Can Don Berwick Capture the Warren Wing?

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball wrote an interesting piece last week titled The Left’s Quiet Advance in Democratic Primaries. She was careful not to claim too much for the evidence she collected but still, progressives are cheering in several congressional districts across the country. The Warren Wave began right here in Massachusetts. Will Don Berwick seize the mantle?

Ms. Ball notes that progressives are cheering primary wins by candidates from “Elizabeth Warren’s Wing” over more moderate “corporate Democrats.” In New Jersey Warren Winger Bonnie Watson Coleman easily defeated her moderate opponent, campaigning on familiar Warren economic themes. In Iowa Pat Murphy dubbed himself the “bold progressive” in the race and defeated four opponents handily. The head of the Progressive Change Committee declared that “A message of economic populism is what actually excites voters and drives them to the polls.”

So far though Berwick presents as more of a social justice progressive than an economic progressive like Warren. The two issues on which he has distinguished himself from Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman are single-payer health care and on repeal of the casinos legislation, where both of his opponents are happy to do a Cold War style duck and cover and let the Supreme Judicial Court decide; though Coakley had ruled in favor of the casinos as Attorney General.  Berwick’s convention speech stressed social justice issues, using words derived from “just” on eight occasions, the word “jobs” once almost in passing, and never uttered the word economy. He talked poverty but not economic populism.

Where do Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman stand? Grossman has stressed economic themes some, declaring in his convention speech the intent to be a “progressive job creator.” Since job creator is Republican code for protect the rich you have to wonder about the signal. I was unable to listen in to last week’s WGBH candidate debate but from what I understand Grossman was touting business themes like “closing the skills gap” and “innovation economy.” He has been a successful businessman so he has the credibility on such topics. Maybe that is what a “progressive job creator” is but it isn’t economic populism. On casinos he faces the same problem that Coakley has: core Democratic supporters in labor see casinos as a jobs creator (“progressive jobs creator”?; I doubt it). He is in no position to exploit any vulnerability Coakley has on casinos.

I recently wrote of Coakley’s casinos dance that “it is a case of siding with moneyed interests over the desire of citizens to take direct action on the question through the referendum process. That makes Coakley, at least on this one important issue, the leader of the state’s progressive conservatives.” A little harsh, maybe? Then try this from a recent Joan Vennochi column in the Boston Globe: “As she campaigns for governor, Attorney General Martha Coakley says she wants to be a voice for the people. But when it comes to the deal she struck with Partners Healthcare, so far the voices she’s most interested in hearing belong to the powerful players behind Partners.”

So will anyone surf the Warren wave? It’s hard for traditional interest group liberals like Coakley and Grossman who have been around awhile and are intertwined with powerful interests. Warren was an outsider and didn’t owe anybody; so is Berwick. But so far he sounds more like Pope Francis than Saint Elizabeth. That leaves the Warren wing up for grabs.






About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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