Saturday, February 14, 2015

Warren Occupies Washington

(Updated below: 9:25 p.m.)

Elizabeth Warren has been gradually expanding her critique of American Capitalism and is now openly criticizing Democrats who have adopted Reaganomics. She's also adopting the language of the Left. In doing so she's placed herself on an interesting, what you might call self marginalizing trajectory that others have taken when they realize how entrenched Reaganomics has become in American big-money political culture.

Elizabeth Warren - AP/Timothy D. Easley
Warren came onto the national scene in 2011 as a Harvard professor appointed by President Obama to set up a new federal consumer protection agency. She was elected senator from Massachusetts in 2012. She had been limiting her criticisms to big banks and Wall Street, but has gradually taken in more territory and at an ACLU forum last month hit on some of the major themes heard in Leftist critiques of Capitalism and in Leftist publications like The Nation or The Progressive magazine -- and were heard from the Occupy Movement.

"Since the 1980s, too many of the people running this country have followed one form or another of supply side — or trickle-down — economic theory. Many in Washington still support it," Warren said. "When all the varnish is removed, trickle-down just means helping the biggest corporations and the richest people in this country, and claiming that those big corporations and rich people could be counted to create an economy that would work for everyone else."

She talked about a 30 year time frame, for example, in which wages have remained flat. That commonly used time frame dates the current situation back to Reagan. She didn't mention Reagan or call his policy Reaganomics, or Neoliberalism as many academics do, but called it "trickle down," which is an interesting choice of phrase. Older people know what she's referring to, but younger people who only know that Reagan is a much admired former Republican president won't tie her criticism directly to him.

"Pretty much the whole Republican Party – and, if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats – talked about the evils of 'big government' and called for deregulation," Warren continued. "It sounded good, but it was really about tying the hands of regulators and turning loose big banks and giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do—turning them loose to rig the markets and reduce competition, to outsource more jobs, to load up on more risks and hide behind taxpayer guarantees, to sell more mortgages and credit cards that cheated people. In short, to do whatever juiced short term profits even if it came at the expense of working families."

Also without naming him she makes critical illusions to Bill Clinton, who famously announced that "the era of big government is over." The former Democratic president, who followed Reagan, did more to cement Reaganomics as our economic policy than anyone, by muting the Liberal critique of it and by moving the Democratic party to the right.

Almost from the time of her arrival people on the Left, desperate for a champion, have urged Warren to run for president. She's consistently said she's not interested and that could be true. It's unrealistic to think that she could attract the kind of support -- financially and within the mainstream of her party -- needed to win a nomination, at least until things open up more, that is, until the kinds of things she's talking aboiut and that Leftists have been talking about for years are subjects the mainstream media will even pay attention to. Meanwhile she will cause problems for right leaning Democrats like Hillary Clinton and for most Democrats in congress, because people quickly latch on to a message like hers that hasn't been represented in the mainstream media for decades but readily explains the situation they're in. The field of economic populism has been left entirely to Republicans for a long time.

Occupy, which rose quickly in the summer of 2011 and was quickly demolished by the Obama administration, had the lasting effect of putting economic inequality on the table. It had not been on the media's radar before Occupy but it became a theme in the 2012 presidential election. It defined the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, and even cast a pall on his vice presidential nominee, Paul "Eddie Munster" Ryan, because it shaped the analysis of the federal budget he introduced as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee.

Warren is becoming the new Occupy. Because of her, the themes Occupy popularized haven't gone away, and she's expanding their critique and expanding what's permissible to criticize about the political establishment.

She's not saying anything that Democrats like Rep Luis Guitteriez of Illinois or Rep Maxine Waters of California haven't been saying for years, but she's white and blonde and this is still the United States of America, so she gets on TV and is listened to because the people who run TV have been told by the people who advertize on TV that she's the type the people who watch TV in America, and who buy the things they sell, will tune in to.

Note: a summary of Warren's speech was published in Talking Points Memo. She also published a footnoted transcript on her web site.

Update: Maria Margaronis writing in The Nation has an update on the process underway in Europe by Greece's new Syriza party-led government to undo the "trickle down," or Austerity as its called in Europe, regime imposed on Greece by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank, the so-called Troika, that was spearheaded by Germany's right-wing chancellor Angela Merkel . As Margaronis points out, Reaganomics by any name has never worked anywhere, and even its proponents now know it. For political and face saving reasons they can't admit it, but Syriza is now in a good position to undo much of the damage done to Greece's economy by the Troika.

Unhappily, in the US, Republicans and most Democrats (including all of New Mexico's) are still pressing ahead full steam with Reaganomics and there's nothing like an organized resistance to it from the Left. Right-leaning working class voters suck it up happily in the hope they will one day enjoy their share of the untold riches now being accumulated by the 1 percent.

At the hint of any kind of organized resistance from the Left the US government swoops down on it, as it did when the Obama Administration's Department of Homeland Security organized the simultaneous raids on the Occupy Movement's camps. Or the government renders Leftist groups ineffective by spying on and infiltrating them and by doing what they refer to as "containing" reporting of the movement to the Left leaning alternative media, and keeping it out of the mainstream corporate-owned media.

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