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Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "rapid ascent has highlighted growing tensions in the Democratic Party about its identity in the post-Obama era," writes Kevin Cirilli. (Photo: Ben Wikler/flickr/cc)

Corporate-Friendly Democrats Mobilize to Drag Party Rightward

So-called 'centrist' Democrats are attempting to distance themselves from progressive voices like Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Deirdre Fulton

Afraid "a sharp turn to the left could prove disastrous in the 2016 elections," factions within the Democratic Party more closely aligned with Wall Street and other corporate interests than with the progressive left are "gathering their forces to fight back against the 'Elizabeth Warren wing' of their party," The Hill reported Monday.

Framed as a fight between so-called "centrists" of the party and more progressive voices, exemplified by Sen. Warren (D-Mass.), journalist Kevin Cirilli describes how leaders of three corporate-friendly groups—the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the New Democrat Network (NDN), and Third Way—are moving to steer the Democratic agenda away from issues like income inequality, the student debt crisis, and corporate tax breaks.

Warren has come out swinging on these issues. Just last week, Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) launched the Middle Class Prosperity Project with a Forum on Economic Challenges Facing the Middle Class in Washington, D.C.

"There have been deep structural changes in the economy, changes that have gone on for more than thirty years, changes that have kept hard-working middle class families from sharing in an improving economy," Warren said in her opening statement (pdf) at the forum, calling on Congress to close tax loopholes, raise the minimum wage, and cut student loan interest rates.

Of current economic struggles, Warren declared:

Now this didn’t need to happen. It happened partly because of deliberate choices made right here in Washington. The choice to tax assembly line workers and teachers at higher rates than billionaire hedge fund managers. The choice to cut support for higher education and leave students with massive debt. The choice to gut funding for infrastructure and basic science research that grows the economy and that saves lives—all while giving corporations fat tax breaks for moving jobs overseas. The choice to run this country for the rich and the powerful, instead of running it for hard-working people.

Following the forum, Campaign for America's Future analyst Isaiah Poole wondered: "Could this project, using Warren’s distinctive voice, help progressives present a bold alternative not only to destructive conservative policies but the Band-Aids and incremental measures of some mainstream Democrats?"

Such "barbed attacks" as Warren's have "thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach," Cirilli writes at The Hill. "But with the race for the White House set to begin, centrists are moving to seize back the agenda."

To that end, the New Democrat Coalition (NDC)—whose list of members, historian Eric Zuesse pointed out in 2014, is "very close to being the same list as the members of Congress who are owned by Wall Street"—plans to unveil a policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course, one that focuses more on economic growth than on populist concerns. 

Gabe Horwitz, director of the neoliberal think tank Third Way's economic program, offered a hint of what the NDC plan could entail—or at least, what it will eschew: fairness.

"In the last election, Democrats, as a party, offered a message of fairness. Voters responded, and they responded really negatively," Horwitz told The Hill. "Democrats offered fairness, and voters wanted prosperity and growth."

This is in keeping with the remarks of former Treasury secretary Larry Summers, who recently said that a challenge for presumptive presidential candidate—and Warren foil—Hillary Clinton in shaping an economic platform is "to address inequality without embracing a politics of envy."

In an op-ed last month, Richard Eskow responded: "But there are ways to address that quandary. One is to recognize that struggling Americans want and need economic reformation, not personal vilification. The public is presumably much more interested in solving its problems than it is in demonizing wealthy strangers."

Eskow continued: "In fact, the entire 'envy' and 'vilification' framing is counterproductive. It’s a rhetorical ploy that, whether intentionally or not, characterizes a genuine national crisis—and the hardship of millions—as a transitory and less than admirable emotional state. We are dealing with a problem that threatens to tear our social fabric apart, and it must be discussed that way."

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