Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

14 December 2014

Please Don’t Run Now, Elizabeth! (An Open Letter)

Honorable Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator (D., Mass.):

You almost certainly don’t remember me, but I have known you, remotely, since around the turn of the century. I was on a committee on the Uniform Commercial Code that you chaired in Philadelphia.

I had never met you before, but you impressed me with your brains, your common sense, your light touch and other “people skills,” your practicality, and your deep knowledge of the most esoteric aspects of finance. Little did I know that, in a few short years, you would become a senator, a potential candidate for president, and the most powerful voice in our nation for real reform of an utterly broken and still monstrously dangerous financial system.

It is therefore with regret that I beg you not to run for president this time.

If you do run, I will contribute to your campaign, as I did when you ran for senator. I will work for you. I will vote for you, and I will pray that you win.

But I am almost certain that, under any foreseeable circumstances, you will lose. It is simply too soon for you, or for anyone like you.

You are not yet ready. In 2016, you will have had only four years in elective office—two years less than Dubya had before his disastrous presidency. You have infinitely more brains and much better character than he. But not all of his catastrophic blunders were due to stupidity and poor character. Some—perhaps the worst—were due to sheer inexperience.

You are nationally known as a champion of common sense and equality in finance. But that is not enough to be commander in chief. Foreign crises like the Islamic State’s rise or the civil war in Eastern Ukraine can crop up at any minute. You need seasoning in foreign and military affairs, preferably more than the short course that Saudi Prince Bandar gave Dubya after the Supreme Court put him in the White House.

Unless you have that experience, you will not have the appearance of toughness—let alone the actual toughness—needed to win the respect of the military men and women you will have to command as president. The phalanx of propagandists that now run this country for the benefit of the rich will have a field day belittling and ridiculing your every act of thoughtfulness and prudence, let alone any gaffe. You will need time, experience and seasoning to grow as skin a thick as President Obama’s.

Another senator, or a high official in our Defense Department or intelligence services, ought to take you under his or her wing, just as Dick Lugar did with the President when he was a senator. Dianne Feinstein would be a good choice.

Unfortunately, there is another, deeper reason why you should not run this time. The country is not ready for you or anyone like you.

We have become a nation of hustlers and fools. The most powerful propaganda machine in human history (Fox) has convinced a majority of the American public that our society—which is just emerging from the Crash of 2008, is just beginning to tackle global warming, and is just coming to grips with official torture, privatized in part and perpetrated by government contractors in our collective name—is over-regulated.

We are not over-regulated. We are under-governed.

And that’s just the point. For over a generation, the GOP has had the goal of drowning government in a bathtub, at least at the national level. Today it is closer to succeeding than it ever has been.

For six long years, the GOP has had no discernible national program but jeering the President and promoting ideological babble. Yet it is still competitive with the Dems. It even won the recent midterm election decisively.

Neither you nor anyone else should underestimate the power of propaganda, which we Yanks have elevated to the strongest form of dark art in our species’ history. The sorcerers and conjurers of old could never have dreamed of such real power!

None of this will change significantly in two years. Nor will Fox relent in its ceaseless and mindless disinformation campaign.

The only thing that will jar us Yanks out of our complacency and pervasive corruption is another crisis. It might be another financial panic, perhaps caused by the very gift to Wall Street that you are now inveighing against. It might be an oil crisis—this time of high, not low, prices—perhaps caused by IS or a larger war in the Middle East. It might be China pressing its smaller neighbors so hard that a serious conflict, maybe even a minor war, breaks out in Asia, and we Yanks are asked to join. Or it might be the ice caps melting and global warming running away, changing our world violently, quickly and forever.

But something must hit us Yanks hard before we can change sufficiently. Neither our youth nor our minority demographics will change enough in two years to make a difference.

FDR did not gain the White House because he was smarter than his opponent (although he was), or because people understood how much more sensible his policies were. He won because the Great Depression had begun, history’s worst war was brewing in Europe, and voters saw their world as falling apart. It will take something like that to budge our nation from its present downward course.

Let that happen on Hillary’s watch. She’s a tough old bird and can manage the crisis competently, or at least make it no worse. In 2020, she will be 73 years old. She may be too tired or ill to run again, or she may be politically vulnerable. If she makes a mistake in financial regulation, that will be your opening.

In the unlikely event that Hillary runs and loses, the necessary crisis will be much more likely to come in the following four years. The GOP has no one with anywhere near her national experience, no one who could stave off a crisis by intelligent executive action. Its best candidate is Jon Huntsman, Jr., who hasn’t a ghost of a chance of getting the nomination. (He, like you, has called for breaking the big banks up, an effective expedient that would have pleased Senator Sherman.)

If Hillary doesn’t run this time, that will be another story. There will be a free-for-all in both parties, and you might as well be part of that. If nothing else, competing now will make you a better candidate once the likely crisis occurs.

But if you run against Hillary now, you will harm the Dems and the progressive cause in three ways. First, you will divide the all-important female vote. Second, you will foster the same sort of ideological split in the Democratic Party that is now wreaking havoc in the GOP. Third—and perhaps most important—you may lessen the chance for eventual serious financial reform that can only come from another economic crisis. The co-called “business” wings of the Dems and the GOP will unite against you, in the absence of a crisis showing voters the errors of their ways.

Our pols and our people self-evidently have not learned the lessons of the Crash of 2008. For all the suffering it caused, it touched mostly the underclass, which mostly doesn’t vote. Nothing will change unless and until the pain of the next crisis reaches higher, perhaps much higher.

