On Substantive Doubts about Elizabeth Warren: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

Disposition. U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren clearly is – and makes no bones about being – feisty. Some of her supporters consider it among her greatest strengths. I don’t. As noted above, most pundits predict that Republicans will maintain control of the Senate and that U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell will retain his seat in 2020 and maintain his post as Senate Majority Leader in 2021. Every day of a Warren Administration will feature a blood feud between self-righteous ideologues. Her manner will provide Mr. McConnell the perfect foil to roil the conservative Republican base and trouble centrists. Say what you will about the despicable manner in which Mr. McConnell has performed his Senate leadership role – and I’ve said plenty in these posts, and thought more in terms not suitable for these pages — one of the few things that the vast majority of Americans agree upon: we are weary – indeed, exhausted – from all the fighting. I consider the toxic hyper-partisanship engulfing us to be by far our most pressing national problem. We need to quiet our differences, not further inflame them. We need healing if we are to ever move forward. Although Ms. Warren’s ascendency to the presidency would be an improvement by at least providing us a Chief Executive that respects our institutions and the rule of law, I fear that her natural combativeness will only exacerbate our rabid climate and give the nation a case of whiplash as she attempts to abruptly steer us from the alt-right to the avid-left. (Before I get assailed as sexist for expressing misgivings about an “uppity woman,” I will offer that my preferred candidate for the presidency remains U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who, unlike Ms. Warren, projects resolve without inciting undue antagonism in her adversaries.)

Finally: Attitude. “We need to … put economic and political power back in the hands of the people [Again, my underscore].” The Washington Post recently ran a piece, to which a link is provided below, that actually prompted me to write this note. It describes Ms. Warren’s answer when asked at a LGBTQ forum how she would respond to a voter whose faith teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. I agree with the reactions reported in the Post that her response was sufficient to alienate some men, some people of faith, and some holding even moderate conservative tendencies. It exhibited – for someone who constantly touts her rearing in Oklahoma — a lack of understanding of and disdain – indeed, bordering on contempt — for the sincere sentiments of at least a third and perhaps as many as half of “the people” she claims that she wishes to serve. The account of Ms. Warren’s remarks reminded me – even before I had read far enough to see the article’s allusions to them – of former President Obama’s disparagement of those of our people who “cling to guns or religion” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s labeling many of Mr. Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” This is not the way to lead a citizenry that is – if one will excuse the jibe – as diverse as we are. Robert Galston wrote in his book, Anti-Pluralism:

“…[I]n May, 2016, candidate Donald Trump [declared] … ‘The only important thing is the unification of the people, [because] the other people don’t mean anything.’ There we have it: the people (that is, the real people) against the other people who are somehow outside and alien.”

I ask: how different, really, is the attitude Ms. Warren exhibited in her forum response from that of Mr. Trump? Does she intend to be inclusive – or exclusive? Is she seeking to lead all of our people – or only her version of “the people,” in the same way that Mr. Trump has made plain that he only wishes to lead his version of “the people”?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/warrens-same-sex-marriage-quip-captures-what-some-find-exciting–and-others-distressing–about-her/2019/10/11/f3e15a14-ec34-11e9-85c0-85a098e47b37_story.html

The more closely I have examined Sen. Warren, the more firmly I would suggest that former Vice President Joe Biden – despite the egregiously obtuse peccadillos involving his son — is not only the best handicapping choice against Mr. Trump among the Democratic frontrunners; given the seemingly imminent demise of Ms. Klobuchar’s candidacy, Mr. Biden is also by far the most qualified of the Democratic candidates to assume the presidency. I hope that for the future of our nation, he has it within him to show it.

On Substantive Doubts about Elizabeth Warren: Part I

Although impressions abound about Impeachment initiatives against President Trump, this week’s Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate has shifted my reflection more immediately to the candidacy of U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which pundits tell us is surging. All that read these pages are aware that I have serious handicapping reservations about Sen. Warren’s prospects in a general election contest against President Trump; I fear that the President will be able to engender sufficient alarm about her among his wavering 2016 supporters that, taken together with Ms. Warren’s relatively tepid support in the African American community, will enable him to duplicate his narrow 2016 Electoral College victory. Enough has been said here about that; but as Ms. Warren has reportedly begun edging past former Vice President Joe Biden, substantive factors about her are giving me perhaps even greater pause. Notwithstanding what follows: if Sen. Warren secures the Democratic presidential nomination and is running against Mr. Trump, she can rest assured of my vote; she doesn’t appear prone to the President’s character failings or likely to perpetuate his destructive malfeasance. Further, if she is running against a President Mike Pence, she will receive my vote; she has demonstrated strong will and independence throughout her career while Mr. Pence has exhausted my Thesaurus over the last couple of years as I’ve looked for ever-more blog-appropriate synonyms for the word, “sycophant.”

