The progressive revolt against a provision favorable to big banks in the CRomnibus spending bill failed to prevent its passage in the House, but I approve of what the rebels did. Liberalism and the Democratic Party aren't looking very good to the public these days, and it's mostly because the public thinks liberalism and the Democratic worldview consist of whatever President Obama does. It's unlikely that anyone followed the debate of the bill apart from political pros and mavens, but what the opponents did demonstrates a good instinct: show Americans what progressivism is, even when -- maybe especially when -- it contradicts what's coming out of the White House.
I'm looking at this revolt in light of a poll The New York Times published this week on economics and the American Dream.
Despite an improving economy and jobs picture, the public is more pessimistic than it was after the 2008 financial crisis that it is possible to work hard and become rich, according to a New York Times poll.Liberalism doesn't come off well in this poll:
The poll, which explored Americans' opinions on a wide range of economic and financial issues, found that only 64 percent of respondents said they still believed in the American dream, the lowest result in roughly two decades. Even near the depth of the financial crisis in early 2009, 72 percent of Americans still believed that hard work could result in riches....
Notwithstanding the bleaker view of upward mobility, the majority of those polled said they were more concerned about the possibility that too much regulation in Washington could stymie the economy than they were about the prospect of inequality. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that "over-regulation that may interfere with economic growth" was a bigger problem than "too little regulation that may create an unequal distribution of wealth." Only 38 percent said that too little regulation posed a bigger problem.This would seem to suggest that Americans don't want the Dodd-Frank regulation the CRomnibus seeks to weaken. But I don't believe Americans grasp the details of any of this. You ask them about "regulation," and they think it means "all that stuff Obama and the Democrats do gratuitously because they like big government." They think this because they keep being told that Democrats are regulating the bejeezus out of the economy, and they know they aren't benefiting. Most Americans are still struggling. So they accept the narrative that regulation must be the problem.
At the same time, they're no fans of big banks:
Still, almost six years after the height of the financial crisis, Americans' wariness about the banking industry that was at its center remains. Only 4 percent of respondents said they had "a lot" of confidence "in Wall Street bankers and brokers," though 31 percent said they had "some" confidence in Wall Street.Those who had "not much" confidence in Wall Street or "none" totaled 61% of respondents.
So going after the big banks fits the public's mood. What's more, you can't help ordinary American without reducing the rate at which fat cats siphon off America's wealth.
The rebels get this. The president doesn't. His economic progressivism has always stopped at Wall Street's edge.
Apart from Nancy Pelosi, the spiritual leader of this rebellion has been Elizabeth Warren. It's good if Americans identify the Democratic Party increasingly with Warren, because her #1 issue is the mistreatment of ordinary citizens in this economy, and she's better at explaining why economic liberalism is good for ordinary Americans than Obama is. Her agenda doesn't carefully exclude anything that gives Wall Street the vapors, which is why it would be more effective. And when it comes to economic populism, she can be the Secretary of Explaining Stuff. She's good at it.
Does that mean she should run for president? I'm content with her not running (she doesn't seem to want to) if she's a figure to be reckoned with. (Republicans seem to have dozens of figures-to-be-reckoned-with who aren't president; why do Democrats have so few?) If, from the Senate, she can make the case that there are progressive measures we haven't tried, that's extremely valuable. And it's what we need, because Americans are starting to think liberalism is precisely what's failed.