Mid-September Politics

So, I watched two hours of the debate last night.  I haven’t watched any of the previous ones, but decided that with only 10 on stage it would be manageable.  But who decided to make it 3 hours!?  I trend toward political junkiness but even I had had enough.

I came away with lots of questions:  Why is Andrew Yang still on the stage?  Who exactly is supporting him.  He gave precisely one good answer on immigration.  How did Bernie Sanders get to be so old?  He never really looked old in 2016, but three years does make a difference.  And Biden is, well, Biden.  Still with the tangled syntax and rambling answers.  Do I really want to elect another old white guy to succeed the old white guy currently in office?  Is Elizabeth Warren too wonky?  Sometimes her answers, while likely factual, make my eyes glaze over.  (I have to point out here that I worked on her first Senate campaign when I still lived in Massachusetts, but I had the same feelings about her then.)  Maybe she is better suited to the Senate.

The two candidates I liked were Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.  The New York Times only gave them each around 6 out of 10.  (Warren was the highest at 7.5.)  FiveThirtyEight rated them average with most of the others – 3 out of 4 – but they also had Harris slipping in support along with Bernie.  But debate performance is mostly in the eye of the beholder.

So why do I like Harris and Booker?  I think the racial politics right now means we need a black/minority candidate to take on Trump.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he wouldn’t know what to do against a Harris or Booker:  a smart articulate qualified person who wouldn’t wilt under his racial attacks.  I would pair Harris with Pete Buttigieg or Booker with Amy Klobuchar.  West or east coast with the center.   My single goal is to beat Trump.  I know the polling shows that other candidates can do better in beating him, but it is early days yet and Booker and Harris have decent numbers.   Vox had a story the other day with numbers:

These were the latest numbers in Texas from Latino Decisions, North Star Opinion Research, and the University of Houston:

  • Joe Biden 47 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Bernie Sanders 48 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent
  • Elizabeth Warren 44 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent
  • Kamala Harris 45 percent, Donald Trump 44 percent
  • Cory Booker 43 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent
  • Julián Castro 44 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent

The real story is in the second half of the column, with Donald Trump stuck between 41 and 44 percent in Texas. Head-to-head polling from the Washington Post and ABC News, fresh off the presses, tells a similar story at the national level among registered voters:

  • Joe Biden 55 percent, Donald Trump 40 percent
  • Bernie Sanders 52 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Elizabeth Warren 51 percent, Donald Trump 44 percent
  • Kamala Harris 50 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Pete Buttigieg 47 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent

Once again, the president doesn’t breach even 45 percent against any of his potential Democratic opponents.

 

So let’s not fall into the Bernie-Biden-Warren trap too soon.  We are having debates, but we need to see the ground games of the candidates.  February and the Iowa Caucuses will come soon enough.  For now I will take Harris’ advice, “believe in what can be, unburdened by what has been”.

The start of the Presidential election season

First, I guess it really isn’t a season in the meteorological sense if it ever was but more like a year.

I’m not sure which of the Republican candidates I would want the Democratic nominee to run against since I find most of them pretty scary in the horror movie sense.  As far as I can tell none believe in climate change (even Bush and Rubio from Florida which is sinking fast); they don’t (even Rand Paul the doctor) believe in science; and they certainly don’t believe in what used to be called “the little people.”  They want the United States to be a “Christian Nation.”  I guess they just carry copies of the United States Constitution around in their suit coat pockets, but don’t read it.  It says something about “establishment of religion.”  My assumption that we long ago resolved to be a diverse society – including religious belief – must be incorrect.  At times they seem almost to be a Christian version of those fundamentalist Muslims they so oppose.  But most frightening of all is that all of them seem to want to control women and our bodies.  They appear to be opposed to regulation except of women.  So there really isn’t much to choose from on that side.  It should be fun to watch when they begin to squabble.

My problem is Hillary Clinton.  I’m not exactly sure why I am not enthusiastic about her.  I always liked her when she was First Lady, thought she represented New York well in the Senate, and she was a good Secretary of State.  But President?  I just can’t get excited.

Hillary

I took the Gail Collins quiz, “Take Your Hillary Temperature” the other week and my score was “ready for a primary.”  But who could be in the primary?

I like Elizabeth Warren and worked hard to get her elected to the Senate when I live in Massachusetts, but I think we should take her at her word that she doesn’t want to run.  If she stays in the Senate and things break for the Democrats she could be the first woman Majority Leader.  So leave Elizabeth alone, please.

