Democrats thought they were on to something good when they awarded their presidential nomination to an obscure freshman senator from Illinois, whose only experience was a stint as a “community organizer.” He was a blank slate, and Barack Obama’s radical roots were hidden elsewhere. And so it came to pass. The push is on now to repeat the strategy with another little-known senator with radical aspirations.
The Left assembled Friday at the “Netroots Nation” in Detroit and the semi-multitude went weak in the knees listening to Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts deliver a stemwinder. Her presentation of an 11-point plan for liberals sounded more like the speech of a top-tier presidential candidate than the work of a law professor from Harvard.
“This is a fight over economics, over privilege and over power,” thundered Mrs. Warren. ” … We have to talk about what it means to be a progressive.”
She prescribes more red tape for Wall Street, a higher minimum wage, taking big bites out of guarantees of religious liberty by requiring small-business companies to pay for abortions regardless of the convictions of the owners, and more freebies for students and other key demographic groups. The message was that business is evil, and only bigger government can protect us from exactly what she did not say.
“Powerful companies,” she said, “try to capture Washington and rig the rules in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind.”
Such over-the-top populist rhetoric has turned Mrs. Warren into the leading alternative to Hillary, the candidate many grass-roots Democrats see as insufficiently liberal. Mrs. Clinton is a polarizing figure because everyone knows who she is and what she says she stands for. Mrs. Warren’s negatives are minimal, since the larger public has so far had no opportunity to see what is not written on her slate.
Mrs. Warren didn’t spend much time looking past the tinted glass during her limousine ride to the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, a once-great city that lies bankrupt and in ruins, the work of high taxation, attacks on business and unrestrained forced unionism of the sort Mrs. Warren prescribes.
“When conservatives talk about opportunity, they mean opportunity for the rich to get richer and the powerful to get more powerful,” said Mrs. Warren, who knows about rich and about powerful, at least on campus. Harvard paid her $430,000 a year, and her move to “public service” has enhanced her standard of living. In addition to the $174,000 she collects from U.S. taxpayers every year, Mrs. Warren pocketed a $525,000 book advance and $60,000 in textbook royalties last year. Her Senate disclosure forms show she’s accumulated around $10 million in assets, and she lives in a house worth $5 million.
The “big banks” where Mrs. Warren keeps her money are nevertheless responsible for everything wrong. “They cheated American families,” she said, “crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they were ‘too big to fail’ in 2008.”
She throws rhetorical tomahawks at Wall Street, but Mrs. Warren speaks with a forked tongue. She was a champion of the Dodd-Frank “too big to fail” act that established a permanent bailout fund to ensure Wall Street firms never go broke.
The chief beneficiaries of what she called the “strongest financial-reform law in three generations” were Wall Street behemoths such as Goldman Sachs that got bigger by gobbling up smaller companies and now have a government backstop to ensure they never fail.
It’s difficult to see how Elizabeth Warren can push Hillary Clinton aside, but Barack Obama proved that coming from obscurity, with no experience and nothing but a gift for rhetoric, is one way to do it. A smile helps, but you don’t even need a shoeshine.