Last week, I published a portion of my interview with MoveOn.org president Justin Ruben, where he singled-out Virginia Sen. Mark Warner for what he called “shameful” votes on gun legislation.
Ruben also talked about the difference between the two party’s primary electorates and the third rail issue of Social Security. Then there’s what he wouldn’t say about Hillary Clinton that was of note.
Here’s the rest of the conversation:
Catanese: Do you think the gun control vote will be a litmus test vote for all candidates going forward?
Ruben: Our members are absolutely appalled at the vote in the Senate and the fact that even after the horrific violence in Newtown, that the most common sense reforms are beyond the reach of the Senate due to the cowardice of too many U.S. Senators and the influence of the gun lobby. Our members are beyond livid. [They're] sad, angry, frustrated and outraged across the country.
Catanese: Do you feel the same way about that [Sen. Warner] is willing to cooperate with the president on entitlement cuts, particularly Social Security?
Ruben: Yeah, I mean, more broadly, I think that debate is still playing out. I think our members are super passionate about protecting Social Security. There’s been a ton of grassroot progressive energy on it. I think this is in particular an issue, where the politicians in Washington are in a little bit of a bubble, a serious bubble, if they think that voters don’t care that they’re going to cut Social Security. Any Democrat who is voting to cut Social Security benefits is probably kissing his or her presidential aspirations goodbye.
Catanese: So you think Social Security cuts and gun control legislation will still be resonant issues come 2015-2016?
Ruben: I think so. I tend to stay away from prognostication . . . but we’ve seen on the right how the right-wing base, some of these key votes have resonance for years. The vote for Obamacare, right. When people at the grassroots are passionate about something, the impact of a single vote can resonate for a long time. And it certainly seems like people are just sort of stunned that after Newtown, the NRA still has a lock on our national politics.
Catanese: You mention these votes still resonate on the right, one vote. The right obviously has tons of primaries. Is there a reason it’s not the same on the left, just looking back at cycles. There doesn’t seem like there’s much of a challenge from the left to the establishment, in many of these House or Senate races. Is that a different mindset or approach as far as tactics, as far as not going after the establishment Dems as much as the right goes after the establishment Republicans?
Ruben: There are definitely different dynamics in the Democratic and Republican primary electorate. One of those dynamics is, from the polling I’ve seen, the Republican primary electorate, those folks really can’t stand politicians. There are primaries where a house plant could win, at least have a decent shot, if it wasn’t from Washington. They made the primaries more volatile. That being said, levels of disgust with Washington across the board are reaching basically unheard of heights right now. I think as that disgust with Washington reaches kind of stratospheric heights, it seems perfectly plausible to imagine the Democratic primary electorate might start acting like the Republican primary electorate.
Catanese: I was curious what you made of some of the other progressive groups the other day, that PCCC (Progressive Change Campaign Committee) and DFA (Democracy for America) praised Elizabeth Warren, saying she would make a good alternative, if Hillary Clinton doesn’t come out against Social Security cuts. You wouldn’t go that far?
Ruben: We’re not speaking out on individual candidates, just because our members haven’t weighed in. We have a process for that. What I will say about Elizabeth Warren is she’s proving to be a real fighter and our members raised a million dollars to support her candidacy and that’s what they were hoping for. And so, people are excited to see somebody who promises to go to Washington and take up the fight and actually does it.
Catanese: And what do you think about Hillary Clinton’s record.
Ruben: I don’t want to comment on that. We have a long history. We worked with Sen. Clinton on tons of stuff, going all the way back to our founding, impeachment.
Catanese: But do you think she’s a progressive?
Ruben: Yeah, I think I don’t want to be drawn in to sort of pronouncing on different people because I’ll end up outside the mandate that I have from our members.
Catanese: But the hesitancy is, you’ll let your members weigh in first before you start speaking more specifically?
Ruben: That’s our plan. We might advocate one way or another with candidates on particular issues but pronouncing ‘Is this person a progressive?’ I’m trying to be careful about that. That gets into tipping our hat one way or another. That’s something I definitely don’t want to do until our members have had a chance to weigh in.