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Markos Moulitsas: The rise of the left

Corporatist Democrats have been marginalized in recent years. They’ve suffered the near extinction of the Blue Dog Caucus, the departure of Senate allies like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson and the rise of economic populists such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Last week, they struck back in a seemingly coordinated fashion — but their effort seems more likely to be a last gasp than a resurgence.

Al From, former head of the now-defunct ConservaDem Democratic Leadership Council, released a book no one will read and tried to hitch his wagon to Hillary Clinton. “If Hillary runs, I’ll be there 100 percent,” he said, giving the Democratic left reason to start looking for a Plan B. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, fresh off writing about how slavery wasn’t as benign as he once thought, piled on, “[Elizabeth] Warren, like the old saying about second marriages, could well be the triumph of hope over experience.”

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Receiving the most attention was a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, written by Third Way leaders, blasting the Democratic Party’s new economic populism. It was a heck of a piece, calling Social Security a “populist political and economic fantasy” — even though the authors admitted the program was solvent in its current state until at least 2031 — and warning Democrats not to fall over the “populist cliff” by following the likes of Warren and New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. In support of their claims, the op-ed pointed to the defeat in Colorado of “a referendum to raise taxes on high-income Coloradans.”

The idea that Democrats should ignore 2012 electoral victories built on anti-Wall Street populism because of an off-off-year ballot initiative in Colorado that raised taxes on the rich would be silly enough. The fact that the initiative didn’t just raise taxes on the rich but on everyone renders the assertion ludicrous.

But such dishonesty is unsurprising. Third Way is little more than a Wall Street front group. Of the 29 members on its board of trustees, 20 are investment bankers, and four are senior corporate officials. Their agenda is at odds with that of regular Americans. So, they pretend that a Colorado ballot initiative was something that it wasn’t while screaming about the dangers of following Elizabeth Warren off a cliff, because they can’t truthfully argue that Democrats can win elections by running on a platform cutting Social Security and other safety net programs.

Despite the corporatists’ focus on Warren, today’s populist boom isn’t attributable to just one senator. There’s a growing vocal caucus on the left, including Sens. Jeff Merkley, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Martin Heinrich and Bernie Sanders. And they draw their strength from the economic reality of our times — we wouldn’t be talking about populism today without the recession created by Wall Street’s rampant greed and destructive tendencies.

Populist Democrats won Senate races in Montana and North Dakota by running on protecting Social Security. Democrat Bob Kerrey ran on cutting it in Nebraska and lost badly.

Ironically, Third Way’s op-ed did have a major impact on the political debate, with Democrats across the party’s spectrum (including organization co-chairwoman Rep. Allyson Schwartz) taking the opportunity to not just affirm support for Social Security but pledging to expand it.

It’s certainly not what those Wall Street hacks intended, but they might as well get used to it. They broke our economy. They don’t get to do the same to the Democratic Party.

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.