- - Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Barack Obama is so yesterday. The elitists who supported him as the great “progressive” hope are abandoning him in droves as his popularity plummets. The Washington Post describes him as having the “worst” year of anyone in Washington, and as Republicans prepare to take over the Senate, he looks more and more like a lame duck incapable of delivering much more of anything to his base.

His more moderate supporters and those pining for a return to the 1990s are lining up behind Hillary Rodham Clinton in the hope that she will be a better candidate this time than in 2008. She is older now and maybe wiser, but, as Mr. Obama suggests, she certainly lacks that “new car smell” that he suspects many voters are looking for. She certainly is older but sounds even less interesting than she did back in the day, and she seems to lack a rationale for running other than that we have yet to elect a female president.

Progressives yearning to leave Mr. Obama on the side of the road in the way their party jettisoned Sen. Mary L. Landrieu when she began to look like a loser are urging Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to pick up the progressive battle flag that Mr. Obama seems to have dropped, hold it high and lead them into battle against the forces of darkness that they believe inhabit Wall Street and the nation’s banks. If they are looking for that “new car smell” along with a little of that old-time socialist-populist religion, she may be the answer to their dreams.

Last week, Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard reported that some 300 former Obama “staffers” have joined forces to encourage Ms. Warren to run for president. They modestly claim in a statement that they nominated and elected Mr. Obama and are willing to do the same for her. They want her to run a progressive crusade that will “stand up for working families and take on the Wall Street banks and special interests that took down our economy.” Ms. Warren’s just-ended attempt to shut down the government over a minor tweak to Dodd-Frank might resonate with these folks, but it sounds about as relevant to most voters as Jack Kemp’s campaign for the presidency in the 1980s based on the need to return to the gold standard.

If Ms. Warren wants to stand with working families, she will have to learn that most of them don’t speak the same language as her Harvard elitist friends. The problem the elite left has faced for at least a century is that its rhetoric resonates not with the average folks it is meant to attract, but rather with itself.

The senator, of course, disclaims any interest in running. She has a job, she proclaims loudly and often, but is leaving the door open as she seems to be patterning herself as a sort of left-wing Ted Cruz. She and her followers know that younger left-wingers aren’t all that enthusiastic about Mrs. Clinton. Many of them barely remember the Clinton years but did see the disappointing collapse of the supposedly inevitable march to the White House in 2008, her spotty and less-than-exhilarating performance as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, and her dismal performance as a memoir writer and a quarter-million-dollar-a-crack entertainer.

The real Hillary — if there is one anymore — may be as radical as Ms. Warren, but she has tried to remake herself into a sort of moderate left-of-center establishmentarian at a time when her party is moving quickly and not so quietly to the left. Her day may have come and gone, and those pining for Ms. Warren can smell it.

In some ways, the progressives urging Ms. Warren to run are finding themselves in a position like the one the emerging conservative movement faced in the early 1960s. The party on which they based their hopes was dominated by interests they abhorred, and activists were desperate for a leader willing to articulate their views. They found their leader in Barry Goldwater, who bucked his president, the existing political establishment and the leaders of the Senate in which he sat. He wasn’t all that eager to run for president, but he did. In losing, he helped give birth to the more conservative Republican Party of today.

Elizabeth Warren could be the progressive movement’s Barry Goldwater if she catches fire with the base, vanquishes the Democratic establishment and helps transform the public image of her party into what it is morphing into internally: an American social-democratic-cum-populist party that might or might not win elections but would more accurately and articulately stand up for the values that motivate its core voters.

The conservatives who seized control of the Republican Party in the 1960s, remade it and held on to it after the Goldwater defeat stood for values that most Americans, including working families, found attractive. Those tired of Mrs. Clinton and ready for Ms. Warren one day will find out if they will be as lucky, and whether anyone will buy what they have to sell.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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