There is my current Senator, Bernie Sanders.  Bernie might make a fine candidate, I think he would be a good debater, but I just can’t see him as President.  He was the mayor of Burlington, VT which in the scheme of things is not a very big town.  Bernie is like the opposite of Ted Cruz ideologically.  I think he’s going to run.

There are three governors who would be possible.  Deval Patrick (who has already said no), Tim Kaine (who is already supporting Hillary) and Martin O’Malley who appears to be running.  I also like Senator Amy Klobachar but I don’t think she has any thoughts about running.

So why can’t I just jump on the Hillary bandwagon?  I get many email from various people telling me to do just that.  I think, however, I am suffering from Clinton fatigue.  We know too much about her and Bill not all of which I like.  I’m also not sure she can attract the young, white, male voters who may well decide this election.  And maybe it is none of those reasons, but something I can’t yet put my finger on.  All I know is that I think a primary would be good for the Democratic Party whether Hillary gets the nomination or not.

Photograph: Justin Sullivan / Getty

The Next Fed Chair? Not Larry Summers.

Why would the President want to appoint someone who once opined that women were not good at science?  The man who was hired to end the economic crisis, but likely contributed to its making.  I’ve been thinking about how to approach this for a few days now and then I saw two pieces by Shirley Leung in the Boston Globe Business Section.  I think she says exactly what I wanted to say.  In the first, she discusses Larry Summers.

No need to hold back here: Larry Summers as the next Fed chairman?

Worst idea ever.

Summers, by all accounts, is a brilliant economist, one of the best of his generation. He is also someone who is confident, and, in times of crises, may be the adult in the room that he supposedly said the Obama administration didn’t have when the economy collapsed.

But he lacks one critical trait I like in my Fed chairmen: He’s not boring.

Summers is far from bland. He is arrogant and a lightning rod and would carry so much baggage he couldn’t fit it on the shuttle to Washington.

Do we need a Fed Chair that is all about Larry Summers?  I think not.

In his book “Confidence Men,” about the Obama White House’s handling of the economic crisis, former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind paints Summers as brilliant but overconfident and prone to unnecessary battles. “As he has aged, he has grown less troubled by being uninformed,” Suskind wrote.

That’s not what you want in a Fed chairman. The nation’s top central banker must manage the economy primarily by raising or lowering interest rates and must build consensus to do so. He must work with six other Fed governors and 12 regional Fed bank presidents. Imagine what would have happened if the Fed board was split over what to do with the economy in 2008? What would that have done to the markets?

“I know Larry very well. He is a smart guy,” said Allan Meltzer, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has written the definitive history on the Fed. “But the skills that are required for that job are not just brilliance, they are ability to manage compromise. He doesn’t do that well.”

This is to say nothing about how he ran Harvard.  When he left, they picked Drew Faust, a women who was his opposite in many important ways.

So, who should be the next Fed Chair?  How about a woman?  Senator Elizabeth Warren and Shirley Leung are backing Janet Yellen.

English: Official picture of Janet Yellen from...

English: Official picture of Janet Yellen from FRBSF web site. http://www.frbsf.org/federalreserve/people/officers/yellen.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as forcefully as folks are coming out against Summers, there is a campaign mounting to promote Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke’s number two.

Unlike Summers, Yellen has significant monetary policy experience. She has been the vice chair of the Fed board of governors since 2010, and prior to that she ran the San Francisco Federal Reserve bank for six years. She has been involved in the Fed’s quantitative easing strategy, hatched during the Great Recession to keep money flowing and the US economy alive.

And unlike Summers, she is sufficiently boring, a key trait we want in someone running our central bank.

If Yellen got the nod, she would break the glass ceiling at the Fed, becoming the first woman at the top. She already has some high profile endorsements from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and former FDIC chair and UMass-Amherst professor Sheila Bair.

Bair, in a blog posted on Fortune earlier this week, argues that Yellen is the most qualified candidate, but the financial world’s old-boy network is trying to derail her candidacy:

“So why isn’t she a shoo-in? The ‘whispering’ campaign against her among industry types has been deafening. ‘Doesn’t understand markets.’ Translation: She may not bail us out if we get into trouble again. ‘Not assertive enough.’ Translation: She won’t stand up for us against the populists who want more regulation. ‘Lacks gravitas.’ Translation: She doesn’t show up very often in the financial media.”

I guess we haven’t come far enough for the Wall Street guys to be comfortable with a woman.

Bair also takes a whack at Summers. “Unlike Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and other Bob Rubin minions frequently mentioned in the financial press as potential Bernanke successors, she was not part of the deregulatory cabal that got us into the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, she had a solid record as a bank regulator at the San Francisco Fed and was one of the few in the Fed system to sound the alarm on the risks of subprime mortgages in 2007.”