That said, I have deep reservations about her ability to successfully execute the presidency. The very introduction to the Senator’s campaign home page provides hints for my concerns:

“Elizabeth has a lot of plans, but they’re really one simple plan: We need to tackle the corruption in Washington that makes our government work for the wealthy and well-connected, but kicks dirt on everyone else, and put economic and political power back in the hands of the people [My underscore].”

Foreign Policy. I consider the highest responsibility of the President of the United States to safeguard us against foreign enemies. The President must conduct a foreign policy that reassures our allies and checks the unwarranted advances of our adversaries. These are perilous times – made more so by Mr. Trump’s boorishness, ignorance, and incompetence; the horrific tragedy unfolding in Syria as this is typed screams for a steady and knowledgeable steward for U.S. foreign relations. Even so, there is not a word about foreign relations in Ms. Warren’s introductory declaration. She appears to look at our international relations through her domestic prism, stating on her foreign policy page (consisting essentially of progressive slogans) that Washington’s foreign policy serves the “wealthy and well-connected” and calling for an end to “the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy.” She pledges to bring our troops home, but displays no understanding of the difficulties of achieving such a withdrawal without regional cataclysm and potential consequent risk to American and allied lives. Her pledge in the second debate not to use our nuclear arsenal in a first strike capacity amounts, in my view, to presidential malpractice. She cries for cuts in “our bloated defense budget,” and calls for a greater reliance on diplomacy; but although we need to ensure that our defense dollars are spent wisely, such railing is somewhat akin to Mr. Trump’s complaints about what he claims are insufficient alliance contributions by our NATO partners. She seems oblivious to the fact that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are investing heavily in military and cyber capabilities and that these and other adversaries are responsive to diplomacy backed by strength, not by moral outrage or a “Pretty Please.”

Fiscal Responsibility. Interestingly, while calling our defense budget “unsustainable” (which it probably is; that’s why we need to nurture – not destroy — worldwide alliances to maintain an international balance supporting our interests), Sen. Warren is advocating for (1) a trillion-plus dollar federal expenditure to support free public college and student loan debt forgiveness and (2) what will amount to tens of trillions more for Medicare-for-All. While I support adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act, our current budget realities make these sweeping initiatives as fiscally unsustainable as the Republicans’ chronic obsession with tax cuts. I went into law because I couldn’t do numbers, but it’s clear even to me that we do not have enough rich people and big corporations that we can tax enough to support these programs.

Practicality. “Elizabeth has a lot of plans …” She sure does. Even if Democrats gain control of both Houses of Congress – an outcome that few pundits predict, and one made even less likely if Ms. Warren is the Democratic candidate – she won’t command sufficient support in Congress for the progressive agenda she is proposing; many Americans (including me, and the Democrats representing swing states and districts that are desirous of keeping their seats) will be looking to Congress to check her most progressive impulses. Democrats will appear extreme, out of touch, and inept in the same manner as Republicans did in 2017-18, when they controlled both houses and despite years of haranguing still weren’t able (thankfully) to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In an effort to keep these posts to at least a somewhat manageable length, what remains of this note will appear in Part II.

Discerning the Don … in The Donald

If you haven’t yet read the Memorandum of the July 25, 2019, conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky released today, I recommend you do so; it’s but five typewritten pages and readily available online; you owe it to your country not to rely on either a news outlet or a Medicare-aged blogger.

It is undisputed that at the time of the call, the Administration was holding up the distribution of funds to Ukraine that Congress had appropriated to aid its defense against Russia. To me, the highlights:

Mr. Trump to Mr. Zelensky: “[T]he United States has been very very [duplicate in text] good to Ukraine….the United States has been very very [duplicate in text] good to Ukraine.”

Mr. Trump to Mr. Zelensky: “I would like [Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani] to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General.”

Mr. Trump to Mr. Zelensky: “There’s a lot of talk about [former Vice President Joe] Biden’s son [Hunter Biden], that [Joe] Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. [Joe] Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … [ellipsis in text, indicating pause; no skipped text] It sounds horrible to me.”

Mr. Trump to Mr. Zelensky: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of [Joe Biden’s participation in the shutting down of a Ukranian prosecutor]. I’m sure you will figure it out. [My emphasis.]”

 

Mr. Zelensky to Mr. Trump: “Yes you are absolutely right. Not only 100%, but actually 1000% … I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes. [My only translation in this post: “Please give us the money. If you give us the money, we’ll buy American products. Please give us the money].”

