Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Coalition of Liberals Strikes Back at Criticism From Centrist Democrats
WASHINGTON — In a sign of the left’s new aggressiveness, a coalition of liberals is trying to marginalize a centrist Democratic policy group that was responsible for a Wall Street Journal op-ed article this week that said economic populism was “disastrous” for the party.
The coalition, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and three other liberal advocacy organizations have urged their members to contact a group of congressional Democrats who are honorary leaders of the centrist group, Third Way. It published the op-ed article on Monday contending that the liberalism of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio of New York City and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would lead Democrats “over the populist cliff.”
The article — written by Jon Cowan, president of Third Way, and Jim Kessler, its senior vice president for policy — criticizes progressives like Ms. Warren and Mr. de Blasio for opposing measures to cut costs to Social Security and Medicare.
The liberal groups’ campaign has already gotten results, the latest indication that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is ascendant.
Mark Bergman, a spokesman for Representative Allyson Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said she “read the op-ed, thought it was outrageous, disagrees strongly and told Third Way that.” Ms. Schwartz, who is locked in a primary campaign for governor of Pennsylvania, is an honorary chairwoman of Third Way.
Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, an honorary Third Way co-chairman, was also disturbed by the article, said his spokeswoman, Courtney Gidner. “Congressman Crowley has worked with Third Way on a range of issues, such as immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act, but on this matter they strongly disagree,” she said.
While the liberal organizations have been concentrating on members of Congress, Ms. Warren raised questions about the funding sources of policy groups like Third Way. Without specifically mentioning the group, she sent a letter on Wednesday to the chief executives of six of the country’s biggest banks asking them to reveal the groups they help finance.
Shareholders, she wrote, “have a right to know how corporate resources are spent, and, even more important, policy makers and the public should be aware of your contributions and evaluate the work of the think tanks accordingly.”
And on Thursday, the liberal blog Daily Kos announced that it would endorse and raise money only for candidates who promised not to join Third Way.
Taken together, such hardball tactics suggest that emboldened progressives intend to tap into the populist energy coursing through the Democratic Party to ensure that their elected officials hold to the liberal line.
“Given that we are a vast majority of the party’s voters, and represent many of the party’s financial contributors, to see that level of disrespect shown to Elizabeth Warren’s message, you know, we needed to answer fire with fire,” said Mike Lux, a longtime liberal strategist.
By directly going after Ms. Warren, who has an avid following among progressives, Third Way all but ensured that it would get the fight it seemed to want to pick.
While she has repeatedly said she will not run for president, Ms. Warren is seen by many on the left as the candidate who could stop Hillary Rodham Clinton from claiming the Democratic nomination in 2016. And even if Ms. Warren does not run, progressives want to use this period to send a message to Mrs. Clinton that the Democratic Party is now more unabashedly liberal than it was when her husband was elected president in 1992.
Liberals have witnessed the success the right has enjoyed in recent years by using such tough tactics. Conservative groups have pushed Republicans to take a harder line, most recently over the federal health care law, and have seen their leverage with officeholders grow.
“They have been much tougher on their moderates than we have historically,” Mr. Lux said, “and it shows in terms of the policy debate as the Republicans keep moving to the right and our guys keeping getting mushier.”
Asked about the criticism, a Third Way official cited similar efforts by the right.
“We hope that the Democratic tent remains big enough for a serious policy debate and that we don’t begin to drive out those we don’t agree with, like the Republicans have done,” said Matt Bennett, a founder of the group and its vice president for public affairs.
As for the group’s financing, Mr. Bennett said that only “three-tenths of 1 percent” of the annual budget comes from the banks Ms. Warren addressed in her letter.