In a last-minute huddle, Democrats blocked fast-track authority (TPA) for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the Senate, saying they had concerns about enforcement of protections. This was a big, multifaceted win for progressives. One, Elizabeth Warren’s Klout score just went way up. Two, the TPP now has a good shot of being killed in the House with the momentum that’s been built. And three, the emerging progressive populist agenda has folks wondering if this changes the dynamic for 2016. Will Hillary Clinton respond by siding with Warren, or will she re-launch her Blue Dog brand?
It’s a shame that all this comes as the result of President Obama’s increasingly ugly public spat with the progressive wing of the Democratic party where he’s focused his attention on marginalizing Senator Warren. Yesterday’s vote shows that Warren isn’t the one out in the weeds — it’s the President. The bright side is the party is united like it hasn’t been in quite some time. This is a true values debate, and progressives are leading the charge to advance an emergent populist agenda that aims to patch the holes in our economic system which have led to the greatest wealth inequality since the Gilded Age and robber barons.
The more the President attacks Senator Warren, the more power she accrues. This just feeds the momentum for a new progressive agenda such as Bill de Blasio’s “Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality,” and Bernie Sanders’ “Economic Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.” It’s propelling the progressive brand on the national stage with leaders like Alan Grayson appearing as the reasoned advocate for working Americans. Here’s what Grayson says about TPP:
“Our so-called free trade policies, have been a disaster for the United States since NAFTA was enacted…And the result of that is that we’ve gone from $2 trillion in surplus with our trade to $11 trillion in debt. And we’ve lost five million manufacturing jobs and roughly 15 million other jobs in the last 20 years. So we’ve lost twice: We’ve lost the jobs, and we’ve also gone deeper and deeper into debt. “
All this progressive ascendency seems to be making Hillary Clinton nervous. She hasn’t taken a question from a reporter in more than 20 days — approximately the life-span of the TPP dustup. She’s also been busy forming a new Super PAC called “Correct The Record,” to raise money specifically for political research, rapid response and communications in coordination with the campaign. Perhaps TPP is on their project list. More likely though, they’re hoping the deal will die quickly, so Hillary doesn’t have to weigh in either way.
Obama deciding to go personal with Warren seems uncharacteristically ham-handed. In his interview with Yahoo’s Matt Bai, the President took an unmistakeable condescending tone, instead of referring to “Senator Warren,” he comes off sounding paternalistic. He says “Ehhhh-liz-ah-beth,” as if she’s his little sister and can talk to the Presidential hand. It was so bad Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio called it “disrespectful,” and suggested the President wouldn’t refer to a male Senator in that belittling manner. That’s the way it sounded to me too.
Dana Milbank wrote about the personal Obama-drama, asserting that his vindictive manner could be what actually kills the TPP. Milbank observes, “The rhetoric suggests that Obama has given up trying to persuade his fellow Democrats to join him in supporting ‘fast track’ approval…and that he’s lashing out at them in anger.”
Maybe this is all eleventy-dimensional chess. Maybe Obama is allowing the deal to be damned with faint praise. Or, damned with tainted praise, courtesy of every Republican and corporate lobbyist in DC. This is the stuff that GOP dreams are made of. Well, this and the suffering of little children. It’s just impossible to believe Obama would betray his values like this. He’s a “community organizer” who promised to “put on his comfortable shoes” to march with unions on worker protections. Of course, he also downgraded that in his Yahoo interview to a less strenuous “stand with” unions. Sorry guys. These Nikes are comfortable, but they’re not that comfortable. That pinch you feel is the suffering of slave labor in Vietnam, and the loss jobs here at home.
If the party were really bringing their game, the TPP would be the perfect strawman to kickoff the 2016 campaign season. Hillary hasn’t released an economic plan yet, so all this timing is either too perfect, or perfectly disastrous for her campaign, depending on what her economic plan turns out to be. There’s signs she might come around to a progressive agenda. Clinton advisor Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate in economics, just released a scorching report on economic policy. One of the highlights of the report is that trade deals like the TPP are largely to blame for our explosion of wealth inequality. The report calls for “rewriting the rules of our market economy to reduce those inequalities.” One of the pull-quotes in the report reads: “Inequality has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it.” That’s the stuff great stump speeches are made of.
If Hillary crafted a progressive Stiglitz-Warren economic policy, and made it the centerpiece of her campaign, she’d easily win over progressives and unite the party. It would be a master stroke of triangulation — the sensible and pragmatic thing to do. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a smart politician who recognizes that Elizabeth Warren has just been anointed the de facto leader of the Democratic Party.