While you’re obsessing over the battle for the White House between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, you better start paying more attention to the battle for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party being waged between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was beaten by Clinton for the presidential nomination, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who was vetted for the vice president’s slot and has been a most energetic and Trump-slashing surrogate on the campaign trail.
The two are putting up a united front in public, of course. Stories in The Post and the New York Times on Tuesday said that if the polls become reality on Nov. 8 and Clinton is elected the next president, Warren and Sanders will work together to keep pushing her to the left. But evidence of the battle lines is right there on the front pages of both papers.
“Sanders set to press his agenda if Clinton wins,” reads The Post headline. The online headline — “Sanders is prepared to be a liberal thorn in Clinton’s side” — was more to the point. Sanders told The Post that he would “demand that the Democratic Party implement [the party’s] platform.” He also put Clinton and potential appointees with Wall Street pedigrees to financial regulatory positions on notice. “I will be vigorously in opposition,” he said, “and I will make that very clear.”
“Liberals want Warren to push Clinton to the left,” reads the New York Times headline. The online headline — “Liberals hope Elizabeth Warren will serve as Clinton’s scrutinizer in chief” — is a little more watchdog than attack dog. But the message being sent is clear: A President Clinton, who campaigned as “a progressive who likes to get things done,” will have minders working mightily to keep her in line.
Now, here’s what I find fascinating about these stories. Sanders is a general who wants to lead an army he hasn’t seen fit to formally join. Warren is a fierce fighter in that army whose fellow troops want her to lead them.
Not only did Sanders not join the Democratic Party to run for its presidential nomination, but after his defeat, he declared, “I was elected as an independent; I’ll stay two years more as an independent.” And his refusal to raise money for the party during his epic campaign has not been forgotten. To call on its members to follow him would be akin to a general leading a battle with troops he failed to pay or feed. #goodluckwiththat
Meanwhile, Warren’s tear-downs of Trump on the campaign trail on behalf of Clinton and down-ballot Democratic candidates are thrilling the party and its base. While Warren is not quoted in the Times story, there are plenty of fellow lawmakers extolling her virtues. They loved how she excoriated John Stumpf, the chief executive of Wells Fargo, for the fraudulent credit cards and bank accounts opened by his employees. And they told the Times that how Warren successfully blocked one of President Obama’s appointees to a Treasury Department post was “a model” of how to gain the public’s attention on an issue — in short, how to mobilize that political revolution Sanders keeps talking about.
Before this presidential campaign, I wasn’t much of a Warren fan. She reminded me too much of a professor who was as brilliant as she was humorless and hectoring. Her position on and tactics in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership I found particularly irksome. But in the impending battle for progressive priorities, Democratic Warren has more credibility with the base and the party than independent Sanders thinks he should have.
But this battle won’t happen if Democrats stay home on Nov. 8. If they really want to see this fight happen, if they are concerned about the irreparable harm to our nation and our democracy that would come from a Trump presidency, there is but one thing to do: Vote!
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