Others are also rallying behind Yellen. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Friday confirmed that she has signed a letter Senate Democrats are circulating and plan to deliver to President Obama calling on him to nominate Yellen because “she is the best person for this job.” As early as Monday, activists, including women’s advocacy groups NOW and Ultraviolet plan to send a letter to Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid to support Yellen’s candidacy and oppose Summers’. When he ran Harvard, Summers set off a firestorm when he suggested women lacked the same “intrinsic aptitude” for science as men.

The President recently said he was not going to make a decision until fall, so we have time to make sure he appoints the best qualified person who, in this case is a woman.  Not Larry Summers.

Markey v. Gomez: The Massachusetts Senate Race

With a few days left to go, this race is officially a snoozer.  Ed Markey is a fine Representative and will make a fine Senator but somehow I can’t work up any enthusiasm.  You know, if you read this blog with any regularity, that I am a campaigner and it is a measure of something that I haven’t done much of anything for Ed except throw him a few bucks and vote in the primary where he was unopposed.  I think the race would have been a lot more exciting if someone like Mike Capuano were running, but too late for that.  Maybe we should just feel sorry for these guys since after the Elizabeth Warren – Scott Brown tussle almost anything would seem dull.  This is the assessment of the race from the Daily Kos Election update for June 21.

MA-Sen: Gabriel Gomez has gotten some “next Scott Brown” hype, to the extent that he’s a moderate Republican who’s a fresh face and running in a Massachusetts Senate special election (which will be held next Tuesday) against a charisma-challenged Democrat. However, there’s one important element that seems missing: the ability to mount a late surge and actually win the race, at least if the newest public poll is any indication. UMass Lowell, on behalf of the Boston Herald, gives Ed Markey his biggest lead of any pollster who’s looked at the race so far: among likely voters, Markey leads Gomez 56-36 (and 53-32 among all registered voters). This is the pollster’s first look at the race since the primary; they did poll the general way back in early March, and found an almost identical margin (47-28 for Markey).

Most pollsters have shown a closer race, usually in the high single digits, although the last couple public polls (from UNH for the Boston Globe, and from Harper Polling) both had it in the low teens; only one recent poll (a Suffolk poll with a 17-point margin in early May) had anything similar to this one.   And then there’s the GOP internal pollsters, who continue to see the race within low single digits; the most recent of these came out Thursday from McLaughlin, with Markey up 47-44. That follows a McLaughlin poll from two weeks ago with Markey up 45-44 (on behalf of donor John Jordan), in addition to two OnMessage polls directly on behalf of Gomez, one from less than a week ago with Markey up 47-40, and one from early May with Markey up 46-43. It’s not clear what the GOP hopes to gain from constantly leaking those polls, since most observers know that leaked internal polls usually overstate support for their candidate and none of these best-case-scenarios still manage to have Gomez winning.   The 47-44 topline is all that McLaughlin leaked to Politico, but Dave Weigel seems to have gotten his hands on the crosstabs, which show Gomez’s favorables falling from 48/27 to 41/35, while Markey’s are up a little, from 42/42 to 47/40. Again, not a sign of progress for Gomez, though maybe the GOP thinks the toplines are enough to convince donors that it’s not entirely a lost cause. (Although donations at this point would probably arrive too late to do anything other than last-minute GOTV.)

As for the original Scott Brown, the ex-Senator had publicly said that he was willing to campaign for Gomez as his schedule permitted, but so far he hasn’t done anything (apparently impeded by his busy dual careers of lobbying and appearing as a Fox News analyst). Well, he is finally popping up: he’ll be appearing at a rally with Gomez on Monday night, the night before the election. Is it really a case of a busy schedule, or just not wanting to let Gomez’s likely loss appear to be a referendum on Brown himself (especially considering that he may still get in to the Massachusetts gubernatorial race… or the New Hampshire Senate race)?

And if you’ve gotten the impression that Massachusetts voters are responding to the Ed Markey vs. Gabriel Gomez special election with a collective yawn, now we’ve gotten some quantitative proof. Absentee ballot requests are down significantly from the 2010 special election that elected Scott Brown; only 49.7K ballots have been requested, compared with 63.6K at the comparable point in 2010. The absentee ballot application deadline is on Monday, one day before the election.

This photo provided by WGBH shows U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Gabriel Gomez, left, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, right before a debate moderated by R.D. Sahl, center, Tuesday at WGBH studios in Boston. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

This photo provided by WGBH shows U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Gabriel Gomez, left, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, right before a debate moderated by R.D. Sahl, center, Tuesday at WGBH studios in Boston. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

I won’t be home on Tuesday so I’ve already voted absentee – for Markey.

