Opinion: Where are the liberal lions?

With the surprise announcement of Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinDem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law MORE’s (D-Iowa) retirement, the Senate is fast closing the book on post-Watergate politics that produced a generation of liberal Democrats.


Harkin’s announcement came the same week that five-term Massachusetts Senator John KerryJohn Forbes KerryJohn Kerry to NYU Abu Dhabi: We can't address world problems by 'going it alone' Juan Williams: Trump's dangerous lies on Iran Pompeo: US tried, failed to achieve side deal with European allies MORE left the body to become secretary of State. Earlier this month, another Senate five-termer, West Virginia Senator Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Overnight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term MORE, said he doesn’t plan to run for re-election in 2014. Last month, 8-term Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died.

ADVERTISEMENT
Since the deaths of Massachusetts’s Ted Kennedy and Minnesota’s Paul Wellstone, the Senate has not had a signal, outstanding liberal voice. The liberal faction even takes a back seat to conservative Dems who hold the threat of defecting and costing the party its majority on key votes for gun control, taxes and spending. The conservative Democrats stopped the Democratic majority in the Senate from passing a budget for the last four years for fear it might be attacked as “liberal.”

Now the changing of the liberal guard is well under way and it is unclear which younger Democratic senators will step forward and become the keepers of the liberal flame. Washington Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump official won't OK lifetime limits on Medicaid Dems warn against changes to federal family planning program Overnight Health Care: Drug company under scrutiny for Michael Cohen payments | New Ebola outbreak | FDA addresses EpiPen shortage MORE is proving to be a strong liberal and a wily political strategist. But she has yet to break out as a leading liberal conscience and national voice.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE’s (Nev.) primary liberal credential is that he is a reliable ally in any storm for the man who once ranked as the most liberal politician in the Senate — President Obama. But with a 29 percent job approval rating in the latest New York Times poll, Sen. Reid’s power to define the liberal agenda is confined to his role in the Senate.

Standing behind Reid are two contenders for the mantle of new generation liberal lion: New York’s Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' Free traders applaud Trump as China tariff threat recedes The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ MORE and Illinois’ Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThis week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem lawmaker spars with own party over prison reform MORE. Both are members of the “Gang of Eight,” which unveiled a comprehensive immigration  proposal last week.

But both Majority Whip Durbin and Senate Policy Committee Chair Schumer are busy simply trying to hold their 55-member majority together in support of Obama’s agenda. Their focus is on keeping tabs on potential defections from conservative Democrats such as North Dakota’s Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers target Chinese tech giants | Dems move to save top cyber post | Trump gets a new CIA chief | Ryan delays election security briefing | Twitter CEO meets lawmakers Senate confirms Haspel to head CIA MORE, Indiana’s Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyVoters Dems need aren't impressed by anti-waterboarding showboating Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers target Chinese tech giants | Dems move to save top cyber post | Trump gets a new CIA chief | Ryan delays election security briefing | Twitter CEO meets lawmakers MORE, West Virginia’s Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBlankenship third-party bid worries Senate GOP Overnight Energy: Feds eye rolling back Alaska wildlife rule | Park service releases climate report | Paper mills blamed for water contamination | Blankenship plans third-party Senate run The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ MORE and Montana’s Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThis week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Overnight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary Not only do we need to support veterans, but their caregivers, too MORE.

Over the last 50 years, the Senate’s liberal lions stood out for the capacity to speak as idealists and attract moderate Republicans to their deeply felt causes. One problem for today’s liberals is that there is only one moderate Republican left – Maine’s Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Dem rep to launch discharge petition to force net neutrality vote in House MORE.

Even Republicans who once dared to team with Democrats on break-through legislation, people such as Arizona’s John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Sarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ MORE and South Carolina’s Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Graham: Trump will 'end North Korea’s threat to the American homeland' in his first term Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers weigh in after Texas school shooting MORE, are now living in fear of primary challenges from the far right. They are dealing with Sens. Schumer and Durbin on the current immigration proposal. But that is all a matter of convenience. Republicans need an immigration deal. There is no idealism at play from the right or the left.

Teddy Kennedy rose to become a liberal lion by collaborating with Republicans. His work with conservative Republican Senator Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchCorker turns downs Trump's offer to be ambassador to Australia Democrats urge colleagues to oppose prison reform bill The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate MORE (Utah) will always stand out as an example of liberal leadership that stood above the horse-trading of Washington politics. 

Kennedy was the protector of the Left but he was also a skilled politician able to bring over the center and the right. The result was bipartisan legislation dealing with immigration, entitlements and education. That made Kennedy an effective advocate for the idea of acting in the best interest of the poor, the young, the workingman, women’s rights and equal rights for minorities — old-fashioned liberal idealism.

There is no current Democratic senator close to commanding the kind of stature or authority that Kennedy did. Liberalism does not have a powerful advocate in the halls of Congress today and it shows. 

Last week, the New York Times’ liberal editorial page had enough. Senate Democrats increased their numbers in the last election, the paper editorialized, and have public opinion with them on taxes, guns, education and financial regulation. But those Senate Democrats remain paralyzed by fear. 

The paper cited disappointment with the filibuster reform deal reached by Senate leaders last month. The new rules did nothing to address the abuse of the filibuster and the 60-vote procedural threshold that has been used by the Republican minority to block virtually all legislation. 

After “being out-yelled by strident right-wing ideologues, too many in the Democratic Party still have a case of nerves, afraid of bold action and forth-right principles,” The Times’ editorial argued, in making the case for strong liberal voices to speak up. 

By simply calling for an end to the “silent” filibuster and requiring senators to be present and stand up to conduct an extended filibuster, Democratic Senators Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus Pruitt hires outside attorney as investigations mount: report MORE  (N.M.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyHillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus Watchdog to probe EPA email preservation MORE (Ore.) won praise as budding liberal heroes. 

A generational fight for the future of liberalism is now center stage in the Senate. 

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.