Why the start of 2014 is a pivotal moment for liberals

2014 is not yet even two days old. But already, the beginning of the year is shaping up as a pivotal moment for the political left, which is poised to pick up a fresh dose of momentum before the end of January.

Look no further than both the nation's capital and its most populous city to understand why.

Bill de Blasio (D), right, signs the oath of office. (Seth Wening, Poll/Associated Press)
Bill de Blasio (D), right, takes the oath of office. (Seth Wenig, Poll/Associated Press)

In the latter, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as mayor on Wednesday. De Blasio campaigned for New York City's top job as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal committed to leveling the playing field and ending what in his view is "a tale of two cities" that unjustly tilts toward the wealthiest and most powerful. The Democrat reaffirmed that populist pitch in his inauguration address, committing to working toward ending "economic and social inequalities."

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Senate is expected to confirm Janet Yellen this month as the next chair of the Federal Reserve. A vice chair at the Fed and popular among liberals, Yellen won the approval of the Senate Banking Committee late last year. Three Republicans on the panel voted for her.

It's also clear that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (D), the presumed front-runner for her party's presidential nomination should she run in 2016, plans to actively reach out to the left and the issues that matter to liberals. She's spoken at length about voting rights and attended de Blasio's swearing-in. (He managed her 2000 Senate campaign.)

Finally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has become a well-known national figure in just a short time in the Senate, giving the liberal base a national figure to rally around at the dawn of the new year, even as she's deliberately avoided the spotlight.

So what does it all mean? At least two things.

One is that the liberal movement suddenly has a pair of emerging stars who sit in positions of immense power. That was not the case as recently as 2012.

Secondly, liberals now face some key tests as a result of their newfound strength.

Take de Blasio, for example. That he didn't ease off the gas from what he said during the campaign must surely come as welcome news to his most loyal supporters. But it also marks the start of a period of immense scrutiny.

De Blasio will not only be closely watched in New York. Being mayor means drawing a national spotlight that most governors will never even experience. His swearing-in means the platform that the left has embraced, even outside the boundaries of the Big Apple, will be put to the test in a major way.

If his agenda proves popular, it will mean good news for the liberal movement more broadly. If not, then it'll be bad news for liberals — even those who reside outside the five boroughs.

Then there are the questions about Democratic unity ahead of 2016. Clinton has never been a liberal favorite. While she is clearly trying to shore up her standing on the left, questions abound about whether she would draw a primary challenger. Even if Clinton doesn't, she will face questions about enthusiasm on the left should she run for president.

In short, liberals are about to experience a jolt of energy. But the next year could decide whether that momentum is sustainable or not.

Fixbits: 

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate will vote Monday on extending unemployment benefits.

2.1 million Americans signed up for coverage via the federal and state health insurance exchanges.

The Supreme Court ruled to temporarily allow religious groups to opt out of covering birth control.

Democrat Mike Duggan was sworn in Wednesday as Detroit's first white mayor in 40 years.

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) called a 2010 Army IG report that found now-Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D) used his national guard position for personal gain "much ado about nothing."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) logged the most speaking time on the Senate floor in 2013.

Vice President Biden's brother and sister-in-law bought a Florida home.

Views about evolution differ depending on political party affiliation, Pew poll data show.

Must-reads: 

"Hawaii Senate primary is dividing Democrats along ethnic and generational lines" — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

"Marijuana sales commence in Colorado for recreational use" — Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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Chris Cillizza | December 31, 2013