How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

What happens if Hillary Clinton doesn't run for President?

If Hillary Clinton decides not to enter the race for the presidency in 2016, there could be a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party between Wall Street-friendly centrists such as Andrew Cuomo and Cory Booker and anti-corporate populists such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio.

For many years, Democrats tended to agree on a broad range of economic issues and fought with one another over national security issues. Nowadays, the pendulum has shifted.

In a November 2013 article in The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson wrote, “Democrats agree on what could be termed a basic economic program: raising taxes on the rich, increasing the minimum wage, investing more in infrastructure and education, extending health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. But at the state and, even more, the municipal level, they have substantial differences over the role of unions, the future of public education, and the privatization of services. The differences between Cory Booker and Bill de Blasio illustrate just how wide these gaps have grown.”

It is often difficult to distinguish Republicans from Democrats when it comes to issues involving public education and public employees. Prominent Democratic mayors such as Rahm Emanuel, Antonio Villaraigosa and Cory Booker have been strong advocates for charter schools and have constantly battled with their city’s unions regarding pension and tenure issues. On these issues, it’s hard to see much daylight between the position of these Democratic mayors and Republican Govs. Scott Walker and Chris Christie.

Democrats are also divided as to what extent financial markets should be regulated. The more progressive wing of the party favors much stronger regulation and the more centrist wing less stringent oversight. The advocates of less oversight have ruled the roost during both the Clinton and Obama administrations (Treasury Secretaries Richard Rubin, Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner). Their legacy is the deregulation of the financial industry — passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which critics argue will do little to prevent a future financial meltdown.

In The American Prospect article, Meyerson wrote that the treasury secretaries’ “resistance to stricter oversight and the greater emphasis they placed on protecting banks than on protecting homeowners upset congressional liberals. Most progressives, though, were generally unwilling to go public with their criticism until after Barack Obama won re-election. That constraint removed, [last] summer they successfully blocked the president’s expected appointment of Summers to the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve.”

If Hillary doesn’t run, progressives will face a dilemma: Do they go with a centrist who at least will not further decimate the safety net or do they try to elect a long-shot candidate who will confront the seminal issue of our times, growing income inequality?

Most progressives are truly enamored of Elizabeth Warren’s recent performance before the Senate and her ability to take the squeezing of the poor and middle class and weave it into a coherent narrative. We like the fact that The New Republic reported that during her banking committee hearing, she set off a furor when she asked banking regulators to “‘[t]ell me a little bit about the last few times you’ve taken the financial institutions on Wall Street all the way to trial.’ The question, though eminently reasonable, violated an unstated rule of committee protocol, in which members of Congress are allowed to rant and rave at length but generally abstain from humiliating appointees, especially from their own party.”

We love that she is bucking the tide and calling for expansion, not shrinking, of Social Security, the nation’s most important human care program, which has saved tens of millions of seniors from a subsistence existence. As columnist E.J. Dionne wrote, “Elizabeth Warren argue[d] that Social Security is not providing enough for low- and middle-income retirees and that making the program financially secure will necessarily involve lifting the Social Security tax cap.”

We purr when Warren says, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

If Hillary doesn’t run and if Elizabeth Warren is able to mobilize the public support she has for reforming the banking industry and mold it into legislation that will demonstrate that meaningful regulation will not thwart markets and she is able to somehow build on the support of various progressive mayors who won election last year, a growing number of Democrats who identify as progressives may well see her as the best choice for the presidency in 2016.

Progressives are a minority in my party, but that should not prevent us from heeding the words of Dag Hammarskjöld to “never for the sake of peace and quiet deny your own experience or conviction.”