No one, of course, wishes for such a crisis. But Dodd-Frank is emasculated by prolixity and complexity, its blunt teeth undergoing painful extraction by regulatory lobbying. Now we have another blow to the dead horse of Glass-Steagall in the current bill to prevent a government shutdown.

Serious financial reform in America is all but dead. Only the Fed’s expert monetary policies and reserve requirements stand between us and another financial meltdown—perhaps one triggered, this time, by automated algorithmic trading.

When such a crisis occurs, that will be your cue.

I will support you no matter what you decide. I see you and Cory Booker as the only progressive pols with growing national reputations who might somehow manage, some day, to arrest our national decline.

But please be as strategic about when to make your bid as you have been in your so-far-Pyrrhic battle with the titans of Wall Street.

With great respect and best wishes,

Jay Dratler, Jr.


  • At Mon Dec 15, 05:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous Peggy Cartwright said…

    Again, Jay, a note from an old (I am now 90) friend of your father. I was most impressed with this letter to Elizabeth Warren, and agree heartily. This is not her time to run and it could cause such a rift in the party, even worse than either the huff with Hillary in the last one or the strange mess in the republican elections. The in-fighting in both parties has become disastrous for our government, which seems to have stopped governing and become a bunch of buffoons hurling insults at each other and ignoring the problems of the country and the will of the people. Of course, 'the people' seem to have stopped voting, leaving the idiots who do a chance to elect more idiots, particularly in the House. Ah, but at least Michelle Bachman is out, so someone paid attention.
    Thanks, Jay, for an excellent letter... here's hoping she pays attention and resists. I'm with you, if necessary I will work also.
    Peggy Cartwright

  • At Wed Dec 17, 06:55:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Peggy,

    What a pleasant surprise!

    Thanks so much for your support and your well-written and humorous comment. I hope I can write as well when I'm 90.

    I don't think we need worry too much about Sen. Warren herself. Her recent denials of running this time seem sincere.

    Although I addressed this post to her, I wrote it primarily for another audience: her partisans. They seem to be trying hard to recruit her, regardless of reality and strategy, by such means as an Internet petition on MoveOn.org.

    Fortunately, she's smarter than most of her partisans and likely to bide her time.

    If you can, please send me an e-mail at jdratler@gmail.com, so I can correspond with you. I'm eager to find our more about your friendship with my Dad. There don't seem to be too many left who remember him personally.

    Best regards,


  • At Sat Dec 27, 04:51:00 PM EST, Blogger Jack Kessler said…

    Jay, your primary premise is demonstrably wrong. A financial crisis does not lead to reform. The crisis in 2008 led to no reform at all even with a Democratic president.

    If Hillary is elected in 2016, which you assume to be a certainty in spite of your emphasis on the power of the conservative propaganda machine, by 2020 the Democrats will have held the White House for 12 years. You try to gin up reasons why she would not run for a second term, none of which are persuasive. If she were elected in 2016 it is hard to imagine her not running for re-election in 2020. It takes major failures to defeat an incumbent President running for re-election such as the Vietnam War for LBJ or repeated gaffes and a bad economy for Bush Senior, as well as a politically gifted opponent in Clinton.

    If Hillary is elected in 2016, by the end of her second term in 2024 the Democrats would have been in the White House for 16 years. Do you really imagine Warren could win a fifth Democratic term in a row?

    As to splitting the women's vote, that is what primaries are for. If both Hillary and Warren run, whoever wins the nomination will get the women's vote. There will be no split.

    p.s. I am a good friend of Peggy Cartwright, arguably a confidant.

  • At Tue Dec 30, 07:58:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Jack,

    Your logic has a basic fallacy, and you read me wrong.

    I did not write that reform invariably follows a financial crisis. Nor do I believe that. A financial crisis is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reforming a financial system broken by FDR’s “malefactors of great wealth.” That’s what I wrote.

    Unfortunately, we have wasted the crisis that began with the Crash of 2008. That crisis has “passed,” at least in the minds of our voters, GOP and regulators. So there will be no real, solid reform until the next crisis.

    If another crisis comes before the 2016 primaries, that will be Elizabeth’s cue, as I wrote. But under current conditions, she has no real chance. Her whole political career, and much of her academic career, has revolved around financial reform, whose time, for the moment, has passed. She has no experience or credibility outside that narrow field.

    I am no great fan of Hillary’s. (See 1 and 2.) I agree with your implicit view that Elizabeth has more brains and better character, and is less beholden to Wall Street. But running for president requires experience and a thick skin, even more than governing.

    Hillary has them, not Elizabeth, so Hillary has my support now. I believe Obama appointed her Secretary of State precisely to give her the experience and credibility she needs to run. He is one of the few long-term thinkers in American politics today.

    Your comments on a “fifth Democratic term” are not valid even as a matter of statistics and probability. As matter of politics, I think the GOP is finished as a presidential party until it: (1) undergoes serious reform, and (2) makes a sincere effort to attract Hispanic and other minority voters. I don’t see either happening in my lifetime.

    But the Dems have to come up with credible, experienced candidates who can win. The only one I can see on the horizon for 2016 is Hillary. Here’s why.

    Of course I will support Elizabeth if she runs and if she wins the primaries. But I don’t expect her to run. Absent some blunder or gaffe on Hillary’s part, I expect her to run and win the primary, and to have a better chance to win the general than Elizabeth.

    In politics as in investing, timing is everything. Obama could run when he did because he followed the worst president in over a century. But next time, the GOP will run an experienced, credible candidate. Barring some unforeseen event like another financial crisis, it will just be too soon for Elizabeth, more’s the pity.

    Best to you and Peggy,



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