Thursday, December 19, 2019

Warren for President

by Neil H. Buchanan

During the upcoming two weeks that include Christmas and New Year's Day, Dorf on Law will be on partial vacation, with plans for new posts by Professor Dorf tomorrow and Monday of next week but after that, unless something very big happens (certainly a possibility), we expect to post only "classic" posts, if anything.  This is, therefore, likely to be my last new column of the year.

With that in mind, I decided to announce the much-coveted Buchanan endorsement for President of the United States.

Side note: Yes, I'm being self-deprecatingly ironic.  When I was much younger, I wanted to be a "cool" professor and told my students to call me by my first name; but if they could not bring themselves to do that, I said, "you must call me 'Lord High Professor Doctor Buchanan, Sir.'"  I later overheard one student saying to another, "Can you believe the ego on that guy, telling us to call him that?"  Irony is lost on some people, even in person.  So, to be clear, I do not think that my endorsement is coveted by anyone.

In any case, as the headline for this column indicates, I have decided to get off the fence and endorse Senator Elizabeth Warren.  I have written many columns over the past few years in which I have defended her and advanced arguments on which we agree, but I have always offered caveats, such as: "I am not sure whom I want the Democrats to nominate for President."  And I was sincerely unsure.

Now I am sure, and Liz is the one.  Here, I will explain why I think Warren is the Democrats' best choice next year, both as a matter of being a better president but also as the best person to beat Donald Trump in the general election.

I have to confess up front that, even if I were not already inclined to support Warren, her treatment at the hands of the political press (and her centrist opponents) would have pushed me toward her simply out of a sense of sympathy and outrage.  It is almost comical that Joe Biden recently claimed that reporters are uniquely hard on him (saying they would "have torn my ears off" if he had adopted someone else's policy position), given that Warren was repeatedly and unfairly grilled by the political press (not just the pundits) for being "vague" and all that, when she was in fact smartly avoiding a trap.

And the hit job just kept coming, with unfair claims of hypocrisy leveled against Warren for having changed her mind as a matter of principle about work that she has done in the past.  Worse, the sexist nature of the anti-Warren attacks were obscured by some women piling on.

It is bad, but somewhat understandable, that a direct rival like Senator Amy Klobuchar would take the cheap-and-easy route in her attacks on Warren.  But why in the world is former Senator Claire McCaskill, whose political career is simply over (now that Missouri has turned redder than red), saying: "The problem Elizabeth has is she’s been so righteous, and so her attitude has been so, 'I am morally superior because I am purer. I hate corporations.'"  And is Claire being morally superior because she is saying, "I am too good to be self-righteous and I love everyone"?  Yeesh.

But if Warren did not have the goods, my genuine sympathy for her would not be enough to make me favor her presidential bid.  Why am I now sure that she is the best nominee?

On the question of who can beat Trump, which Warren's opponents apparently think is the best argument against her, I confess that I was troubled by the heckler's-veto-esque nature of the attacks on Warren.  That problem amounts to the claim that because so many Democrats -- Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar in particular, along with some party hacks -- had attacked Warren, she was now too vulnerable to attacks by Trump.

This is why Warren was right to say that her opponents need to stop using "Republican talking points" in attacking her.  It is one thing to disagree on the merits of any particular policy (how quickly to move to single-payer, for example, or even to move there at all), but it is another to do what Biden and his campaign have done in attacking her as an elitist.  That attack is tailor-made for Republicans to recycle next year.

Moreover, the pundits are especially vicious about Warren -- and shamefully dishonest.  Washington Post center-right columnist Jennifer Rubin is obsessed with taking down the progressives in the race, which is fair enough in that she has the right to use her perch to push for candidates who agree with her (crappy) policy stands.

But consider a recent column, in which Rubin quotes from an interview in which Warren said that consulting firms "have a constructive role to play when we have accountable capitalism. If what they were helping do is make that company work better for employees as well as shareholders, for the communities where they’re located as well as shareholders, then sure. But that’s not what they’re doing." Rubin's snarky retort: "So anyone who works in consulting is a bad guy so long as capitalism does not meet her accountability standard? Sounds like it. It is hard to be a capitalist if you need to call everyone in the private sector a bad guy."  Again, yeesh.