Mr. Zelensky to Mr. Trump: “I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us … I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership ….”

Mr. Zelensky to Mr. Trump: “[T]he next prosecutor general will be 100% my person….I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us …”

Mr. Zelensky to Mr. Trump: “Actually the last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower…. I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case [either about the Bidens, or about the Clintons; not clear] and will work on the investigation.”

 

I cast no aspersions toward Mr. Zelensky; his country is trying to maintain its independence against the onslaught of the second most powerful military force in the world. I would have prostrated myself in front of Mr. Trump at least as obsequiously as he did if I felt it was necessary to protect my country.

The President’s defenders argue that the President’s comments weren’t malfeasance because he neither threatened Mr. Zelensky nor specifically offered Mr. Zelensky a quid pro quo for reviewing the investigation of the Ukrainian activities of the Messrs. Biden.

 

“Vito Corleone raised his hands in surprise. ‘I’m asking you a favor, only that. One never knows when one might need a friend, isn’t that true? Here, take this money as a sign of my goodwill and make your own decision. I wouldn’t dare to quarrel with it.’ … He patted Mr. Roberto on the shoulder. ‘Do me this service, eh? I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighborhood about me, they’ll tell you I’m a man who believes in showing his gratitude.’” – Mario Puzo: Book III … The Godfather

On the September Democratic Debate

From the jumble of candidates we needed to consider in the summer’s Democratic Presidential Candidate debates, it seems that from a handicapping standpoint, the party has winnowed down to meaningful contenders surprisingly quickly. Before we get to the middle of the stage:

Absent will be a number of candidates that are more qualified for the presidency than several that will appear, including a couple who also would have made more formidable opponents for President Trump. That said, the Democratic National Committee’s rules were well known, and each candidate needed to devise a strategy to gain the party’s backing to run against Mr. Trump. It appears that the absentees aren’t getting that done. At the same time, several may be attractive Vice Presidential nominee alternatives depending upon which candidate the party ultimately anoints.

Three second tier candidates may still entertain dreams that they can capture the nomination. U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar may believe that if she turns in a bravura debate performance and former Vice President Joe Biden seriously falters, moderates will coalesce around her candidacy. South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg may believe that he can reenergize his candidacy if he can create a debate “moment” in which he displays empathy about the plight of African Americans in this country sufficient to soften that community’s (in my view, misplaced) reservations about him. U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris may believe that with a few well-timed salvos such as she launched in the first debate, she can catapult herself back into the top tier of candidates.

If required to bet on the possibility of any of these happening or that Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will at some point this season throw a “Hail Mary” pass to win a game in its last seconds … my money would be on Mr. Rodgers.

One might muse that if they are being realistic, U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker and former HUD Director Julian Castro have recognized that their best prospects appear to be a Vice Presidential nomination (or in Mr. Castro’s case, a substantial role in a future Democratic administration that will provide a springboard for future Texas or national campaigns). We’ll be able to determine from their performances whether they are.

Former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Businessman Andrew Yang are presumably appearing Thursday night because, like Richard Gere’s Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman … they’ve got nowhere else to go.

As someone who fervently hopes for the defeat of Mr. Trump because of his disregard for truth, his assaults on the freedom of speech, his enemies, and our institutions, his misogyny, racism, and xenophobia, his erraticism, his self-aggrandizement, and his greed much more than due to his substantive policies (although I strongly disagree with virtually all of them, policies can always be modified; tarnished principles are rarely retrieved), I am becoming ever more deeply concerned that Democrats are taking their eyes off the ball. Although I will be warily assessing how Mr. Biden responds to jibes and how much vitality he exhibits, and will appreciate U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders as a loveable, predictable, curmudgeonly Lion in Winter, my primary focus on Thursday night will be on the approach and attitude taken by U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Sen. Warren’s summer advance has been impressive. That said, in New Hampshire this past weekend, to an apparently enthusiastic response from NH Democratic Party activists, Ms. Warren declared, in part, as follows: “There is a lot at stake. And people are scared [presumably, that someone too far left will cause moderates to vote for Mr. Trump in 2020]. But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in because we’re scared. And we can’t ask other people to vote for someone we don’t believe in.” Dangerous words – words the sound more like someone intent on winning the nomination than in Democrats capturing the White House. Words that Republicans will use to attempt to depress progressive turnout if Mr. Biden wins the nomination. Ms. Warren obviously truly believes that the progressive agenda is the best way forward for this country and – of extreme concern, whether it is or not – that enough of our voters spread across enough of our pivotal Electoral College states agree with her. I fear that Ms. Warren may be developing a misimpression similar to that to which Mr. Trump fell subject during the 2018 campaign: projecting the enthusiasm she sees among zealots at her rallies upon the public as a whole. Although I admire Ms. Warren’s ability and zeal, the pictures of two former Democratic presidential nominees appear in my mind when I watch her: Adlai Stevenson and George McGovern.

