PHOENIX — Speaking to a packed hall of supporters on Friday, progressive hero Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., declared that liberals are winning the battle for American public opinion.
“Our values are America’s values, and America’s values are progressive values,” Warren said during her keynote address at the liberal Netroots Nation conference.
Warren’s speech was the centerpiece event at the conference, an annual gathering of liberal activists, operatives and communicators taking place this year in Phoenix. Thousands of people crammed into a convention center ballroom to hear Warren speak, and the crowd included many who had supported the campaign to draft her into the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
Warren is not running for president, as she reaffirmed yet again during her keynote speech. Instead, in November she accepted a role within the Senate Democratic caucus as an emissary between party leadership and the broader progressive movement.
That job has positioned her at the nexus of a sometimes troubled relationship between the Democratic Party’s central leadership and the broader base of activists on which the party relies for a significant amount of support. In a speech aimed squarely at the latter, Warren argued that Democrats should hew more closely to progressive values — for both strategic and moral reasons.
“I’m going to make an announcement to insider Washington: America is more progressive than you are,” she said.
This year’s Netroots Nation comes near the beginning of the presidential primary season, when Democratic hopefuls court the party’s liberal base in hopes of winning the nomination. Warren’s speech, although directed most obviously at her core base of supporters, also appeared to be an argument for how Democratic contenders should manage their campaigns. The more stridently progressive the Democratic Party becomes, she said, the more its message would resonate with voters.
To make that point, she cited polling that indicates a majority of Americans — Democrats and non-Democrats alike — approve of measures including a higher minimum wage, guaranteed paid sick leave, and student loan reform.
“As different as we are, on these key economic issues — on the economic issues that will shape future of this country — America is progressive,” Warren said.
That message appears to hold some resonance for the current slate of Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an outspoken socialist and favorite among Netroots Nation attendees, has based his campaign strategy on the premise that ideologically disparate political tribes can be united through a message of economic populism. Similarly, although frontrunner Hillary Clinton is more closely affiliated with the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, she has taken pains to stake out progressive stances on issues such as immigration reform.
In drafting her proposal for tackling student debt, Clinton’s campaign has reportedly consulted with policy analysts connected to Warren.
Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told Al Jazeera that Warren’s central role within Democratic politics has enabled her to help shift the party leftward.
“I think she has tremendous influence,” Taylor said. “I think she’s an important leader for the party and that she’s been setting the agenda. When she picks a fight, it’s a fight that’s going to be important and that people are going to rally behind."