The rise of the populists: Could Warren, Cruz and Sessions change Washington?
Yet in her recent opposition to federal spending legislation, Warren correctly noted that reinstituting federal insurance for riskier financial products like credit default swaps was a concession to the largest banks in America, contrary to the interests of most taxpayers. Credit default swaps caused significant damage in the most recent recession. But for taxpayer-funded bailouts, companies like AIG would likely have failed because of their derivative exposure.
“If big Wall Street banks want to gamble with their own money, so be it,” said Warren. “Let them take their risks with their own money, and let them live with the consequences of those risks. That is how markets are supposed to work.”
Wait a minute. How is a Massachusetts liberal sounding like a free-market conservative?
For many liberals, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, seems to be little more than a “Cruz” missile specifically targeted at the federal government. Berated for his hardball tactics and persistent interest in picking policy fights, Cruz believes that Washington has failed America. “The rules of the game [in Washington, D.C.] have resulted in bankrupting our kids and grandkids, and seeing our constitutional liberties eroded, and enough is enough,” Cruz noted.
If he had not blistered his establishment colleagues enough, Cruz drove home the point:
You look at this omnibus that just passed Congress. It’s 1.1 trillion dollars of every payoff for special interest, for lobbyists, for K Street, all of them got taken care of, it was the perfect example of Washington corruption. But you know the people who were not taken care of is the working men and women, the millions of conservatives, grassroots activists, who showed up and gave Republicans the majority.
Was that a Republican railing against corporate cronyism to protect working Americans?
Then Alabama’s Jeff Sessions asked a particularly pointed question, “Why can’t Americans get representation in their own Senate?”
Perhaps that question is the driving force for the growing populist movement challenging Washington’s establishment culture. Americans have reached the breaking point with Washington’s bipartisan oligarchy. Who do members of Congress actually represent?
For many voters, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has felt more like a government of the powerful, by the politicians, for the connected. Rarely are the interests of the average American served by having their tax dollars subsidize, favor, bail out or insure large corporations, unions or interest groups. Yet those entities always seem to be at the front of the line when it comes to government spending, regulation and tax treatment.
Certainly their interests should be considered, but how do they balance out against the attention legislators pay to their average constituent?
For Warren, Cruz and Sessions, the answer is relatively clear. They represent the voters who sent them to Washington. Each acts for a significantly different type of voter, but each is more interested in garnering favor with the people back home than with Washington’s power brokers. They all understand the simmering outrage of voters who feel that their elected representatives have largely left them behind.
The question is whether the emerging class of populist politicians will be able to channel that outrage into a positive force that allows them to actually change Washington. Defiant protests and political fights may inspire their political bases, but they must also be able to band together and reach legislative compromises that benefit the common American.
Warren, Cruz and Sessions may have lost their battle against the recent omnibus, but they are far from finished. In fact, the rise of the populists may very well continue as an incoming class of legislators thinks long and hard about whom they truly represent.