Monday, November 11, 2013


Would I like Elizabeth Warren to be a hugely powerful force in American life? Oh, hell yes. As president of the United States? That has an appealing ring to it.

But we have zero evidence that she's running. She's sent no presidential signals, at a time when we have a dozen or so aspirants who send presidential signals (hi, I'm in Iowa/South Carolina/New Hampshire!) virtually every week.

In fact, Warren has sent at least one signal that she's not running. Attached to the penultimate paragraph of Noam Scheiber's 5,400-word New Republic fantasy story about the near-inevitability of a Warren run is this footnote:
Warren did recently sign a letter circulated by her colleague, Barbara Boxer of California, encouraging [Hillary] Clinton to run for president in 2016.
Now, you'd think that might give Scheiber second thoughts about writing a 5,400-word story about why Warren is extremely likely to run. Nahhh. Scheiber just explains it away:
But it's hard to read much into this. Given that every female Democratic Senator signed the letter, it was effectively impossible for Warren to withhold her signature. Doing so would have instantly sent the presidential speculation to a fever pitch. Still, the letter doesn't appear to entail any commitment not to challenge Clinton.
No -- it just turns any such challenge into an ugly betrayal, which is exactly how it would be portrayed at the outset of any Warren run against Clinton.

Similarly, Scheiber finds that Democratic insiders almost universally believe that Warren won't challenge Clinton:
Most of the pundits, operatives, and donors who populate the presidential-campaign industry assume Warren will not run for president in 2016 if Clinton does. They believe taking her on would be a suicide mission at best -- harmless to Clinton but career-ending for the challenger. When I asked Swanee Hunt, an influential donor to both Warren and Clinton, about the possibility of Warren running, she told me: "I know three other women [besides Hillary] who would be very credible primary candidates. But none of them is going to challenge Hillary.... These women are not stupid."
But Scheiber wishes this away also:
This ... fundamentally misunderstands Warren. While her ambitions are considerable, they have always been focused on advancing her economic agenda. Everything from her public denunciations of Clinton to her lobbying to lead the CFBP to her eventual Senate run was motivated by a zealous attachment to the cause that has preoccupied her since childhood, not necessarily an interest in holding office....

All of which is to say, if Hillary Clinton runs and retains her ties to Wall Street, Warren will be more likely to join the race, not less.
Scheiber proceeds like a birther, or a Benghazi truther or 9/11 truther or JFK assassination conspiratorialist: evidence that fits his theory, however weakly, confirms it, and evidence that contradicts his theory also, somehow, confirms it.

So he tells us that a Warren run is likely because Democrats have had it up to here with the fat cats and simply won't tolerate another corporatist candidate:
On one side is a majority of Democratic voters, who are angrier, more disaffected, and altogether more populist than they've been in years. They are more attuned to income inequality than before the Obama presidency and more supportive of Social Security and Medicare. They've grown fonder of regulation and more skeptical of big business. A recent Pew poll showed that voters under 30 -- who skew overwhelmingly Democratic -- view socialism more favorably than capitalism. Above all, Democrats are increasingly hostile to Wall Street and believe the government should rein it in.
But later he tells us this:
The pollster Celinda Lake has found that support for “tougher rules” for Wall Street obliterates party lines, increasing in the last two years from more than 70 percent to more than 80.
Well, if skepticism about Wall Street "obliterates party lines," and if it's so strong that an anti-fat-cat warrior is inevitably going to emerge as a 2016 front-runner for the Democrats, why isn't an anti-fat-cat warrior emerging for the Republicans? Not only is there no such presidential aspirant in the GOP, there's no front-rank Republican anywhere who's a true skeptic about big business.

And if Democrats and liberals are just champing at the bit to vote for a Wall Street scourge, why did 32% of New Jersey Democrats vote for Wall Street's favorite politician, Chris Christie, as well as 31% of the state's liberals? Why is the other political star from New Jersey Cory Booker, another Wall Street favorite, who attacked Barack Obama for criticizing Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital?

And if we're all Occupiers at heart, how the hell did Terry McAuliffe dodge a primary challenge and win a general election?

Look, I would love for Americans to be angry enough at the plutocrats to push the Overton window far to the left in national politics -- but it ain't happening. We hate the fat cats, but we're beaten down by a politics that hasn't worked for ordinary people in decades, so we're used to settling for less. We're used to hoping that pols who are in bed with the fat cats (and I include virtually every A-list pol in my lifetime, including both Clintons and Obama) will throw us a few bones. We assume only corporatist Democrats can win the big races, and we're usually right. (And it's not crazy to think this way, because they're still better than the increasingly insane Republicans.)


