From the rubble of the 2014 election, a conversation has started about the future of the Democratic Party. Senator Elizabeth Warren is central to that conversation.
This week, we learned that Warren will be joining the Senate Democratic leadership as strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. In this role — created specifically for her — she will help craft the party’s policies and priorities as well as serve as a liaison to progressive groups.
While there is some skepticism about the idea of a "liaison" to base Democratic voters, there is largely agreement that it is a good thing for the Democratic Party to follow her political footsteps. After all, she's adored by big swaths of the Democratic electorate and the public at large. On the campaign trail this fall, she was welcomed with open arms in Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan, and other reddish-purple states, drawing overflow crowds cheering on her message of tougher Wall Street regulation and kinder policies for working people.
But what is it that works about her? What is her special sauce? Other Democratic and progressive candidates ask me all the time how they can capture the intangible "it," that Warren magic. Below, I've dissected her tactics and her policies, which are one and the same, to help candidates better understand how to tread her path.
Take, for example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB); the idea that students should be able to borrow money for school at the same interest rate as banks can borrow money from the federal government; and the idea of adding basic banking — check-cashing, bill-paying, and small loans — to post office locations.
These proposals have a number of things in common. What’s Warren’s formula?
1. Propose big ideas. All of these proposals are big ideas, ambitious in scope, and intended to grapple with large-scale problems. These ideas are not nibbling around the edges. Sixty-eight million vulnerable Americans don't have access to reliable, affordable banking services. Forty million Americans owe a collective $1.2 trillion in student loans. Many lives would be made better if these ideas were brought to life.
2. Be bold. A bold idea has an edge, an in-your-face attitude. A bold idea takes on a villain. The post office proposal, for example, would largely dismantle the scurrilous payday-lending industry, which is part of the larger institutional and structural system that keeps poor people poor. The CFPB was built to challenge credit agencies and swindlers. Implicit in the student-borrowing proposal is a subtle critique of the banking industry.