Struggle for the Soul, or Just Stale Kabuki?

I literally groaned aloud when I read this headline from The Hill a couple days ago: “Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing.”

The accompanying article by Kevin Cirilli was exactly what I expected: the congressional New Democratic Coalition, with advice from the Progressive Policy Institute, Third Way, and the New Democrat Network, is going to release some sort of agenda/messaging document, like every other identifiable Democratic group in Washington. One of the NDC members and PPI president Will Marshall allowed as how they think Democrats need to talk about economic growth as well as redistribution. Nobody said a damn thing about Elizabeth Warren, other than the NDC member who called her a “great leader.” Yet in Cirilli’s mind–and perhaps this was planted there by one of the “centrists” speaking off the record–this is a “strike” being readied against Warren, if not a full-fledged Struggle for the Soul of the Party.

Ironically, the only Democrat quoted in the piece as directly suggesting Warren’s approach might be politically off was Howard Dean, not exactly your classic “centrist.”

And indeed, Dean’s quote may have been what motivated the esteemed Democratic activist and strategist Mike Lux to rise to Cirilli’s bait and pen an angry response to the “DC centrists” at HuffPost.

Lux accuses the “centrists” of building up “straw men” of populists like Warren bashing the wealthy. But he seems to be attacking his own “straw men” in interpreting a plea for attention from the NDC as some sort of intraparty Big Bertha.

I cannot speak for any of these people, though I know most of them (other than Dean) pretty well. But it sure sounds like a “fight,” to the extent one actually exists, born of ancient grievances rather than anything said by Elizabeth Warren or anybody else in the present tense.

As a veteran of the intraparty wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, I really don’t know that this is what the Donkey Party needs right now, when Democrats are more in accord on big issues than at any time in my own memory, and with a pretty important election ahead. Yes, of course, there are significant differences among Democrats on policy issues; we’re about to see one of them, on trade policy, blow up for a bit. But it’s just ridiculous to see everybody reaching for their guns over vague nuances of emphasizing this over that theme in messaging documents that nobody’s read and that frankly few will ever read.

There are plenty of calm ways to talk about legitimate differences, and when it comes down to it, primaries are available to let the rank-and-file decide. Perhaps the very first step would be for Democrats to avoid the temptation to seek attention through media types who are trolling for a “Democrats in disarray” article. If I were them, I sure wouldn’t have Kevin Cirilli on speed-dial status.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.