Sunday, December 1, 2013

Elizabeth Warren for President?

I believe it was the day after President Obama’s reelection victory last year when the pundits started to speculate on who was going to run for president in 2016, especially with no incumbent in the mix.  Many people, including me objected to this.  After all, the guy just won a new 4 year term; let’s talk about what he hopes to accomplish now instead of dwelling on the distant future and making him into a lame duck already. 
Of course, since then the speculation has only continued.  On the Democratic side, we have the ‘inevitable’ nomination of Hillary Clinton if she decides to run (which was also inevitable back in 2008, but a young Senator Barack Obama didn’t get the memo).  On the Republican side, will they nominate someone from the Tea Party like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul? Or will they nominate somebody is who viewed as being a more moderate conservative like Chris Christie?  
So once again for liberals, it looks like a choice between another Democratic centrist and someone likely to be from the far right which is what the Republican primary battles seem to be turning out.  Will liberals ever get one of their own to choose from?  With the speculation over the increasingly popular Senator Elizabeth Warren perhaps running for president, especially if Hillary chooses not to run, liberals like me cannot keep from being swept into the same speculation over 2016 that I have criticized.  So if the reader will indulge me...  
Elizabeth Warren who was a Harvard Law School professor became well known for her government work not only to liberals, but also to corporate America and Wall Street for her outspoken criticism of how they did business.  President Obama named her to help put together the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and in a logical next step, he nominated her to be the first Director of the agency.  Needless to say, the Republicans in general and Wall Street in particular wanted no part of this and with a promise of a Senate filibuster that would make her confirmation unlikely, Warren’s nomination was reluctantly withdrawn.  
In hindsight, maybe the Republicans wish they could have that choice back because her next move which resulted in a successful run for the US Senate in Massachusetts has resulted in her being even more of a thorn in the side of Wall Street with her appointment to be part of the Senate Banking Committee.  There is already a considerable collection of online videos of her tormenting Wall Street executives and even the Treasury Department as in this video during congressional hearings asking the tough (but pertinent) questions many of her colleagues didn’t seem to have the stomach to ask. 
But when she ran against the incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown, many wondered if she had a chance to even be competitive, let alone win against an opponent who was being heavily bankrolled by Wall Street.  But an amazing thing happened in that she actually received a significant amount of campaign donations even from voters outside of Massachusetts, hoping that this populist candidate could beat the odds.  And she did, winning rather comfortably.
Senator Warren has been an outspoken advocate for liberal causes, most notably focusing on the harm from our extreme wealth and wage disparity along with the resulting money that those in the top 1% have used to buy favor with politicians of both parties. 
You would think that running on such a populist platform would be a natural for an ambitious politician.  But just as Kermit the Frog lamented that It's Not Easy Being Green, nowadays it’s not easy being a liberal either.  Conservatives having control of the White House for most of the last 30 years have seemingly captured much of the political narrative in the US.  Especially with their domination of talk radio along with the success of Fox News, they have sold the notion that America is mainly a conservative nation, which ignores President Obama’s back to back victories.  But just as importantly, whatever one may think of conservatives, they are proud as hell to call themselves conservatives.  And furthermore, there is seemingly no such thing in most of their minds as being too conservative.  A number of politicians with solid conservative credentials have been defeated in Republican primaries by hard-right Tea party activists for in their minds not being conservative enough.  Others are fearful of being ‘primaried’ when it is their turn to run for reelection. Even as someone who once ran as a moderate Republican for governor of a solidly liberal Massachusetts, Mitt Romney had to re-label himself as a "severely conservative" governor during his presidential campaign try and convince the conservative base that he was one of them. 
