I’ve thought quite a bit about whether I should post this. I have good friends — people whose opinions I respect — who might disagree with some of this. All I can say is that (a) I think this is worth thinking about, and (b) in the end, we’re really on the same side.
Not so long ago I decided to support Elizabeth Warren. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are undoubtedly shared by others reading this. In any case, I’d like to explain why I came to my decision, and why I think Warren is not only the best candidate, but also deserves our support right now.
I want to talk about two issues: one tactical, and one substantive.
First, the tactical issue:
There is an idea — which I have heard from a number of people — that even though Warren will almost certainly be our nominee, it is a good idea to have a primary at this point because
a) it would sharpen the candidates’ abilities to confront Scott Brown, and
b) a primary might have the effect of broadening Warren’s range of progressive positions.
Actually, I think it’s unlikely to do either of those things. Elections — particularly primary elections — are reported by the press almost exclusively as horse races, devoid of content. It’s very hard to break through that, and to the extent that people even are aware of the primary contest up through September, they will mainly be confronted by a picture of some Democratic candidates who probably differ about something, but what it is may not be so clear. In any case, the focus will definitely not be on Scott Brown; it will be on “gotcha” moments.
Further, while I don’t know of any studies done on statewide races, there is some evidence that primaries on a national level don’t help the ultimate candidate, and in significant cases can weaken that candidate. So simply from the standpoint of beating Scott Brown, it’s not at all clear that having a primary is a winning strategy. Now I don’t think this argument is absolutely conclusive, and there certainly could be other reasons of overriding importance in favor of a primary. But I do think it’s important to understand that purely by itself, a primary is not the best way to go about focusing attention on the defects of Scott Brown, and may well be counter-productive.
One reason a primary can weaken the ultimate candidate is that people quite understandably get invested in their own candidates. It’s true that undoubtedly anyone supporting Marisa DeFranco (for instance) would vote for Elizabeth Warren in the General Election. But I’ve been through enough of these campaigns — both for winning and losing candidates — to know that in the few weeks between the primary in September and the general election in November, it is very hard to overcome the disappointment that is inevitable when one’s candidate loses.
I think it’s better to do that now than to try to do it in September.
Finally, the substantive issue:
I have heard from a number of people that Warren’s positions are thin — that she’s good on some things — even some important things — but that she lacks a broadly progressive platform.
I think there is some truth to this. But I think it’s a very small truth, and it misses a very big point.
The small truth is that although broadly speaking Warren is certainly a progressive, and in fact has spoken out on a range of progressive issues, she naturally speaks mainly to what can seem like a somewhat narrow field of concerns.
The big point this misses is that at this moment in our nation’s history, those concerns are absolutely central to the future of our democracy. And Warren, far from being some sort of neophyte in this area, has demonstrated — more than any other candidate — skill, eloquence and tenacity in fighting for her positions, which, I believe are *our* positions. Here’s what she’s been saying — these are direct quotes:
… the largest financial institutions … broke this economy one lousy mortgage at a time. And if we didn’t have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or something like it, someone who cared — some real reform at the household level — then it didn’t matter. Because they’d break it again in another ten years. Maybe next time it would be over credit cards or the next time over student loans. They’d break it again and they’d break it again and they’d break it again. And so I said we’re going to have to do something about it.
Here’s the choice that’s in front of our country: We can become a country that says, “I got mine and the rest of you are on your own.” Or we can become a country again that believes in opportunity, that says we’re willing to make the sacrifices to invest in our future.
These are not the words of someone who is focused narrowly on “consumer issues”. And even though I subscribe, if I thought that Elizabeth Warren was the “Consumer Reports” candidate, I wouldn’t be writing in support of her. Warren doesn’t talk about “consumer issues”. She consistently frames what she says in the context of social justice and equality of opportunity. She speaks in terms that focus on the fundamental problem in our country today: the justification of greed, the growing disparity in wealth, and the abuse of power that comes of this.
There is no other issue today that even comes close to this one in importance. And not many of the original slate of Democratic candidates even spoke in these terms. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I include among these one whom I was very seriously considering myself.) Elizabeth Warren has not only been tackling this on a national level, but she has shown, and continues to show, that she speaks to this issue in a way that few others can.
For too long we have been a party of well-meaning middle-level managers. People don’t vote for middle-level managers. People vote for those who give them a vision with values and hope. I have a hard time thinking of many other political figures (well, the late Senator Kennedy does come to mind) who were able to speak so effectively in these terms. It’s a rare gift.
It’s been evident to me for some time now that Warren has touched a nerve in people. It’s not just her ideas — it’s her ability to reach people with them that is so rare, so astonishing, and seemingly so natural. Having even one person in the Senate like this, who will speak on a national level on this issue, who will speak in a way that touches and moves people, who can change the national discourse, who will speak eloquently, persuasively, and tenaciously — this is what we need more than anything else today.
This is the issue that to my mind is conclusive. That is why I am supporting Elizabeth Warren. I hope you will as well.