[Third Way is] not afraid that Warren will run for president, they’re afraid that she’ll be so popular that other senators to start acting like her. They’re worried that she’ll have money to direct to candidates who share her views. They’re worried that Warren might embarrass Democrats into passing stricter bank regulations. They’re worried that finance’s iron grip on the Democratic Party might weaken. The impetus for writing the editorial was Third Way’s realization that Warren was sabotaging the decades-long project that turned cutting Social Security into a bipartisan goal. A lot of money and time was spent encouraging elite consensus around “entitlement reform,” and suddenly a bunch of senators are talking about making the program more generous. That, of course, is a wildly popular idea, judging by all polling conducted on the subject, but the anti-populism backlash relies on reinforcing the common Washington idea that it is brave to oppose policies most people want and would benefit from. The bankers and CEOs who back Third Way understand that their policy preferences have won out in the Democratic Party in spite of popular opinion.
Conservatives understood this in 1964. They proceeded to take over the entire Republican Party. I think most Warren supporters understand that the goal of “economic populism” isn’t getting an economic populist into the White House, but rather to change the way economic arguments are conducted in Washington and by Democratic politicians. The point is to make sure Cory Bookers don’t happen anymore.
Parene is right, that it doesn't matter who's president. What matters far more now is who owns the congress, and who owns the dominant frame, aka "elite opinion".
The media isn't interested in structural questions or underlying frame battles. It can only focus on personalities, and that's why Elizabeth Warren is important. She's a compelling personality who in drawing media attention to herself also draws attention to her challenge to the existing dominant neoliberal frame and her program to replace it with an economic populist frame. If a Clinton v. Warren media narrative is the way to keep this frame debate in the public eye, great.
Elite consensus matters far more than public opinion. Public opinion doesn't matter at all unless it can be mobilized. Public opinion is 'Entish", to use a LOTR reference. It's slow to mobilize, and needs a catalyst. It will be interesting to see if Elizabeth Warren can play the catalytic role that Third Way fears. I hope so, but I had hopes once that Howard Dean could do it, and then there was Obama who talked about the need to change the rules. The powers that be have all kinds of ways to neutralize would-be frame crashers. I stay hopeful, but I'm not optimistic.
Surprising things can happen. I don't think anybody in Argentina expected that their Cardinal Bergoglio to turn into Pope Francis. I'm sensing a shift that's in the air regarding the way we frame the economic debate. Third Way seems worried about it. Whether it's deep or superficial remains to be seen.