David Brooks thinks Elizabeth Warren can win a Democratic presidential primary against Hillary Clinton. Here are his reasons:
Her chances are rising because of that word "fight." The emotional register of the Democratic Party is growing more combative. There's an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat.Yes, but that last poll result doesn't mean much -- in the same poll, 51% of Republicans said they believed that the economic and political systems were stacked against them, as well as 55% of whites. If Warren does somehow get the Democratic nomination, does anyone seriously thinks she'll get a massive Republican crossover vote in the general election? Does anyone seriously think she'd be the first Democrat in decades to win a majority of the white vote? That question just isn't a litmus test for liberalism.
Events like the Brown case in Ferguson and the Garner case in New York have raised indignation levels across the progressive spectrum. Judging by recent polls, the midterm defeat has not scared Democrats into supporting the safe option; it's made them angrier about the whole system. As the party slips more into opposition status, with the next Congress, this aggressive outsider spirit will only grow.
In this era of bad feelings, parties are organized more around what they oppose rather than what they are for. Republicans are against government. Democrats are coalescing around opposition to Wall Street and corporate power. In 2001, 51 percent of Democrats were dissatisfied with the rise of corporate power, according to Gallup surveys. By 2011, 79 percent of Democrats were. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month, 58 percent of Democrats said they believed that the economic and political systems were stacked against them.
As for the rest of what Brooks says, I think it's a mistake to see a rise in progressive activism as a sign of big changes in the Democratic Party. Progressives are outraged at what the Senate's torture report revealed; overall, however, 46% of Democrats think CIA treatment of prisoners was justified, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, as opposed to 45% of Democrats who don't. Progressives support gun control -- but a recent Pew poll says that a majority of African-Americans think gun ownership does more to protect personal safety than it does to put safety at risk, as do 47% of moderate and conservative Democrats. Progressives believe business is inadequately regulated -- but a September Gallup poll shows that only 39% of Democrats overall think that there's "too little" regulation of business, while 22% think there's "too much" and 35% think the amount is "about right."
Progressivism, alas, is still a niche viewpoint. Except on gay marriage and, lately, weed, progressives seem incapable of broadening the appeal of their (our) message. Whatever Sean Hannity or Megyn Kelly is ranting about on Fox tonight has the potential to become a mainstream point of view; that's not true for Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes.
Except in the most general terms, I don't think Warrenism is the ideology of the majority of Democrats -- I wish it were otherwise, but I don't see it. The forty-plus-year backlash against the dirty-hippie sixties taints progressivism, even in the eyes of many Democrats. So does having a Democratic president who hasn't been able to bring about a broad-based economic recovery -- progressives can say all we want that more rather than less should have been done, but most people think progressivism got a fair test and failed.
And no, a potential Warren campaign won't be a rerun of the 2008 Obama campaign. The Obama campaign confuses a lot of people, because Obama in 2008 was progressive in his general rhetoric of movement-based change, but not noticeably more progressive than Hillary Clinton in his specific policy positions. He rallied progressives, but he didn't scare the more moderate Democratic base. Warren will be noticeably to the left of Clinton. I think that will turn off a lot of Democrats.
I think Warren, as a senator and maybe as a presidential candidate, can start the process of moving the party to the left. Eventually, maybe she can make being a progressive seem, to the heartland, like an acceptable way of being an American. But there's still a big selling job to do. For now, if she runs for president against Hillary Clinton and is seen as the progressive candidate, I think voters will retreat to Hillary as the safer choice. There's progressive unrest out there -- there just isn't enough yet.