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Webb - Dems Future Lies In Rejecting Rubin Wing; Is Obama Listening?

07/17/2007 10:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Following the New York Times' belated report on how economic populism is on the rise in the Democratic Party, I caught this from Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) in today's Washington Times:

"He criticized what he called 'the Rubin wing of the Democratic Party,' after Robert E. Rubin, former President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, saying those Democrats share the same problem as many Republicans: 'We're not paying attention to what has happened to basic working people in the country.' He said of the freshman Senate Democrats, six of them take a 'populist' view, and said they are bringing needed reinforcements to the Senate: 'We've got a number of us that pretty well see the economic issues the same way. I think that's the Democratic Party of the future.'"

This critique from Webb echoes his earlier statements, and regular readers know that I couldn't agree more. Whether it's wages, jobs, outsourcing, globalization, health care or pension protection, the future of the Democratic Party lies in leaders who are willing to take on the fundamental issues of corporate power and wealth concentration in a sustained way - David Broders and Joe Kleins be damned.

At the presidential level, John Edwards (D) should be congratulated for making economic populism the centerpiece of his campaign. And I'm encouraged by signs that suggest Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) seems to be figuring it out as well. The Washington Post reports this morning that "Obama's campaign is doing some retooling: He is focusing more on the economy, which was the subject of a town hall meeting in Iowa last week as well as recent events in South Carolina." And the New York Times reported yesterday that Obama smacked down what I have called the Great Education Myth - the Tom Friedman-ish concept that the path to economic success is not to challenge any Big Money interests, but simply to educate our way out of our troubles - as if that's possible. Here's Barack smackdown:

"While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy -- get more education for higher-skilled jobs -- were losing out. 'People were told, you've got to be trained for high-tech jobs,' Mr. Obama said, "and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.'"

This is a fairly different Barack Obama than I met a year and a half ago when I interviewed him for The Nation. It's unclear whether this apparent change is happening because he's reacting to Edwards, or because he's trying to differentiate himself from the Establishment campaign of Hillary Clinton - or, perhaps, because he's a good politician and sees the truth that Webb stated. Either way, I say the more Democratic politicians who stand up for ordinary folks and refuse to parrot their Wall Street donors' rhetoric, the better.

Cross-posted at Working Assets

UPDATE: A reader writes to remind me that before I get too psyched by Obama's potential populism, I should remember that the Illinois senator lists executives at Lehman Brothers ($160,760), Citadel Investment Group ($152,150), Goldman Sachs ($103,550), JP Morgan Chase ($101,950) and Rubin's employer Citigroup ($61,125) as his campaign's top contributors. That is, indeed, troubling - though I will counter by saying that at least his campaign has thousands of small-dollar contributors to counter the influence that these Wall Street titans undoubtedly are exerting to "refine" his economic positions, as Businessweek has reported.