Delusional Left’s Fever-Dream Fantasy: Elizabeth Warren Presidential CampaignPosted: September 30, 2013
After Senator Elizabeth “Pocahotmess” Warren spoke at a luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., last month, women from the audience swarmed around her, many of them asking the same question: will you run for president?
Ms. Warren’s fiery speech at the national A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention this month set off even more excitement, with some union members standing on their chairs applauding and shouting out to her. And when she joined a MoveOn.org conference call this summer to promote her student loan legislation, 10,000 people got on the line — the liberal group’s biggest audience on any conference call in four years.
In Democratic circles, disappointment in the promise of the Obama presidency and unease over a possible restoration of the Clintons have made the senator, who was sworn in just 10 months ago, the object of huge interest and the avatar of a newly assertive, fervently populist left eager for a more confrontational approach to politics.
Ms. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview that she was not interested in seeking the presidency. And despite talk of a draft movement among some activists, it is difficult to imagine her taking on former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But in seizing on issues animating her party’s base — the influence of big banks, soaring student loan debt and the widening gulf between the wealthy and the working class — Ms. Warren is challenging the centrist economic approach that has been the de facto Democratic policy since President Bill Clinton and his fellow moderates took control of the party two decades ago.
“She is reshaping the Democratic Party and leading its charge toward a more economic populist orientation,” said Markos Moulitsas, the publisher of Daily Kos, a leading liberal blog.
Ms. Warren’s fund-raising muscle is also getting attention. Democrats around the country seek her help, and she has a network of 350,000 individual campaign donors — a remarkable tally for a new senator.
The interest in Ms. Warren, who was a Harvard professor of bankruptcy law and oversaw the creation of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is swelling as some Democratic activists worry that Mrs. Clinton is too close to Wall Street — a major source of her fund-raising in previous campaigns — and is insufficiently committed to challenging the economic status quo.
The Clintons and those around them, always alert to the slightest shifts in the political atmosphere and painfully aware of the threat a popular freshman senator can pose, are taking notice of Ms. Warren’s message.
Asked in a CNN interview last week about his party’s turn to the left, Mr. Clinton contended that he “ran on income inequality in 1992.” Without prompting, he brought up Ms. Warren as he defended his administration’s approach to bank regulation. In 1999, Mr. Clinton signed legislation that repealed parts of the Glass-Steagall Act, allowing the commingling of commercial and investment banking, a move much criticized by the left since the financial crisis of 2008.
“When they pass bills with a veto-proof majority, with a lot of Democrats voting for it, that I couldn’t stop, all of a sudden we turn out to be maniacal deregulators,” Mr. Clinton said, lamenting the liberal perception of his financial policies. “I mean, come on. I know that Senator Warren said the other day, admitted, when she introduced a bill to reinstate the division between commercial and investment banks, she admitted that the repeal of Glass-Steagall did not cause one single solitary financial institution to fail.”
Privately, some Democratic donors from the financial industry seem unnerved by Ms. Warren’s rise, underscoring the tension between the party’s liberal and centrist wings.
“People on Wall Street perceive her to be hostile to their industry, and so there was pretty widespread terror when she got on the Banking Committee,” said Steven Rattner, a New York financier and pillar of Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raising network.
The ascendant power of Ms. Warren and her fellow populists is best captured by their torpedoing this month of Lawrence H. Summers, Mr. Clinton’s treasury secretary, who was blocked before President Obama could even nominate him to lead the Federal Reserve. And the victory of Bill de Blasio, who hammered home a message of income inequality, in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor has given the party’s progressive base even more confidence.
In the interview, Ms. Warren, 64, said twice that she had no interest in running for president, a point her aides amplify privately. But she said she would continue to focus on economic fairness, saying it is the signal issue of the day.
“This is the work America needs to take on, the work of making certain we strengthen the middle class,” Ms. Warren said. “This country should not be run for the biggest corporations and largest financial institutions.”
And she is taking that message well beyond the Senate. While she rarely grants interviews, Ms. Warren appeared on national television on the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis and, with little notice, has been speaking to Democratic-leaning audiences around the country.
The crowds keep growing. When Ms. Warren co-headlined the League of Conservation Voters’ annual banquet in Washington, attendance was the largest in at least 15 years. This fall, she will headline a gala for the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group. She was honored this month by a group dedicated to the ideals of one of her populist predecessors, Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota senator who died in 2002. Bumper stickers and T-shirts surfacing in liberal enclaves proclaim, “I’m from the Elizabeth Warren Wing of the Democratic Party.”
Some of the excitement over Ms. Warren is coming from younger activists, and at times more seasoned Democrats say they need to tamp down the young people’s enthusiasm.
When women’s groups, unions and online activists held a series of conference calls this month to generate support for Janet Yellen to become the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, the conversations were repeatedly overtaken by talk about drafting Ms. Warren to run for president. A similar dynamic took hold on one private e-mail list of about 1,200 influential progressives called “Game Changers,” prompting some Democrats to counsel participants to slow down with the Warren-for-president talk.
Ms. Warren’s Senate colleagues have yet to embrace her economic agenda: her bill to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act provisions and her idea of tying student loan interest rates to the Federal Reserve’s discount rate have not advanced.
But Democratic senators are eager to tap her fund-raising power. In addition to raising money for Senator Barbara Boxer of California at the Beverly Hills luncheon, Ms. Warren will host a Boston-area event next month for Senator Mark Begich of Alaska. She was also scheduled to be the keynote speaker Friday at events for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois until votes in Congress forced their postponement.
“She’s the hot number,” said Leo Hindery Jr., a major New York donor and managing partner of InterMedia Partners, a private equity fund. He attributed the intensity of interest to “underlying frustration with the president” and his policies.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee found last year that affixing Ms. Warren’s name to a fund-raising appeal brought in more money than solicitations from all other party figures except Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton. For her Senate race last year, she raised a stunning $42 million — second in history only to Mrs. Clinton in 2006 among candidates not financing their own Senate campaigns.
The senator is careful, however, about how her activities are perceived. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said in an interview that Ms. Warren had declined his invitation to be the marquee speaker at his annual steak fry fund-raiser.
The steak fry is among the most closely watched events in early presidential primary states, and Ms. Warren’s aides recognized what an appearance would signify; Mr. Obama effectively declared his interest in the presidency when he agreed to be the keynote speaker in 2006.
Ms. Warren’s reluctance to attend suggests that at least for now, her impact will be felt mainly from her perch in the Senate.
Still, should Mrs. Clinton decline to seek the presidency again, top Democrats expect the pressure on Ms. Warren to consider a candidacy to increase significantly.
“If Hillary doesn’t run, I bet there will be plenty of folks, particularly on the left, urging her to look at it,” said David Axelrod, a longtime adviser to Mr. Obama, who called Ms. Warren “an electric figure” among liberals.
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