As I noted, however, it is possible that these attacks -- perhaps especially because they are so unfair and nasty -- have made Warren unelectable.  And even though I truly do not like Pete Buttigieg, I would rather that he were president than Donald Trump.  As New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo (another Buttigieg detractor) recently put it: "Like Biden, the mayor seems to possess the baseline capacity to run America in a way that isn’t an embarrassment or a disgrace, which would certainly be a step up from the current administration."

Yes, that is faint praise, but it is nothing to sniff at in the current circumstances.  If I thought that Buttigieg or Biden or anyone else were more likely to beat Trump, I would find that a compelling argument.  But if we are going to have yet another discussion about electability, it is important not to look only at Warren's supposed negatives.  She is not a perfect candidate, of course, but none of them are.

And the problem with the supposedly more electable -- that is, less liberal -- candidates is that they are so uninspiring.  I continue to be furious with the people who sat home or cast protest votes in 2016, but they are not wrong that the Democratic Party has been dominated for far too long by people who consider it their job to protect the wealthy and connected elites who run the party.  In an election that will be all about turnout, nominating someone who makes people feel underwhelmed is not the way to go.

Obviously, Biden is the walking definition of a candidate who leaves audiences uninspired (and often befuddled).  And Manjoo aptly notes that Buttigieg seems to be "trying too hard to please everyone and ... — in a way that recalls some of Obama’s worst tendencies toward misguided centrism — he’ll end up pleasing no one in the process. Ultimately, I worry Buttigieg will easily lose to Trump because he is ill suited to make the simplest and most powerful argument against the current administration’s apparent economic successes."

Which brings us to the second reason that I am supporting Warren.  The simplest and most powerful argument against Trump and all Republicans is that the economy is -- more than ever -- rigged against all but the wealthiest and most connected people.  Michael Bloomberg and other plutocrats freak out about wealth taxes and other progressive ideas that are not even close to radical (by comparison to other countries or even to our own history), and the co-called centrists are so worried about offending the donor class that they parrot debunked economic arguments about progressive taxes "killing innovation" and similar nonsense.  (I realize that there are other candidates besides Biden and Buttigieg, but none of them seem likely to stand up for progressive policies, either.  Bernie Sanders is a different story.)

Ultimately, however, it is not just that Warren is a progressive that won me over.  It is that she is a progressive capitalist.  All the way back in 2011 -- eons ago in political time -- I wrote that "Wall Street Attacks Elizabeth Warren Because She Believes in Capitalism More Than They Do."  What Warren now calls "accountable capitalism" perfectly captures the truly centrist idea that human interactions in economic markets can bring powerful results but that the rules governing those interactions need to create the right incentives.

Warren knows, in other words, that there are an infinite number of different ways that a capitalist system can be set up.  She wants to move to a type of capitalism that, for example, still allows businesses to innovate in socially useful ways but does not pretend that income and wealth distribution concerns are illegitimate (or are defiant of God's will).  She wants what I want, which is an economy in which people live under laws and rules that allow them to compete fairly, without being victimized by predatory lenders or prevented from collectively bargaining (among many other things).

The fact is, of course, that even if Warren becomes president, close to none of her policy ideas will become reality.  The powers that be have too much to lose, and the Joe Manchins and even Cory Bookers of this world will be all too willing to defy their president in order to prove that they are "realists."  But even so, I want a president who at least starts from the right place and (unlike Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) does not negotiate against herself in the vain hope that Republicans will see how reasonable she is.

Warren would govern pragmatically, because although she is willing to fight, she is not imagining that there is some grand revolution that she can lead.

None of this is easy.  Considering candidates' various pluses and minuses is tricky, and the stakes are high.  But Elizabeth Warren stands for the things that I stand for, and she is amazingly resilient in the face of relentlessly unfair attacks.  She would drive Trump crazy (well, crazier), and she would not be intimidated by the Republicans' nonsense, because she has been dealing with it for years.  She can beat Trump, and she can govern effectively.  Sounds good to me.