Or more precisely, the effect of Elizabeth Warren on Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee from the Democratic Party. The emerging conventional wisdom is that the mere presence of Elizabeth Warren in the Senate is far more serious or influential than the Massachusetts lawmaker would be in a presidential primary or in the Oval Office. The emerging conventional wisdom—which might have been written in wherever Hillary Clinton’s non-campaign headquarters are—is that Warren is forcing Clinton to change her rhetoric and move to the left during the primary that establishment Democrats desperately hope will be no kind of primary at all. This is a chain of events Clintons backers and hangers-on are willing to countenance because they know that precious little their candidate says during a primary will matter when the neoliberal, neoconservative Clinton gets down to governing.
Serious journalists might pick up on this and ask, given the expertise with which both Clinton’s triangulate and contort to fit a given audience, why it matters what Clinton says during a presidential primary when everything we’ve seen of her in and out of government suggests that she is firmly committed to the neoconservative, neoliberal consensus which keeps our country mired in imperial wars and our citizens stripped of the protections which succor the lives of citizens in most other democracies in the world today.
But the hacks who populate the pages of too many papers and news sites in the United States treat politics as a parlour game instead of an earnest moral endeavor that has the capacity to transform for better or worse the fortunes of hundreds of millions of people. Certainly, changes in Clinton’s rhetoric show the influence of people like Elizabeth Warren. But what matters at the end of the day is whom Clinton would owe when she entered the White House, and the kinds of interests that have shaped her thinking and political actions—not words—down the decades.
Imagine the spectacle of Hillary Clinton facing off against Mitt Romney in a presidential race. Two of the fattest felines in politics, both with a history of support for trickle-down economics, purring about who cares about inequality and poverty the most while taking checks from people committed to enshrining corporate power and the plutocracy that goes along with it.
Such a contest is the surest way imaginable to kill our democracy. In part because the policies that would emerge from whatever administration such a contest produced would continue to prize capital over labour and the rights of corporate titans over those of working class citizens. But also because it would represent the ultimate ascendance of moneyed, dynastic politics in our elections, and the failure of our system to present the electorate with more than the slimmest slice of the ideological and policy options available to us. Such an election would leave us disenchanted and ultimately dangerous.
Warren offers a more progressive version of politics, one committed to using government for good rather than ill. A Warren presidency, with its unabashed populism could prove transformative. In stark contrast to the muddling centrism of the Obama and Clinton administration—packed to the gills with representatives of a stultifying, corrupting conventional wisdom—it would offer a clear and transformative vision rather than half-hearted appeals to febrile moderation.
In the Senate, where the press corps and the Clinton cabal would like her to remain, Warren can influence the national conversation. But it is impossible for a single Senator to drive the kind of policy changes necessary to create a humane social democracy, or to restore integrity to our democracy.
In the White House, she could appoint justices, staff the cabinet, articulate a cohesive policy agenda, and be the single face against which the Republican Party—in all of its sociopathic fury—would have to justify its cruel absurdity. Today Republican politicians can wrangle with a pack of contemptible right-wingers who maintain a hold on the real centers of power in the Democratic Party. They can cast themselves against a passive, vision-less President whose faith in incrementalism dooms his best intentions when they are even distinguishable.
Against Warren, they would be exposed for the corporate automatons they are, so much rabble purchased by the Koch Empire and its ilk, men and women who sign absurd oaths forswearing the use of their brains and pledging their allegiance to the 1%.
The last thing we need at this transformative economic moment are Wall Street’s Storm Troopers in Congress and the Presidency, whether through Clinton or Romney or Christie or Bush.
A quick look at changing technology alone should tell us that labour and labour relations in this country are on the cusp of dramatic changes. Think about something like 3-D printing technology, which has the capacity to make workers and work as we know it obsolete on a dramatic scale. It is extraordinary technology, but of introduced by those blindly enamoured of its transformative power, without regulation, without thought for its social context, it could be deadly. Imagine if these changes in production were to occur in an environment in which workers are stripped of their security, their rights, and their political power…that would be beyond devastating for the fortunes of the middle class Warren seeks to protect even as the Clintons, Romneys, and Bushes of this world seek to un-do their remaining, fragile protections.
That’s just one example, along with the power of Wall Street, the enshrinement of corporate rights, and the absence of a social welfare system, that makes the election of progressive, social democratic, or socialist leadership imperative. We need more than a primary-time conversation about justice and equality. We need leadership that is prepared to take up, without compromise, the welfare of our citizenry.
Predictably, some commentators have argued that Warren’s focus on economic and social issues makes her unsuitable to be President absent any posturing over foreign policy. But given how much blood and money the United States has shed in the past sixty years in imperialistic wars that have not been fought in the public interest, a little focus on the welfare of our public wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Nor does a disinterest in breathless sabre-rattling have to mean isolationism. A good presidential candidate would not be in the mold of the last ten or more occupants of the White House, who have been beguiled by blood and trumpets and a vision of American power that is both destructive and unjust.
What we need in a candidate when it comes to foreign policy is not expertise—our national security “experts” are most expert at getting things spectacularly wrong while mounting counter-productive and immoral cowboy stunt. What we need is someone who can add two and two and come up with something other than twenty-seven. And preferably someone whose sharp moral sense of what life in the United States should look like extends that vision of justice and equality abroad, as a counter to the violent colonial-style relationship that has hitherto characterized the approach of the U.S. to the world writ large.
The progressive, social democratic principles with which Warren approaches politics, her understanding of human actions and motives, and her prioritization of the rights and welfare of citizens over the corrosive aspirations of their would-be masters…these things have the capacity at least to translate into the most transformative foreign policy in our republic’s history.
In short, the country needs Warren—and other progressives, social democrats, and socialists—to step forward and actively seek positions of leadership.
Hillary Clinton never believed that her presence in the Senate would be more consequential than her presence in the White House. Nor did Barack Obama. So why should this frankly absurd argument apply to Elizabeth Warren who, more than either Clinton or Obama, would govern with purpose, moral clarity, and an animating ideology, the application of which has the potential to transform decades of dangerously undemocratic politics and re-focus the country on the welfare of the many rather than the unseemly enrichment of a few?
Warren, having articulated the possibility of a different kind of politics, owes it to the country to do everything she can to put that into practice…and that means seeking the Presidency.