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

24 February 2017

Warren 2020

[For a note on what the Exclusion-Order fiasco says about Trump’s competence, click here. For some popular recent posts, click on the links below: In politics as in investing, timing is everything. Over three years ago, I wrote an open letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., MA) advising her not to run for president. Then the timing was all wrong. She wasn’t ready, and the country wasn’t ready for her. Hillary had sucked away all the Democratic Party’s oxygen and, as it turned out, eventually suffocated it.

But now everything has changed. Hillary is finished. Bernie’s too old for 2020. Anyway, he’s too much the old socialist warhorse. He made the fatal mistake of seeming to blame capitalism and capitalists for our nation’s ills, rather than our many abusers of capitalism and our corporate freeloaders. And in the best case Hillary would have blocked him anyway; she had too big a head start and too sweeping ambitions.

Now, with Hillary gone and Bernie marginalized, our nation is bereft of credible, sensible leaders. No potential presidential candidate in either party has more positive name recognition among ordinary people, and fewer negatives (except among bankers), than Elizabeth Warren. No one.

As for the Republican party, it’s in complete disarray. Trump crushed every one of the sixteen GOP dwarfs who opposed him. It would be hard for any serious voter ever again to take any of them seriously. If you can’t beat an utterly inexperienced, self-obsessed, foul-mouthed, over-the-top narcissist, whom can you beat?

The point is that Warren now stands alone as a credible political leader who has not tried and failed. By biding her time, she has become the lone victorious survivor in a field of broken and beaten progressive warriors.

As for Trump himself, he is an absolutely incompetent, rudderless and useless excuse for a leader. Every day of his short presidency makes his inadequacy clearer and clearer. If he doesn’t suffer well-justified impeachment, he will become a puppet of dark, subterranean forces within the Republican Party, including his Goldman-Sachs economic appointees and his cheerleaders for ignoring science and downsizing government.

Subterranean forces don’t make good presidential candidates. But Warren would. She doesn’t make mistakes like blending her personal and work e-mail systems when everyone who has a job can’t. She hasn’t yet made any serious political or policy mistakes, as Hillary did in supporting Dubya’s endless war in Iraq. She hasn’t made the mistake of railing against our capitalist system—just the people, like rogue bankers, who abuse it for their own personal enrichment. And there is no one—no one—in national politics today who can put a finger more accurately on what’s wrong with our nation and express it in simpler or more accurate terms. If you doubt that, just watch this [be sure to watch all seven minutes], or this [ditto for five plus].

Warren still isn’t quite ready. She needs seasoning in the fields of foreign and military policy. She must become a credible commander in chief. But she has the mind, the courage and the judgment. All she needs is the experience.

I have often wondered why Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., CA), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, hasn’t taken Warren under her wing. I don’t know the answer. But I can say this. Besides helping avoid a hot war with Russia or China, or making sure that Trump’s ties with Russia get fully, fairly and thoroughly investigated, there is nothing more that Senator Feinstein could do to advance our nation’s welfare than to help Warren get the foreign-policy experience she needs.

It’s funny, when you think about it. Barack Obama might never have been president but for Dick Lugar taking him under his wing. Lugar took Obama to Russia, many times, to oversee (among other things) the securing of Russia’s loose nukes. Lugar got Obama appointed to the Senate Foreign Policy Committee. In the process, Lugar gave Obama heft in foreign and military policy and helped pave his way to the presidency.

Lugar, you may remember, is a Republican! He was also an early opponent of Dubya’s disastrous misadventure in Iraq, as well as a fair, smart and genuinely patriotic man.

There aren’t many like him in the Republican Party today. But one hopes there are a least a few among the Democrats. They should be tripping over themselves to give a pol as talented and universally admired as Warren a leg up.

It now seems unlikely that Trump will become a two-term president. While he can learn and change his mind on some issues of policy, he is far too fickle and malleable—and far too narcissistic—to become a credible leader. He can’t unlearn his own nasty, self-obsessed and self-defeating personality, let alone at the age of 71. Eventually, his own huuuuge flaws should sink him.

If Mike Pence succeeds Trump after his impeachment, Pence will have less than two years to establish his bona fides. Progressives will despise him because of his extreme right-wing views on religion and women’s rights, and because he helped legitimize Trump. And Trump’s not inconsiderable partisans will despise Pence because he will have replaced Trump but has refused to repeat Trump’s lies and false promises. He will become Gerald Ford to Trump’s Nixon.

