Paging Elizabeth Warren: This is your moment.
In 2007, Democrats were delirious with rage about the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton, the "inevitable" presidential front-runner, had voted for the war and refused to apologize for it. Other leading candidates, including Joe Biden, John Edwards and Chris Dodd, voted for it too. This left a huge opening for a credible antiwar candidate. Barack Obama, inexperienced and underqualified, nonetheless jumped into the vacuum. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the issue that obsesses the base of the Democratic Party is income inequality. I think that's foolish. The underlying causes of inequality -- miserable economic growth, stagnating wages, poverty, etc. -- are vastly more worthy challenges. Though, in fairness, many people actually have those problems in mind when they talk about inequality.
There's another component to the inequality obsession: populism. People increasingly feel that economic and political elites are enriching themselves, not by making great products or selling valuable services, but by cutting backroom deals and selling influence. This rage is remarkably bipartisan. It is the one theme that loosely unites tea partiers and Wall Street occupiers alike.
Obscure economics professor David Brat toppled House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary largely by tapping into that populism, particularly on such issues as immigration and Wall Street bailouts.
Sen. Warren owes her left-wing hero status to the Democratic version of this kind of populism. She's been talking for years about how the well-connected "rig the system" for their own benefit. Now, I find many of Warren's proposed solutions -- more regulation, more taxes, more government, etc. -- abhorrent. But, believe it or not, I am not a Democratic primary voter. Those who are love what Warren is selling.
Which is why Warren is perfectly poised to be the Obama of 2016. And the role of Hillary Clinton will be played by Hillary Clinton.
Warren would be able to defuse Clinton's greatest asset (her gender) and exploit Clinton's greatest liability (her wealth and how she came by it) while in the process generating huge excitement from the status-quo-weary grass roots.
Start with gender. The Clinton team is reviving the ludicrous claim that opposition to her candidacy is sexist. (They tried that line on Team Obama in 2008, but Team Obama came back with insinuations of racism.) What fun it would be to watch the Clintons try to spin support for Warren as sexist.