What I learned from last Sunday's Charlotte, South Carolina Democratic debate, the last debate before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, is that Bernie Sanders the idealist is almost a reincarnation of candidate Barack Obama in 2008 when Barack Obama was the fiery progressive on the campaign trail.
Last week, I wrote a piece in this space lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans as friends of Wall Street and enemies of Main Street -- a useful party differentiation between now and 2016.
In principle, Saturday's vote to keep the government open should be the perfect curtain-raiser for the political debates between now and the 2016 election. As their price for averting a government shutdown, Republicans demanded and got a gutting of one of the most important provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, preventing banks from speculating with government insured money. Agencies hated by Republicans such as the Environmental Protection Agency took big cuts, and a rider was inserted permitting "mountaintop removal" coal mining once again. Another extraneous provision demanded by conservatives permits massive increase in individual campaign contributions. Far worse will be directed at ordinary working families when the new Congress meets in January.
If you want to understand what makes Elizabeth Warren so special in American politics, consider her nervy leadership of the campaign to block President Obama's foolish nomination of one Antonio Weiss to be the top Treasury official in charge of the domestic financial system, including enforcement of the Dodd-Frank Act. For most of his Wall Street career, Weiss has epitomized everything that reeks about financial abuses. As chief of international mergers and acquisitions for Lazard, Weiss orchestrated what are delicately known as "corporate inversions," in which a domestic corporation moves its nominal headquarters offshore, to avoid its U.S. taxes. And that's only the beginning. Many of the other deals orchestrated by Weiss resulted in operating companies being bought and sold by giant conglomerates, where the "savings" and "increased efficiency" came mainly from tax breaks and reduced worker compensation.