legal pot to larger changes in the criminal justice system.
From her life story Warren’s point of view shifts, “For a long time, I thought this was a story about my mother. About her courage, and her grit.” But “I came to understand that story…is also a story about government. When I was a little girl, minimum wage was enough to cover the basics for a family of three.”
Warren brings the message home, it’s the left-wing version of Make America Great Again. “When I was a little girl, minimum wage was enough to cover the basics for a family of three. Today, a full-time minimum wage doesn’t pay the rent on the median two-bedroom apartment in any state in America.” The job that “saved my family fifty years ago wouldn’t even keep a mama and her baby out of poverty today.”
It wasn’t that long ago the government, “the guys in Washington set the minimum wage based on what it would take to support a family.” Today “Republicans who run the show make decisions like that based on what would maximize the profits of the big corporation.”
Unlike Bernie her fellow lefty Presidential contender, she isn’t locking in a number–$15— as salvation, but a principal, a welfare state principal: a just society supports a family. There are many ways to get there—low rent housing, higher minimum wage, healthcare with no co-pays or insurance premium—financed with higher taxes but government must have a realistic plan for insuring that people earn enough to pay their basic bills. Bernie of course support these policies, but he focuses on grievances and anger.
Warren emphasizes policy and applaudes the courage to fight the influence exerted by the rich and powerful. By highlighting the goal of establishing a minimum income that supports a family she is giving Congress and bureaucrats a clear goal that voters can rally behind. This is the mark of an effective executive.
Warren and Sanders will muster the moral force of the government on behalf of housing, feeding and dressing families. Bernie’s urge is to mobilize public opinion and bring about a revolution. He reflects the sound judgment that when the top 1% have as much wealth as the bottom 90% there is surplus wealth that should be taxed. This approach has the advantage of turning higher taxes into a social justice issue.
What feeds his revolution is focusing on how unfair it is that so few should have so much. Sanders appeals to people’s anger with the wealthy, Warren appeals to people’s courage urging them to fight back. And like Bernie, she reminds everybody if the electorate unites, “the high and the mighty” can be “beat.”
Warren is more artful and turns conservative arguments on their head. The Supreme Courts Citizen’s United decision held corporation are persons with rights including making campaign contributions, Warren adds theyh also have obligations. Her latest project is a bill requiring giant corporation be federally chartered to honor their obligations as citizens to employees, the environment, and social well-being. This is an argument for the Accountable Capitalism Act. In an email blast, she reminds us this approach won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but it would give workers 40% of the seats on the Board of Directors of America’s largest corporations.
Bernie has a greater propensity to offend moderate Democrats who often turn to the rich for campaign contributions. What Warren understands and Sanders glosses over, no progress can be made unless both wings of the Democratic Party remain united.
It is here that Warren displays a knack that resembles Lincoln’s great accomplishment, he kept the Republican Party united by identifying a legal argument against slavery. The Federal Government had no authority to end bondage in the states, but its legal reach did extend to the West where no state governments had been created. This argument against slavery expansion kept the pro-Southern Republicans from New York City and the abolitionist working together and enabled the newly created Republican Party to take the White House
Creating a viable coalition is a critical task for any President and the Netroots speech demonstrated Warren’s appeal to the left wing of the Democratic Party even as she was making an appeal to moderate Democrats to stay loyal to the Party.
How is it that the few can command the many, she demanded? “What is it about our politics that prevents our government from working for working people? How come the majority never gets to rule in Washington anymore?”
There is the power of money “because of Citizens United and the revolving door between industry and government, money doesn’t just talk in Washington. Money shouts, money screams, money commands. And a lot of politicians – on both sides of the aisle – follow the money.” Let’s pause and focus what makes Warren different from other Democratic candidates: “politicians – on both sides of the aisle – follow the money.” She isn’t a Democrat who blames the Republicans for everything, and she implies that she would damn Democrats opposing her policies as unprincipled hirelings of the rich.
Another reason the wealthy impoverish working families, “Republicans have conspired to rig the rules of democracy itself – using everything from partisan gerrymandering to voter suppression to the census. Thanks to their years of work, the system is badly tilted. The majority is cut out of government because Republicans create election districts only they can win.”
Democrats will “have to fight uphill the whole way. But we are not without power. We are not without hope. And we are certainly not without motivation.”
The most immediate solution and the one that is cured by elections is getting working people united. “The rich and powerful learned that the best way to stop us from changing the system is to set working people against each other. So they’ve become experts at the politics of division. Frankly, it might be the one thing Donald Trump is good at – well, that and kissing up to two-bit dictators.”
The politics of division, “Trump’s story” like the left’s maintains “working families keep getting the short end of the stick” but they never accept responsibility for “the decisions he and his pals are making every day in Washington. No, the problem is other working people. People who are black or brown. People who were born somewhere else. People who don’t worship the same, dress the same, talk the same as Trump and his buddies.”
“They want us pointing fingers at each other, so we won’t notice their hand in our pockets!”
Warren is taking an early lead in the Presidential race because she has better ideas than the other candidates and promises to use the ideas to mobilize Congress and the voters.