The Hill recently published a telling piece about President Obama “going to bat” for Sen. Elizabeth Warren with significant Wall Street donors and wealthy Democratic supporters. The article reveals something crucially important about today’s Democratic Party.
While many honed in on the fact that Obama was not talking up his own VP, Joe Biden, or that it portrayed the former president defending someone who has at times been a vocal critic of his, the real underlying takeaway is this:
Democrats are deeply stuck with a “Do as I say, not as I do” mantra.
The fight at the recent Democratic debate between Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Warren on fundraisers in “wine caves” and “billionaires in smoke-filled rooms” highlights a tension that even Mayor Pete himself jumped on:
Wealthy people criticizing wealthy people who themselves rely on wealthy people to fund their campaigns are going to have a really hard time prosecuting a national message against wealthy people.
Of course, this is a point of tension that was entirely avoidable for the Democratic Party. They certainly could have chosen to declare a particular viewpoint on health care or student loans without demonizing successful people.
But the momentum of Bernie Sanders in 2016 and the energy in Warren’s class-warfare message in this campaign forced the entire slate of candidates to the far left early in this primary season, and left a stage filled with millionaires (and now two billionaires) to run a cartoonish effort to see who could say the worst thing about prosperous people. The result has been a non-stop Marxian barb-fest that has lasted for months, and now has Obama rushing to the wine caves to do damage control.
Even Obama has packaged his love-fest for Warren as a broad “I will support the entire field” kind of message. Instead of claiming to particularly support Warren and her toxic message of division and resentment, he has gone out of his way to say the Democrats “have a field that is very accomplished, very serious and passionate and smart people who have a history of public service, and whoever emerges from the primary process, I will work my tail off to make sure that they are the next president.”
Obama pleading with well-heeled donors to “stick with Warren or whoever gets the nomination” is a telling sign that Democrats are at risk of alienating their traditional supporters (not just as donors, but as voters).
Obama may sincerely believe that the Democrats have a pool of serious and smart candidates, but he is also a talented and astute enough politician to know that the donor class that has traditionally enabled Democratic electoral success is a “socially liberally, fiscally moderate” hybrid of cosmopolitan elites who are not taking well to a season of demonization and criticism over their success.
Even if Warren falters in this campaign, the Democratic world is filled with two constituencies right now: the “haves,” who are tired of being demonized and criticized every night, and the “have nots,” who can see in real-time that the Democrats launching the criticisms are, themselves, very rich and very comfortable.
Warren may avoid (for now) “wine caves” and Super-PAC’s with hedge funders, but she can’t avoid that her net worth is estimated to be north of $12 million. Only a Michael Bloomberg has been willing to run on his net worth as an asset, not a liability.
This Democratic field intuitively knows that material success and hard work are noble American ideals, and has proven such in their own lives and pursuits for decades. Their message has always resonated with a large constituency of successful American voters who happen to find more in common with the Democratic political platform than not.
But Obama pleading with well-heeled donors to “stick with Warren or whoever gets the nomination” is a telling sign that Democrats are at risk of alienating their traditional supporters (not just as donors, but as voters). This paranoia is justified after the assault of the last six months, and few politicians in American life have the instincts to recognize it better than Obama.
Of course, this tension was entirely avoidable. Despite my own disagreements with the majority of their agenda, there was and is plenty of room for discussion around key issues on the national stage like health care, student loans, tax policy and technology. The increasingly left-ward surge of modern progressivism did not just pull the far left of the Democratic Party with it, but the center as well. Stuck now between a message of hysterical demonization and rank hypocrisy, the Democrats are in panic mode.
The quicker they can eliminate Warren as one of their leading national spokespeople, the better.