As an aside:  I believe this is my 600th post.  When I started posting in July 2008, it was as a lark.  I write mostly for myself about what interests me which sometimes interests others.  I’ve had periods of inactivity and have a small, but faithful  following.    If you read FortLeft, thank you!

The Boston Marathon bombing

I was checking into a hotel in Philadelphia minutes after the bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and learned what had happened from the desk clerk.  For the next week, we followed the story mostly by reading the paper in the morning and sometimes catching a few snippets on television.  I had made the decision not to do email or any social media while I was gone.  I did have my cell phone on, mostly in case of a cat emergency at home or a Philly friend calling.  It was strange to be away from home and hearing about familiar places.

Things got particularly weird  for me late Thursday afternoon.  The authorities had just released the video of the suspects and in the tape was a person walking who resembled me.  I started getting text messages and calls from friends in Boston who wondered if it was me and if I were OK.  It wasn’t, but when we turned on the TV and watched the endless loop, the other “me” was easy to spot.  Blue jacket, ball cap, grey purse strap across the back.  A short woman, a little stocky.  As one of my friends said even after being reassured, “It really does look like you.”

I got home to a pile of papers and more information on the incident.  It was interesting to see what people got wrong in the early days and it should get more interesting as the investigation continues.  My husband and I were thinking that bombing like this are regular occurrences in other countries and in many ways we are lucky that our law enforcement can actually track the two kids who planted the bombs.  We will bring the survivor to trial eventually, but as someone, I think it was Senator Elizabeth Warren, said these are the early days of the investigation and this is not NCIS where crimes get solved in an hour.

James Carroll wrote this morning in the Boston Globe about the Boston Marathon, the votes in Washington against any regulation of guns, and democracy.  Here is some of what he said.

In 490 BC, the legendary runner brought urgent news to Athens of the Greek victory in Marathon over the armies of the Persian Empire. The Battle of Marathon secured a peace that ushered in the Athenian Golden Age, during which a vibrant democracy finally found the balance between the exercise of force and the fulfillment of human needs. Last week, as an American commemoration of the Battle of Marathon unfolded in Boston, that same democratic balance was dangerously stretched amid the Doric columns of Washington, where the Senate cast a tragic vote for violence.

Yet even our definition of “tragic” goes back to Athens, to the spacious imagination that flourished there — especially in the plays of Sophocles, who lived from about 497 to 406 BC. He taught us that every choice has its consequence, that character is destiny, that the exercise of power must always be measured by the health of the whole community. He also taught us that tragedy, when faced directly and bravely, leaves humans not diminished, but ennobled.

The traumas of Boston last week, culminating in the killing and pursuit of the men suspected of planting the bombs, were heartbreaking and repugnant, but they left the city whole. With all citizens commanded to “shelter in place” Friday while responsible officials conducted the manhunt, Boston was itself a character in the extraordinary drama. A vast ad hoc web of Internet users to whom law enforcement had appealed gave new meaning to the term “community policing.” The fugitives knew that an entire commonwealth had become their antagonist. This surely forced the drama’s denouement. There were no bystanders in Boston.

From Homer on, Greek culture honored competition (“agon” in Greek, which gives us the word “agony”). But in Athens, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has explained, this spirit of contest was balanced by the politics of cooperation. The virtues of the first (discipline, bravery, self-actualization) meshed with the virtues of the second (empathy, humility, selflessness). Athenian democracy was the reconciliation of these opposites. Strength was joined to tenderness.

The Boston Marathon wonderfully embodies this balanced moral order, too: Every year the fiercely determined runners strive to be best (or for their personal best), while surrounded by multitudes whose cooperation makes the race so radically inclusive.

But death changes everything — a jolting transformation to which Greek tragedy itself gave first expression. “In the face of death,” as MacIntyre puts it, “winning and losing no longer divide.” Instead, competition drops away, and cooperation becomes the absolute mandate. That is precisely what happened in Boston, as the city held Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and later Sean Collier in its heart.

Last week, a separate drama unfolded in Washington. “It’s almost like you can see the finish line, but you just can’t get there.” These words could have been spoken by thousands of Boston runners, but were said by the father of a shooting victim who witnessed the Senate vote on gun control.

We will, once again, show the world that we can have an investigation and fair trial.  And we will one day enact some sensible gun safety measures.  Watching the events unfold from a distance, I was proud of my fellow Bostonians, law enforcement and  public officials particularly Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick.

