The ‘Democratic wing’ of the Democratic Party wakes up

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By Katrina vanden Heuvel,

from The Washington Post,

What a difference a year makes. In 2012, Politico was reporting that Democrats had gone “AWOL in class war.” Occupy had come and gone by the spring. Mitt Romney’s Republican primary rivals were harsher on his “vulture capitalism” than President Obama was. Labor was under siege across the country. Liberals were focused on social issues like gay rights and abortion. The tea party had captured the (faux) populist mantle and was still riding high.

No longer. The tea party discredited itself with its government shutdown and threat of defaulting on American obligations. And the populist temper in the Democratic Party has been unleashed, once the president was safely reelected.

Now the simmering tensions between what former Sen. Paul Wellstone called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” and the Wall Street wing of that party have begun to boil. The New Republic puts rows of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s face on its cover with the headline “Hillary’s nightmare.”

The differences between the two wings aren’t cosmetic or personal. They concern the basic direction of the party and the country. The battle is being driven by the harsh realities of this economy. Coming out of the Great Recession, the wealthiest few are capturing nearly all the rewards of growth, while most American families are struggling to stay afloat. The new majority forged by Obama — the “rising American electorate” of millennials, people of color, and single women — is struggling the most.

And now leaders of the “Democratic wing” are standing up, naming names and calling for a more equitable, just politics. After all, this extreme inequality isn’t an accident. It comes, as Warren put it, because entrenched interests have endeavored to rig the rules to work for them.

Many of the rigged rules derive directly from the Wall Street wing of the party, personified by Robert Rubin, former head of Goldman Sachs who served as Clinton’s economic guru and Treasury secretary.

Obama, while he campaigned with more than a touch of populism, surrounded himself with Rubin’s acolytes and sought, even amid the ruins of the economy, to revive the old mix.

Progressive Democrats are waging fights to raise the minimum wage at the local, state and national level, with the White House signaling it will join at the federal level. Labor unions have found success in growing protests by fast-food workers demanding decent wages.

The next brutal battle is likely to come over “fast-track” trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — dubbed “NAFTA on steroids” by the left. Negotiated in secret, with corporations at the table and Americans locked out, this “free trade accord” is consciously designed as an end run around domestic protections for the environment, consumers and workers.

The American people know the system is rigged against them and they want us to level the playing field,” the blogosphere is rife with calls for a Warren challenge. The new populism poses a real challenge, and if it succeeds, many politicians — quite possibly including Hillary Clinton — will join the parade rather than get broadsided by it.

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