A brief his­tory of the War­ren pres­i­dency

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY DAVID BROOKS

From 2050, a look back at our political evo­lu­tion: A crisis of le­git­i­macy swept across Amer­i­can pol­i­tics in the sec­ond decade of the 21st cen­tury. Many peo­ple had the gen­eral con­vic­tion that the old or­der was cor­rupt and in­com­pe­tent. There was an in­choate de­sire for some rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. This mood swept the Repub­li­can Party in 2016 as Don­ald Trump evis­cer­ated the GOP es­tab­lish­ment and it swept through the Demo­cratic Party in 2020.

In the 2020 pri­mary race Joe Bi­den stood as the can­di­date for lin­ear change and El­iz­a­beth War­ren stood as the sharp break from the past. Bi­den was the front-run­ner, but frag­ile. Many of the strong­est de­bate per­form­ers – Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete But­tigieg and Michael Ben­net – couldn't get any trac­tion be­cause Bi­den oc­cu­pied the mod­er­ate lane. By the time he faded, it was too late.

War­ren tri­umphed over the other pro­gres­sive pop­ulist, Bernie San­ders, be­cause she had what he lacked – self-aware­ness. She could run a cam­paign that mit­i­gated her weak­nesses. He could not.

Bi­den was hold­ing on un­til War­ren took Iowa and New Hamp­shire. He or some other mod­er­ate could have re­cov­ered, but the Cal­i­for­nia pri­mary had been moved up to March 3, Su­per Tues­day. When War­ren dom­i­nated most states that day, it was over.

Many pun­dits pre­dicted that War­ren was too pro­gres­sive to win a gen­eral elec­tion. In­deed, her per­sonal fa­vor­a­bil­ity re­mained low. But the elec­tion was about Trump – his per­sonal dis­graces but also the fact that he told a white eth­nic na­tional nar­ra­tive that ap­pealed only to a shrink­ing seg­ment of the coun­try.

War­ren won con­vinc­ingly. The Democrats built a big­ger ma­jor­ity in the House, and to gen­eral sur­prise, won a slim Se­nate ma­jor­ity of 52-48.

Repub­li­cans suf­fered a long, steady de­cline. Trump was in­stantly re­viled by ev­ery­one. Only 8% of young peo­ple called them­selves con­ser­va­tives. Repub­li­can vot­ers, mostly older, were dy­ing out. For the en­su­ing two decades the party didn't res­onate be­yond its white ru­ral base.

The Amer­i­can ed­u­cated class cel­e­brated the War­ren vic­tory with dance-inthe-street eu­pho­ria. In staffing her ad­min­is­tra­tion, she re­jected the ex­pe­ri­enced Clin­ton-Obama holdovers and brought in a new cadre from the pro­gres­sive left.

The eu­pho­ria ended when War­ren tried to pass her leg­isla­tive agenda. One by one, her pro­pos­als failed in the Se­nate: “Medi­care for All,” free col­lege, de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing unau­tho­rized bor­der cross­ings, even the wealth tax. Demo­cratic se­na­tors from red states, she learned, were still from red states; em­brac­ing her agenda would have been sui­ci­dal. War­ren and her aides didn't help. Fired by their sense of moral su­pe­ri­or­ity, they were good at con­dem­na­tion, not coali­tion-build­ing.

When the re­ces­sion of 2021 hit, things got ugly. The fail­ure of two con­sec­u­tive pres­i­den­cies had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on Amer­i­can morale. It be­came ev­i­dent that the na­tion had three political ten­den­cies – con­ser­va­tive pop­ulism, pro­gres­sive pop­ulism and mod­er­ate lib­er­al­ism. None could put to­gether a gov­ern­ing ma­jor­ity to get things done.

Be­fore War­ren, peo­ple thought of lib­er­als and pro­gres­sives as prac­ti­cally syn­ony­mous. Af­ter War­ren, it was clear they had dif­fer­ent agen­das and dif­fer­ent na­tional nar­ra­tives.

Mod­er­ate lib­er­als had a ba­sic faith in Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions and thought they just needed re­form. They had ba­sic faith in cap­i­tal­ism and the Con­sti­tu­tion and revered the clas­si­cal lib­eral phi­los­o­phy em­bed­ded in Amer­ica's found­ing. They in­her­ited Abra­ham Lin­coln and Fred­er­ick Dou­glass' mil­len­nial na­tion­al­ism, a sense that Amer­ica has a spe­cial des­tiny as the last best hope of Earth.

Pro­gres­sives had much less faith in Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions – in cap­i­tal­ism, the Con­sti­tu­tion, the found­ing. They called for more struc­tural change to things like the Supreme Court, the Elec­toral Col­lege and the ba­sic struc­tures of the mar­ket. Trump's vic­tory in 2016 had served for them as proof that racism is the dom­i­nant note in Amer­i­can his­tory – that the found­ing was 1619, not 1776. They were will­ing to step on pro­ce­dural lib­er­al­ism to get rad­i­cal change.

The war within the Demo­cratic Party grew vi­cious. Pro­gres­sives de­tested mod­er­ate lib­er­als even more than they did con­ser­va­tives. The strug­gle came to a head with Demo­cratic pri­maries in 2024.

The mod­er­ate lib­er­als tri­umphed eas­ily. It turns out the im­mi­grant groups, by then a large and or­ga­nized force in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, had not lost faith in the Amer­i­can dream or cap­i­tal­ism. They sim­ply wanted more help so they could com­pete within it.

By 2030, pro­gres­sive pop­ulism burned out as right-wing pop­ulism had. The Democrats ran on a one-word plat­form: unity. Mod­er­ate lib­er­als de­fined Amer­ica as a univer­sal na­tion, a plu­ral­is­tic na­tion, em­brac­ing all and seek­ing op­por­tu­nity for all.

Vot­ers handed power to lead­ers who were coali­tion-builders not fighters. The whole tenor of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics changed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.