The Left Is Building a Movement of Movements to Pressure Hillary

With Elizabeth Warren declining to run, progressives are taking matters into their own hands—with her platform, and her support.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) addresses a rally in support of Social Security and Medicare on Capitol Hill September 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For Democrats, there is not even a nominee, yet. She’s coming, but there’s still no guarantee of a primary fight. In the absence of a genuine challenger to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton—in the absence, most particularly, of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, for which hungry liberals pine—a sort of movement of leftist movements has emerged to bring pressure on the presumptive nominee. 

This week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced that a petition it launched calling for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee to campaign on a populist platform has been signed by 5,000 current and former elected leaders, as well as Democratic Party officials, union leaders, and progressive activists. These include twenty-five members of Congress, such as Senator Harry Reid, Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman, Alan Grayson, Donna Edwards, and Barbara Lee, plus former Senator Tom Harkin. The petitionwhich was posted below a page header that reads ReadyforBoldness.com, and rides above a shooting star—begins, “We want the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee to campaign on big, bold, economic-populist ideas that tangibly improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for similarly big, bold, economic-populist ideas, from a podium at Gracie Mansion. On Thursday, de Blasio announced that he, with a coalition of progressives he had convened, would in May put forward a template for how best to conquer inequality, and then ask presidential candidates to respond. (He said it would parallel the GOP’s 1994 Contract for America.) De Blasio and his allies in the project, progressive activists and lawmakers including Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, offered no specific policy suggestions, but spoke of their “vision.” The mayor talked of changing the national conversation, of “making sure income inequality is at the forefront of the national discussion.” A reporter asked if Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, had been involved in the gathering. De Blasio replied that her team had not been a part, but that he expected every candidate, including Clinton—were she to decide to run, he was careful to say—to speak to the matter.

No one present asked about Senator Warren, and she wasn’t in the room with the mayor and the activists. De Blasio told the Washington Post that a scheduling conflict kept her from attending. But Warren’s spirit, and her robust commitment to middle-class families and working people, was felt. The focus on income inequality—even Republicans including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and even Mitt Romney have taken up the cause, or at least phrase—is thanks, most of all, to her.

On Wednesday, Warren gave her stamp of approval to the effort of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee effort. In a statement to the Associated Press, she said, “Anyone who runs for president should talk about big economic ideas that will help rebuild the middle class in this country and improve the lives of working-class families. I applaud those who are working hard to make big ideas central to the conversation in 2016.”

The PCCC petition’s already mirrored her beliefs: the policy suggestions given were “establishing a national goal of debt-free college at all public colleges and universities, expanding Social Security benefits instead of cutting them, creating millions of clean-energy jobs, reducing big-money influence in politics, breaking up the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks that crashed our economy, and ensuring that working families share in the economic growth they help create.”

We’ve entered announcement season for Republicans, which gives the GOP at least a news-cycle advantage: their speeches at universities with names like Jonathan Franzen novel titles, their press availabilities and political confessions, are dominating the airwaves. There’s little going on on the Democratic side, as liberals wait for Hillary Clinton to take the stage. Although Warren has repeatedly said, and continues to say, that she won’t run in the 2016 presidential race, she manages to fill the vacuum that is the present Democratic camp.

The same day Warren gave her imprint to the Bold Progressives petition, she criticized the government on Conan O'Brien’s talk show for spending money to keep tax loopholes around for billionaires, rather than helping reduce the interest rate on student loans. With vigor, she said, “The United States government should not be making profit off the backs of kids who are trying to get an education.” In late March, Warren introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would expand Social security benefits. Every Democrat in attendance but two voted for it—quite a change in approach from January 2013, when Warren entered the Senate. Then, Democrats and Republicans alike were considering cutting social security. Pema Levy wrote in Mother Jones this Monday that Warren has “turned Social Security expansion—once a progressive pipe dream—into a tough-to-ignore 2016 issue.”

Earlier in the month, Warren, who, through a representative, declined to comment for this article, led an effort against President Obama’s attempt to negotiate free trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries: the ‘investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.’ Warren said, “the name sounds a little wonky”—she tends to speak to the people—“but this is a powerful provision that would fundamentally tilt the playing field further in favor of multinational corporations. Worse yet, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.” Warren’s challenge was not just to Obama’s administration, but to Clinton: as secretary of state, Clinton had supported the negotiations.

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