So the 2020 election promises to be wide open to new leadership. Right now, today, whose name shines more brightly than Warren’s?

Besides widening her scope to become a credible commander in chief, there are two things that Warren must do to become a credible president. First and most important, she must gain credibility with the minority communities that Trump has made a career of bashing. These include patriotic Muslim-Americans like Khizr Khan, Hispanics, and African-Americans. Warren must thread the needle of showing how much these groups advance our nation’s goals while marginalizing their extremists. For example, she must support the peaceful, savvy voices from the Black Lives Matter movement by pointing out, endlessly and relentlessly, how over-militarized, unnecessarily violent police are a threat to all of us, and to our democracy.

No pol of prominence today has the finesse and savvy to do this as well as Warren. Having called out the abusers of capitalism without damning the system itself, she can call out the abusers of our system of justice without damning the whole system, or the police. She can explain, patiently and relentlessly, how much Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch helped to fix the system, and how much bigots like Jeff Sessions will take us back toward our own bloody Civil War. You do not heal old wounds by pitting groups against each other.

Second, Warren must work on her squeaky voice. When she shows passion for swindled people, as she often does, her voice gets higher and squeakier. Then she can sound like a schoolgirl, rather than a leader of the free world.

It’s a horrible point to acknowledge, but silly things like this really do matter. Lots of voters hear the music of a voice without paying much attention to its sense.

That’s why John Boehner, with his mellifluous gravelly voice, could become House Speaker despite being a veritable cretin on all matters economic. That’s why a man like Everett Dirksen, whom people my age will remember, could become a powerful senator from Illinois, albeit probably one of the stupidest men ever to sit in that chamber.

And so it is with Mike Pence. Watch this interview of his with Judy Woodruff of PBS, and you begin to understand why he is Vice President. He could threaten to cut you up into little pieces and feed them to his dog, and yet he could do so with such a calm and soothing tone as not even to raise your blood pressure.

Voice magic has genetic roots, but it’s also a learnable talent. Elizabeth Warren has ample intelligence and self-discipline to learn what she needs to know to make her tone and music match the intelligence and incisiveness of her superior political analysis. It’s far easier to learn voice control than to boost your intelligence quotient.

Equally important, Warren personifies the three things that Americans want that neither party has given them. They want Medicare for All, just like the citizens of every other advanced nation. They want to break the big banks up so their speculation will no longer threaten sudden economic collapse, and so that corruptible regulators no longer will have to watch them like hawks in a losing battle to prevent collapse. Finally, they want sensible, practical and effective protection against terrorism without having to bash every minority from Mexicans to Muslims or to fight yet another needless endless foreign war to get it.

Warren is smart and good enough to know that these are all worthy goals. She knows they are long overdue. She understands how to describe them without falling into GOP propaganda traps like “socialism,” “soaking the rich,” or “weak on radical Islamic terrorism.” She’s a smart woman—much smarter than Hillary. She can distinguish a demagogue’s label from the substance of an issue a mile away, and she can turn the issue back against the demagogue, even better than Bernie.

Unlike Bernie, Warren recognized that our obscene economic inequality is not an excuse for soaking the rich or condemning our whole system, but a call to preserve our middle class and, with it, our democracy. She understands that her Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is not designed to wound capitalism or stop capital formation, but to keep powerful banks from cheating and swindling defenseless consumers. She has a mind that penetrates to the essence of issues and problems and separates wheat from chaff. She’s as good a communicator as Ronald Reagan was, but she’s infinitely smarter, especially on economic issues. She could rescue and renew our economy and our democracy.

It’s good to resist a man like Trump as president. His chaotic personal style and “divide and conquer” strategy begs for resistance. But fighting and opposing every single spastic, erratic and counterproductive move of Trump’s are fool’s errands. Progressives need something positive to fight for, as well as a worthy longer-term goal.

Look at the Republicans. They opposed Obama adamantly and mindlessly for eight years, and what have they got? They have an incompetent showman as a president and a splintered Congress, divided among Republicans who want somehow to govern and the Tea-Party and Freedom-Caucus anarchists. These groups can’t even agree on whether or how to repeal Obamacare without shooting themselves in the foot.

No, the Dems need more than resistance. They need something positive to work and to hope for. If a future President Warren isn’t such a thing, I don’t know what is. She’s the best progressives have produced since Obama; she’s riding high in the polls; and she’s a female with none of Hillary’s heavy baggage.

The Dems and she have over three years now—almost as much time as Barack Obama had as a U.S. senator. They’d best get to work.



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