In this article, Scheiber thinks he's being high-minded -- but he's really just doing what the worst Politico and Politico-esque reporters are doing right now: (A) building a horse race out of speculation and (B) taking Hillary Clinton down a peg, partly to generate the illusion of excitement, partly out of a sense that she's an insider hack, and partly out a sense that she's an icky old lady. (Most of the people doing this are men.)

In reality, the voters are having none of this, at least for now: a September Public Policy Polling survey showed Hillary Clinton with 57% presidential support among Democrats in New Hampshire, while Warren has only 11%. Warren presumably has no name recognition problems in New Hampshire -- as Scheiber notes in his article, 80% of New Hampshirites live in the Boston media market. Contrast Warren with Ted Cruz, who's favored for president by 32% of Texas Republicans according to PPP, far ahead of the rest of the pack.

Scheiber keeps telling us about Warren's high national profile, but sorry -- however many YouTube views she gets, she's still (alas) not breaking through nationally the way Cruz and Christie and Paul are. Scheiber does a better job of portraying Warren as a tenacious infighter -- instrumental in altering the terms of settlements with big banks, a significant player in the campaign to keep Larry Summers away from the Fed chairmanship. If that's the case, then maybe Warren is -- unlike Scheiber and other insider journalists -- sensible enough not to obsess over the presidential race, and grown-up enough to realize that she has a perch already from which she can actually get some work done. If so, good for her.


Never Ben Better said...

Pundits gotta pundit, like dogs gotta roll in roadkill. With comparable results.

Victor said...

It's creeping "Lara Loganism" - a "reporter" with an agenda, applying only those points that he/she wants, and that "prove" his/her preordained narrative.

And maybe I shouldn't single-out Ms. Logan, because that's been going on since the good old days of "Yellow Journalism," in the run-up to another unnecessary war - The Spanish-American War.

Well, after all, WE DID WIN THAT ONE!

the RaptorMage said...

Warren is not the next Jack Kennedy. She's the new Ted Kennedy. She'll be a liberal force in the Senate for years; like Ted, she'll probably run for pres at some point (after at least one Senate reelection) but not get elected.

brett said...

Running during a first term in the Senate is what a dishonest power hungry tool would do. She's not like that, thankfully

Philo Vaihinger said...

Didn't Hillary say, many moons ago, she was through with elective office?

aimai said...

This is so dumb, the Schieber piece, that it makes dumb look smart. Look, here's a fact that Schieber simply fails to begin with: although EVERY male politician, from dog catcher to senator, looks in the mirror and sees a potential President almost no female politician ever has. All the more so someone like Warren who grew up hardscrabble and fought all the way to Harvard as a Prof. I'm not saying that a woman like that doesn't have pride, or an ego--but I'm saying that given her background and her life goals so far being a Senator is a huge deal, a huge honor, and not a mere waystatio to being President.

And that is true for most women her age--maybe the younger ones are starting to get the notion that they might enter politics with the goal of VP or P but someone WArren's age? I doubt it.

Also: wanting to be President requires wanting to handle a lot of foreign policy and that has never been an interest of Warren's (despite her deeply felt appreciation for the military.) She's always been focused on a purely domestic agenda.

I expect Warren to stay in the Senate for a long time. I think she can stay as long as she wants given the MA electorate's love of an incumbent and her canny use of machine politics. If the nominee is not Hillary, but some guy, I can see her accepting a VP slot *if offered* but I don't think thats really her goal.

the RaptorMage said...

I retract one part of my comment; I didn't realize that Warren is already 64 years old. If she doesn't run in 2016 (and I don't think she will), she's probably too old even to run after that.

Lex Alexander said...

Scheiber's piece, subtitled "Democratic Catfight!," was an audition for Politico only. It had no meaning or significance in the real world.

Mike Lumish said...

I love Senator Warren.

I loved her when I voted for her, and I like her right where she is: in the Senate, representing me and my family and my state and everyone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness.

What I don't want to see is her being pulled away to the executive branch, like Clinton and Napolitano and Sebelius, where her hands will be tied and she will have to forgo the good work she is doing where she is. I think that President Obama, as much as I love him, made strategic errors in staffing up his administration that have cost the overall Democratic community dearly. Opportunity costs are all the more real for being invisible.