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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Social liberalism is not enough

by David Atkins

Yesterday I wrote about the inadequacy of the new neoliberal consensus that prioritizes economic conservatism and social liberalism. Add as further fuel to that fire:

It’s the three words Wall Street banks do not want to hear: Chairman Sherrod Brown.

With Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson announcing Tuesday he will retire after 2014, the Ohio senator who has made bashing big banks his trademark has a complicated, yet very plausible, pathway to the committee gavel — which would put him in a powerful position to move and promote his legislative priorities.

“It would be a monumental shift in terms of both tone and substance from the [Chris] Dodd and Johnson chairmanships,” said Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading, of the prospect of Brown leading the committee. “I think everything from too-big-to-fail banks all the way down to issues impacting the unbanked and underbanked would suddenly see a new energy behind them.”
But there is someone the big banks would much prefer--and expect--to see as chairman. That person is Chuck Schumer.

The biggest question facing his ascension: Does Sen. Chuck Schumer want the job?

“It’d be a tough decision for him,” said a source familiar with Schumer’s thinking. “It would not be a sure thing for him to take it.”

The New York Democrat is a member of leadership and the top contender to replace Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid if he relinquishes his post in the next few years.

Taking the Banking Committee gavel would require Schumer to strike a delicate balance between his increasingly populist caucus and a key home-state industry, which has been grumbling since the financial crisis that he hasn’t done enough to defend it against attacks.

It’s precisely these politics that lead many of the former staffers, lobbyists and watchdog groups that follow the committee closely to believe Schumer will pass on the chairmanship.

“Letting Brown become chairman could bolster Schumer’s standing with the liberal wing of the party and help him in any eventual contest to replace Harry Reid as majority leader,” Jaret Seiberg, who monitors the banking industry in Washington for the Guggenheim Washington Research Group, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.

Some in the banking industry said they believe Schumer will not let the opportunity to head a key committee that directly affects New York pass him by regardless of whatever awkward politics it entails.

“I’m quite certain that his current thinking is that if the chair were to be open tomorrow, he would take it,” one financial industry lobbyist said. “I haven’t heard anyone really worried about Sherrod Brown because I don’t believe that’s a likely possibility in 2015.”
Chuck Schumer is a fine Senator. Socially progressive. Fairly economically progressive as well. He's even been making some hay against the financial behemoths. But everyone knows that when push comes to shove, Chuck will likely protect Wall Street from any serious consequences.

And that's the problem. Much as social liberalism is a critically important part of the puzzle, and much as it's amazing that we're just steps away from every LGBT having the right to potentially marry, that isn't enough to be considered a valuable legislator. That should be a baseline.

Back when the Democratic Party depended heavily on legislators from good ol' boy areas of the country, there was a distinct divide on social issues, wherein there was significant division among party leaders on those fronts. But those days are past. Being good on choice, marriage equality and other issues should be a given. It should be square one for any Democratic candidate.

The true test of mettle has to be on economics.