One of the ironies of the campaign is that in a culture that celebrates the young, the iPhone, tattoos, 5G, Snapchat, purple hair, streaming, and WhatsApp, we seem most likely at this point to be placing our future from 2021 to 2025 in the hands of one of four quarrelling septuagenarians. (Clearly, I remain in mourning over Ms. Klobuchar’s and Mr. Buttigieg’s declines despite being close to 70 myself.) At the same time, I am hoping that because of their relatively advanced ages, all three Democratic frontrunners will keep in mind that any Democratic candidate’s victory over Mr. Trump is more important than winning the Democratic nomination. Will they strike the tone that all three want what’s best for this country, but that their approaches are different – i.e., frame their exchanges as good faith policy disagreements? Or do they attack each other and provide fodder for the Republicans to use in the fall against the eventual nominee?

On Our Need for a Transitional Administration

Although in most polls former Vice President Joe Biden currently holds a commanding lead over his nearest competitors, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, we can be certain that – as my sainted mother used to say – the fur will fly in the upcoming September debates among the ten candidates that will appear on stage under the Democratic National Committee rules. Mr. Biden can certainly anticipate that much of the “incoming” will be directed at him.

I hope – despite Mr. Biden’s previously lackluster debate performances, his gaffes, his pauses, and his half-correct narratives – that he wins the Democratic nomination. I continue to believe from a handicapping standpoint that he has the best chance of any likely nominee to defeat President Trump and that he has the broadest and deepest qualifications of any Democrat to address the imposing array of domestic and foreign challenges we face. That said, I have come to consider another reason equally compelling: Mr. Biden’s well-intended spirit, combined with his age and his moderate views, will give us a chance to take a breath without committing us either to continue the dark Trump agenda or to a high dive into a brave new progressive world. After the hellacious rollercoaster ride to which Mr. Trump has subjected us, we’ll need to sit on the park bench for a bit. We need an opportunity to take stock. We need a transitional administration.

Right now, Ms. Warren appears to be surging, although her advance has seemingly come with little or no diminution in Mr. Biden’s support; the two continue in different nomination “lanes”. Many, including me, have suggested that if Mr. Sanders’ support unravels, Ms. Warren will be the overwhelming beneficiary. I’m now wondering whether that was too quick a judgement. Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders appear to have support among white working class voters; if Mr. Sanders’ candidacy falters and his support splits between Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren, that might well assure the former Vice President of the Democratic nomination – and while likewise making clear the need to accommodate Ms. Warren’s notable following within the party.

If there is any validity to these musings, a Biden-Warren pairing might well be the Democrats’ strongest ticket to the White House. The Republicans won’t be readily able to label any ticket led by Mr. Biden as “socialist” or scary; in debates against Mr. Trump, the fatherly, reassuring Mr. Biden might well get the same benefit of the doubt from an uncertain and exhausted electorate that President Ronald Reagan enjoyed against former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984; and Ms. Warren would seemingly fare well in a debate against the somnolent Vice President Mike Pence.

All that said, I hope that any Biden-led ticket – and its supporters – understand that scholars will very likely view a Biden presidency’s most significant achievement to be the termination of the Trump presidency. Its campaign message might be: “Setting a Clean Slate for America.” There are undoubtedly better slogans, but a President Biden would, in my view, need to project both a determination to heal the wounds of the present and an understanding of his transitional role in our history. As to the former, a Biden Administration would need to restore respect for the rule of law, competence, stability, honesty, decency, and normalcy after the malignant chaos that has characterized the Trump presidency. As to the latter, a Biden Administration should tacitly acknowledge the practical reality that even if Democrats capture a Senate majority, there will not be an appetite among a majority in Congress for the extraordinary domestic changes progressives are urging. Equally important: we are not emotionally ready for another disrupter. While working to calm our toxic political environment and steadying our course in foreign affairs, a Biden Administration should seek to provide us a clean slate so that Ms. Warren, Mr. Pence, the promising 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates, former U.S. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio, and others from both parties who will emerge, can present us with a menu of visions for our future starting in 2025.

On the White Liberal “Outrage Feedback Loop”

Below is a link to an article by Zach Goldberg recently published in Tablet, an American Jewish online magazine. It was sent to me by someone very close, I suspect as a result of his considerable bemusement at my exasperation with the desire of the “Woke” to suppress use of English gender-specific pronouns. Although one might not infer it from the piece, Tablet is rated as having a “Left-Center” bias by mediafactcheck.com.