On the other side, the term ‘liberal’ has become a pejorative word – even most liberals will no longer use the word but instead prefer to be known as ‘progressives’.  If conservatives want to paint an opponent as being unworthy to vote for, all they feel they need to do is to paint him or her as a ‘liberal’ and that will do the job (after adding in the word ‘socialist’ for good measure).  With the resounding defeats of liberals George McGovern and Walter Mondale in past presidential elections, the formula for most Democratic presidential candidates nowadays is to say enough to appeal to the liberal base but also at the same time not come across as being too liberal.  The result has been Democratic presidents in the form of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who on economic issues are centrist at best and maybe even center-right on some issues.   
Bill Clinton brought us more financial deregulation, especially the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which had put a firewall between the banking and investment parts of financial institutions.  Many feel that if this firewall was still in place, the financial debacle of 2008 which is still inflicting great harm on our economy may not have happened.  And Barack Obama has relied on many of the same members of the Clinton team who were behind all of the financial deregulation. 
The frustration of those on the liberal side comes from when a centrist has to negotiate with those on the far right, the compromise has to land somewhere on the right.  For example, with our need to create jobs to address our stubborn unemployment problem, the battle should be between the idea of more government spending to try and stimulate the economy (the liberal/Keynesian approach) or going with spending cuts (the conservative/austerity approach) to try and balance the budget.  Instead, we have an attempt at compromise in which the only detail to work out is how much and where spending cuts are going to be.  Some compromise!  The fear among liberal economists like Paul Krugman is that without some sort of fiscal policy in the way of a government stimulus to create jobs, we are going to be stuck in this unemployment rut for a long time to come. 
And as for Hillary, although most of the Democratic campaign money seems to lining up behind her if she runs, it is tough for liberals to get a warm and fuzzy feeling for someone who as a senator from New York was (perhaps understandably) supportive of Wall Street interests. 
A recent article from The New Republic, Hillary's Worst Nightmare? provides lots of red meat for liberals to chew on.  While acknowledging that Hillary is again considered to be the “inevitable” Democratic nominee if she decides to run, they write that Elizabeth Warren’s liberal populist message may prove to give Hillary more of a battle than many would expect or at the very least, would nudge Hillary a little more to the left.  And just to prove that liberal populism is not totally extinct, there is the recent mayoral race in New York City won in a landslide by unabashed liberal Bill de Blasio 
OK, back to reality.  Elizabeth Warren and her staffers have repeatedly said that she is not running for president.  Of course this is speculation, but I think this is more a case of not wanting to run against Hillary rather than just not being interested in the presidency.  While she may well make it a spirited battle, Warren is a political neophyte having never held political office before her run for the Senate.  In addition, her inexperience in foreign affairs compared to someone who was recently the Secretary of State would be ruthlessly exploited in a political campaign. 
But if Hillary decides not to run, all bets are off!  Warren, who will be 67 years old in 2016 may decide that it’s now or never if she indeed has any ambitions to be president. 
And let’s not forget VP Joe Biden who I’m sure would love to take another crack at the presidency if Hillary doesn’t run – or maybe even if she does run for all we know!  Biden gets an unfair rap as a buffoon because of the number of gaffes he has made in his public appearances.  But Biden has always been one to speak from the heart and not from a TelePrompTer.  I’ll take that over someone whose words are always programmed for political correctness.  In addition, he served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was widely respected for his expertise there.  Had President Obama not picked him as his VP, he would have been a fine choice as his Secretary of State.   Instead, Biden has worked as a loyal team player behind the scenes on behalf of the president to make up for his relative lack of experience with inside Washington politics. And best yet, he is a true liberal from a modest background who truly cares about the working person and others who are struggling to get by in these difficult times.  But in 2016, he will be 74 – perhaps too old to be seriously considered by the electorate. 
If Hillary does run and get the nomination, she may well decide that Elizabeth Warren can make a valued contribution to her presidency if she wins just like Joe Biden has done for President Obama.  Maybe this means a cabinet spot or – wait for it! – the VP slot.  Warren’s strong following among liberals may prove to be a help in mobilizing this group to support and vote for Hillary instead of sitting on the sidelines.  A woman at the top of the ticket would be historic.  Two on the ticket...why not?