Politics & Policy

A Progressive with a Punch

Senator Sherrod Brown (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
If the Democratic party weren’t obsessed with identity politics, it’d be nominating Sherrod Brown.

If Ohio’s senior senator were named Sharon Brown instead of Sherrod Brown, progressives would have a plausible political pin-up and a serious alternative to the tawdry boredom of Hillary Clinton’s joyless plod toward her party’s presidential nomination. Drop one of Brown’s consonants and change another, and a vowel, and we might be spared the infatuation of what Howard Dean called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party” for Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Sherrod Brown won’t be considered because the Democratic party’s activist core is incurably devoted to identity politics — the proposition that people are whatever their gender is (or their race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or whatever seems stupendously important at the moment). And the party’s base seems determined to nominate and elect a woman, thereby proving that what has occurred in Britain, Germany, Israel, India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and other nations can happen here. Feel the excitement.

Brown, however, looks, sounds, and acts like a real, as opposed to faculty-club, leftist. Although he is a Yale graduate, he has the rumpled look and hoarse voice of someone who spent last night on the Paris barricades, exhorting les misérables to chuck cobblestones at the forces defending property. And he is not just talk.

Last summer, before the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov, and the rest of the continuing cascade of Barack Obama’s debacles, there occurred a little-noted episode that was a harbinger of the president’s coming difficulties. It was then clear that Obama’s preferred choice to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board was not Janet Yellen but Larry Summers, whom many Democratic senators opposed. Some may have been hostile because Summers’s abrasive manner offended senatorial self-esteem. Others, however, were opposed because of policy rather than vanity: They thought that as Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary and as Obama’s principal economic adviser, Summers had been insufficiently adversarial toward big financial institutions, from some of which he had found remunerative employments since leaving government.

One Democratic senator quickly got 20 colleagues to sign a letter expressing support for Janet Yellen, thereby compelling Obama to retreat on his exercise of a core presidential power, that of making nominations. The impudent perpetrator of this act of lèse-majesté was Brown, who said that given more time he could have gotten the signatures of up to 27 members of the Democratic caucus.

He has sponsored legislation to codify, with caps on insured deposits, the principle that a bank too big to fail is too big to exist. He is impeccably wrong, meaning progressive, about free trade. He is for “fair trade,” a.k.a. protectionism disguised in Pecksniffian sanctimony demanding that less-developed nations adopt stronger labor and environmental standards. And in 2012, a sign outside the Ohio Democratic-party headquarters proclaimed: “Only vehicles assembled by union workers in North America are welcome in this parking lot.”

As a congressman on the House Committee on International Relations in 2003 he, unlike Senator Clinton, was impeccably right in opposing what became the worst foreign-policy blunder in U.S. history, the invasion of Iraq. He was unpersuaded by the supposed evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and said President George W. Bush had not answered questions about the war’s cost, the occupation, and probable Iraqi civilian deaths (which turned out to be more than 125,000).

Warren’s status as the progressives’ heartthrob stems from the theatricality with which she has alighted upon the obvious with a sense of original discovery, and has studiously not drawn the obvious but inconvenient conclusion. She is incandescent with fury about the fact, which it certainly is, that big government is a tireless servant of the strong. She is scandalized by the process by which the regulatory state, progressivism’s achievement, is manipulated by those sufficiently affluent, articulate, and confident to hire manipulative lawyers and lobbyists.

In 1996, Bill Clinton ran for reelection promising to “build a bridge to the 21st century.” Today, here comes Hillary Clinton, trailing clouds of seediness and promising to build a bridge back to the 20th century, promising, evidently, restoration of the 1990s prosperity based on commercialization of the Internet. Asked recently about marijuana, she said she was about to commit “radical candor.” She proceeded to say we should “wait and see” what happens where it is legalized.

Are progressives so preoccupied with gender that they prefer Clinton’s risk-averse careerism, or Warren’s astonished tantrums about the obvious dynamics of big government, to Brown’s authentic progressivism? Yes.

— George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post

George Will — George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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