In his essay – part data-centered, part opinion – Mr. Goldberg refers to a white liberal “outrage feedback loop,” which he states has accentuated reactions regarding the extent of American racial injustice among those white liberals relatively more active in cyberspace as contrasted with those that are not. (Mr. Goldberg’s use of the phrase, “white liberals,” covers too wide a gamut for me; I would suggest that those whom the author calls, “white liberals,” could perhaps be more precisely identified as, “white avid progressives.”) I found this statement remarkable, if accurate:

“[W]hite liberals recently became the only demographic group in America to display a pro-outgroup bias — meaning that among all the different [ethnic] groups surveyed[,] white liberals were the only one that expressed a preference for other racial and ethnic communities above their own.”

I take issue with certain of the positions Mr. Goldberg sets forth — for example, that “… conservatives of today are not all that different from the conservatives of years past” and that “… it’s the frustration with white conservatives’ inability or reluctance to keep pace with liberals on the path to enlightenment that is intensifying our political divide” – but I nonetheless found his essay thought-provoking – a useful ballast for my tendency to be sensitive to the effect that alt-right outrage feedback silos are having at the other end of our political spectrum. To the extent that Mr. Goldberg’s positions are well-grounded, they underscore the narrowness of the path any Democrat must navigate to both secure the nomination and win the presidency.

Finally, for those who up to now have been blissfully unaware of what it means to be “woke,” clicking on the link will open up a whole new world.   😉

 

https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/284875/americas-white-saviors

Our Tribal – and Closely Divided — Nation

For not the first time in these pages, I would submit that the hyper-partisan, tribal state to which we’ve descended now transcends politics to become the largest substantive hurdle we face if we are to remain “a people.” In a tweet today, President Trump claimed that MSNBC’s Morning Joe – featuring hosts and panel members almost universally harshly critical of the President — had suffered a degradation in its ratings. Apparently, his claim is not true – it’s been reported that March Nielsen ratings show that the program had a 10% increase in viewership in Q1 2019 over the same period in 2018 — but it caused me to Google “cable news ratings” to see how the various outlets are faring. The link to the page that surfaced is provided below. It provides the latest indication I’ve seen of how closely – and sharply – our nation is divided … and how tired we all have become with the whole business.

https://www.adweek.com/tvnewser/here-are-the-top-cable-news-shows-of-q2-2019/407842/

Taking the morning cable shows first (although we enjoy Morning Joe’s shtick, I refuse to call or consider any of these offerings, “news shows”) – the broadcasts that appeal to those of us most interested in politics and public affairs – Fox & Friends totals 1,435,000, with viewership in the 25-54 category at 268,000. If one combines MSNBC’s and CNN’s offerings – not unfair; the President considers both his enemies – the viewership is 1,492,000 with 289,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic. These are razor-thin margins – essentially 51% left – 49% right among the entire audience, but interestingly, only a bit more left-slanted in the younger demographic.

The other indication that struck me is that … total viewership appears to be somewhat down in 2019 over the same period in 2018 (there are a couple of Fox exceptions), but the 25 – 54 demographic is significantly down … across the political spectrum. These findings seem to suggest that a general exhaustion has set in. One can argue that such a feeling of weariness among our citizens – perhaps a feeling of powerlessness to meaningfully affect our representatives’ behavior — is more ominous either for the President or for the Democrats, but the fact is … it’s not good for us as a nation.

Within the last year, we have had the opportunity to travel to both the Southwest U.S. and to Alaska. Wonderful trips, scenery, and wildlife. At the same time, each trip also provided a view of the perspectives that segments of our people hold arising from their backgrounds and difficulties — outlooks and attitudes understandable in context but not readily grasped by many of us primarily familiar with urban opportunities and problems. Although one can only reasonably conclude that President Trump has determined that his best interest lies in sowing division amongst us, these trips made it apparent that any well-intended President of either party seeking to engage and unite us will face a profound challenge in bridging the gap currently existing between well-intended people holding very different sets of visceral beliefs. An example: border security.  In and of itself, it is not only not wrong; it is indeed necessary, and no more nor less moral than traffic signals. Mr. Trump, through his rhetoric and behavior, has made it a symbol of racial bias, inciting an exaggerated counter-reaction among those sickened by his bigotry and his Administration’s treatment of those reaching our borders.

During the debates over the next couple of nights, I’ll be watching to see which of the Democratic candidates acknowledges that his/her duty if elected will include recognizing and accommodating not only the Democratic base but the reasonable core values of those with whom s/he does not necessarily agree.