Agitated by 'Pathetic Centrists,' Progressive Populists Strike Back

Progressives on the march? Perhaps a bit premature, but a string of DC-based headlines this week suggest that the “corporate-friendly centrists” in Washington policy circles are losing the rhetorical battle when it comes to the national discussion surrounding economic populism:

“It’s just so tired and tiring. If being a “centrist” means fact-free denunciations of progressives for not being willing to cut entitlements, who needs these guys?” –Paul Krugman

  • Coalition of Liberals Strikes Back at Criticism From Centrist Democrats (NYT)
  • ‘Centrist’ think tank attacks Warren, sparks major blowback (MSNBC)
  • Elizabeth Warren Calls Third Way ‘Flatly Wrong’ In Social Security Fight (Huffington Post)
  • Bye-bye, fake liberals: The Warren Democrats are winning! (
  • The Wall Street Journal’s pathetic attack on Elizabeth Warren (
  • Economic Populism Still the Right—and the Winning—Choice (
  • Third Way’s Anti-Populist, Anti-Warren and Deceptive “Dead End” (CAF)

Adding evidence to the notion that progressives are willing to go on offense against the forces of the “establishment’s faux centrism”—represented by former public officials, corporate-funded Beltway pundits, and the mainstays of the mainstream media—a series of scathing attacks against the group “Third Way” have continued nearly a week after two prominent members of the group published an op-ed calling for cuts to Social Security and a rejection of the populism that is bubbling up across the nation.

In just the latest hit on the Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal at the beginning of the week, economist Paul Krugman called the so-called “centrism” of the ‘Third Way’ representatives “pathetic.” Describing their arguments as intellectually bankrupt, Krugman concluded:

The Economic Policy Institute’s Joshua Smith wrote in response to the op-ed:

And Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for Salon (though she acknowledgeed she was “very late to the Third Way-trashing party”), said the real story isn’t the tired antics of the “corporate centrists”—which have become painfully familiar—but the “sustained feistiness among progressives” that is becoming increasingly evident.

“Sen. Warren sent a letter to six big banks urigng them to dislcose the think tanks and lobby shops they fund—the implication being that much of the backing for groups advocating the kind of business-friendly economic policies supported by Third Way comes, undisclosed, from Wall Street.” –HuffPo

That so-called “feistiness” was explored in an article in the New York Times on Thursday which reported how the “left’s new aggressiveness” was on display as DC progressive groups, including the Campaign for America’s Future and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, coalesced around the Cowan/Kessler op-ed in order to assert the strength (and political wisdom) now represented in the rhetoric of progressive populists.

As MSNBC‘s Zachary Roth analyzed the developments:

In fact, subsequent to that reporting, Schwartz came out in support of a progressive House bill calling for the strengthening of Social Security, a move interpreted as the congresswoman trying to strengthen her support on the left.

In comments made directly to the Huffington Post, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the ‘Third Way’ was just “flatly wrong” on their policy prescription for Social Security.

“We could make modest adjustments and make the system financially stable for a century, and we could make somewhat larger adjustments and make the system pay more for seniors who rely on it,” she said. “The conversation for too long has been about whether to cut Social Security benefits a little bit or a lot. And that is flatly the wrong debate to have in mind.”

“The Social Security system is not adding to the debt at all,” she said. “More importantly, if we made no changes at all, Social Security would pay out at its current level for about 20 years, at which point it would drop by about 25 percent and pay out forever into the future.”

In his assessment this week, Campaign for America’s Future senior fellow Richard Eskow, lumped the political thinking of ‘Third Way’ supporters with the worst inclinations of the Democratic Party represented by President Bill Clinton’s pro-corporate policies in the 90’s, subsequently upheld by the “Blue Dog” Democrat coalition in Congress. Eskow writes:


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