Candles for the victims.

Candles for the victims.

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure

One  of my favorite promotional advertisements is an old one.  Rachel Maddow is standing in front of a pile of dirt which could be the beginning of a new highway or of a dam or a bridge abutment.  She points out that the country needs infrastructure and that the private sector does not build it.  And then Elizabeth Warren famously said (quote from Michael Smerconsish on the Huffington Post.)

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” And then she hit her stride:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she says. “But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

As for the tax implications, Warren said, “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” The crowd enthusiastically applauded.

Of course that morphed into the out of context quote used against President Obama:  “You didn’t build it.”

What puzzles me is why the Republicans are so afraid of spending for infrastructure.  And why their fear is making so many Democrats cautious.  Juliette Kayyem tries in her column in today’s Boston Globe to make the link between national security, which every politician is for, and infrastructure.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.” These have had an impact on food supplies and demographic trends. The global population is expected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030. About 60 percent (up from the current 50 percent) of people will live in cities, putting greater pressure on agriculture, energy, transportation, and water supplies.

We are not alone in our concerns. The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.” These have had an impact on food supplies and demographic trends. The global population is expected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030. About 60 percent (up from the current 50 percent) of people will live in cities, putting greater pressure on agriculture, energy, transportation, and water supplies.

We are not alone in our concerns. The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

Protecting against it isn’t just a matter of preserving natural resources; it is about adapting everyday activities to the threat. We are in competition with other nations in this regard: Global investments are linked to cities that can function in bad weather, airports that can lure commerce, ports that can deliver goods. When storms are powerful enough to wipe out electrical grids, our nation’s ability to project power is limited by our powerlessness.

She goes on to say that much of the infrastructure fight is a local one.

And we still must become a more resilient society, one whose basic building blocks cannot be knocked out by threats that are utterly predictable. This effort to construct a society with climate challenges in mind isn’t necessarily new, but it comes at a time when the limits of America’s infrastructure are abundantly clear and entirely visible: We all feel them as we drive to work, head to school, or use the subways.

Local governments are already invested in these national security efforts, whether they know it or not. Such efforts range from a mayor’s desire to fix potholes on residential streets to a governor’s promise to modernize public transportation. More than a lack of commitment or resources, it’s actually our hodge-podge of governance structures — New York City has control over its building codes, while Boston’s are often at the mercy of state approval — that too often become impediments to local ingenuity in preparing for oncoming storms.

At the same time as our intelligence agencies were reminding us that the climate poses as much of a threat as Iran or North Korea, the American Society of Civil Engineers last week gave American infrastructure a pathetic “D+” grade (up from a D!). Delayed maintenance investments and the failure to commit to modernization projects undermine economic progress, global competitiveness, and the sense that we live in a well-functioning society.

Boston Public Works Department employees Aroll Victor and Julio Echemendia clear rocks from a pothole in South Boston on March 12.

Boston Public Works Department employees Aroll Victor and Julio Echemendia clear rocks from a pothole in South Boston on March 12.

So back to my question:  Why are Republicans (and many Democrats) so unwilling to invest in infrastructure?  Until we figure this out, our bridges will crumble, our power grids are subject to blackouts, and many people will be like us and spend thousands on front end work due to driving on crumbling highways.  Wouldn’t the money I am going to spend this spring on my car be better spent paying taxes that will fix the roads and put some people back to work?    Just asking.

Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator

The day we’ve been waiting for.  This picture is from one of her three swearing-ins.  All the Senators get sworn in together and then they get sworn in individually by Vice President, Joe Biden.  Her third, which I plan to attend will be here in Boston, just down the street from me, on Saturday.  Justice Elena Kagan will do the honors.

Elizabeth Warren being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden

Elizabeth Warren being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden

The Boston Globe reports

Elizabeth Warren arrived at the Capitol on Thursday morning carrying a black L.L. Bean backpack in the manner of a student in one of her former Harvard classes. Inside was her treasured, tattered King James Bible, used since third grade and chosen for her Senate swearing-in.

“I know people come with big fancy family Bibles,” Warren said in an interview before her induction. “Mine’s a little more modest.”

As she waited, the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts mused about the moment.

“This chair, this particular Senate seat, was held by John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, [Charles] Sumner — and of course Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy for half a century,” Warren said. “Men of principle, men who fought hard for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and for this country.”

All of us who worked for her election – and those who didn’t – should wish her well.  She has history to live up to and we know she will join the list as a great Senator.

[And I just realized I forgot to mention Bruce Mann, Warren’s husband, in the caption to the picture.]

Photograph Chip Somadevilla / Getty Images