On Tuesday, I saw what might seem like a very boring article over at Reuters, Brookings Fellow Resigns After Senator Warren Accuses Him of Conflicts. Warren has been pushing a “plan by the Labor Department to try and rein in conflicts posed by brokers who offer retirement advice.” But Wall Street hates it. So Brooking Fellow Robert Litan hooked up with his colleague Hal Singer at the consulting firm Economists Incorporated. And the two of them put out a paper saying the plan would be very bad. But there was some (understandable) lack of disclosure. Not only had Litan been paid $38,800 by the investment firm Capital Group for the research, the firm also provided “feedback” before the paper was published.
In the old days, Brookings was seen as a middle of the road think tank. These days, I hear it referred to as liberal or “liberal leaning” — as if it is the left’s equivalent of the Heritage Foundation. Regardless what you think of Brookings, you would have to admit that Brookings hasn’t changed — the political landscape of this country has changed. And that’s a question of elite opinion, not what actual American voters think. Thus, it should come as no shock that Brookings would employ what I consider a conservative hack.
What bugs me is that Litan worked in the Clinton White House. But it doesn’t surprise me. This is a real divide in the Democratic Party. And how many years have I been ranting that the New Democrats destroyed the party? Again: this isn’t about the actual voters. The Democratic establishment has become far more conservative on economic issues than the base voters. This is the same thing that happened to the Labour Party in the UK. And look what happened there. The only reason I haven’t turned against Hillary Clinton is that I think she has always been a lot more liberal on economic issues than her husband.
But I do feel that there are rumblings in the party. I don’t expect any kind of revolt. But it does seem that the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” is going to start to discipline the party. Because let’s face it: the “rush to the right” has not worked out well. In addition to getting us conservative Democratic policy like ending “welfare as we know it,” we’ve ended up with a hard right Republican Party — unwilling to compromise on anything at all.
So I’m glad that Warren is pushing back against this. The truth is that we can’t just accept that someone being a Democrat means that they are anywhere near on the right side of economic issues. In fact, the Democratic Party has been — from Clinton right through Obama — in love with neoliberal policy. That seems to be changing now. Of course, it may all be too late. We really have allowed our whole political system to drift too far to the right and I’m not sure how we get back a sane system. But a precondition is for party actors like Elizabeth Warren to stand up to corporate cogs flying under the Democratic banner.