My Date With Elizabeth Warren

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Strangely, it happened at a Walgreen’s.

We had stopped in for toothpaste or something on our way out to eat. The store was almost empty; there was only one other person in our aisle: a woman in shorts, wearing a T- shirt with “Phenomenal Women” emblazoned on it, a nondescript baseball cap on her head, and a small red plastic Walgreen’s shopping basket over one arm.

I might have walked right by her. Not my eagle-eyed wife.

“Excuse me, are you Elizabeth Warren?,” she asked.

“Yes,” the Senator replied, as if outed, perhaps a bit wary about what was going to come next.

“We’re with you!” my wife blurted out. “And we live in NH.”

The whole atmosphere changed.

“We have to do this!” Elizabeth exclaimed, smiling, shaking our hands.

I told her how much I liked the fact that her plans to deal with the climate crisis were connected to job creation and strengthening our economy. She then went on to outline for us — standing right in the Walgreen’s shopping aisle — what was later to be announced as her Green Manufacturing plan, revitalizing the economy and shifting our country away from fossil fuels. She told us she wants to use Federal land to develop alternative energy and insist that any jobs that come from Federal R and D monies must be kept in the United States, in contrast to what has repeatedly happened (American companies using Federal subsidies — our tax money — to develop products and then ship the jobs overseas for manufacture.)

“I plan to deal with climate change from Day One,” she said and then listed several Executive orders she’d immediately sign as President. All the while the shopping basket was balanced on her arm.

It was wonderful watching her mind work — her energy and intelligence. “And I’ve figured out where the money for all this will come from.” (More on that below; this is important.) She told us that she had just gotten back from Michigan and Wisconsin and was buoyed by the responses she had gotten from workers there.

“Um, is this your day off?,” we finally asked.

“Yes! My one day.”

“Yikes, we should let you go.”

She was delightful — engaging and warm and passionate in an infectious, hopeful way. I really believe she would have kept talking to us about it all if we hadn’t let her have her one day off.

She was so engaging to talk to that we forgot to get the toothpaste.

*

Like many of us, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way out of the social and political train wreck of our times. What follows is my attempt to sort that out. I’d welcome reactions and comments.

Still, She Persisted — And More

Elizabeth Warren has interested me since she energized Massachusetts voters in 2012, defeating a charismatic Republican incumbent (whose bumper sticker said, “He’s One Of Us” — and you know which “us” that was), to win back the Senate seat that had been lost after the death of Sen Kennedy.

I had also watched her work in helping to create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency — no easy feat — during the dark days following the 2008 economic meltdown. She turned her anger at the greed and excess represented by that crisis — and the fact that no one was truly held accountable — into doable policy proposals, which she helped enact.

Then, in 2016 I watched her questioning both the CEO and the Chairman of the Board of Wells Fargo during Senate hearings into the company’s banking scandal (the creation of millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts without customer consent and the charging of a variety of false fees to clients).

The impropriety of what Wells Fargo did was astounding and had been denounced by Warren Buffet, among others. Still, the Senate committee hearings were pretty ho-hum: we hear your concerns, we’re correcting the situation, we’re really sorry….(In truth nothing much had happened at that point except for the sacrificial firing of low level employees who’d hardly been responsible).

Then Warren’s turn came. She lit into the CEOS. Her ferocity (telling one senior executive that he should resign or be fired — he did resign — and telling another that he should be indicted on criminal charges), her preparation, her intelligence, her sense of the importance of the accountability of leaders, all stood out.

I saw a clear moral/ethical vision to what Warren was saying to the CEOs — you were cheating people out of their economic well- being, causing enormous suffering and profiting from it. This is not acceptable behavior — and that woke me up to what had been happening, the sort of business- as- usual being taken for granted.

I realized, too, that this was a woman who understood the details of how our economy works; she would not be bullied by CEOS and lobbyists who often can leave Senators confused by arcane details. As former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid observed, “One thing about her conversations with (Larry) Summers and with (Tim) Geithner, they couldn’t talk over her head…. I met with Summers many, many times and, frankly, he talked about a lot of things I didn’t quite comprehend. But with her, that wasn’t the case.”

These same strengths were displayed when she thumbed her nose at Mitch McConnell last year, refusing to be silenced by the Majority Leader during a Senate debate. “Still she persisted.” You bet, Mitch! And, it was more than persistence — she has displayed a calm, strategic, unflappable feistiness in going after egregious abuse of power.

As David Axelrod, former President Obama’s political strategist, has pointed out: “The one thing you need to know about Elizabeth Warren is that you don’t get from Norman, Oklahoma, to where she is right now and take the journey she took without a steel spine and an indefatigability.”

But Is She A Radical?

So, now that she is running for President, I’ve delved into her campaigning and her policy positions. (As much as I can, given all those detailed plans. Geez.)

And I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see her campaigning, since our first- in- the- nation presidential primary here in NH makes politics a sort of seasonal sport.

Here’s my two- cents. Sen Warren is “radical” only if you take the current Gilded Age in America as normal — which it isn’t. Our economy no longer consists of “free markets”, the ballooning economic inequity since the 1970s leaves most of us unhappy, and the current defense budget looms over Federal spending.

The wealth inequity in our country is unsustainable and threatens our social fabric. Estimates of the wealth imbalance vary; two economists I follow — Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman — have found that the richest top 0.1% of our population has seen its share of American wealth nearly triple from 7% in the 1970s to 20% in 2016, while the bottom 90% has seen its share of wealth decline from 35% to 25% in that same period. Currently, about 130,000 families in America now hold nearly as much wealth as the bottom 117 million families combined.

As far as I can tell, Warren wants to restore economic balance, economic competitiveness, and to rein in the defense budget. She’s made clear that she believes in capitalism and free markets — with ground rules and a safety net.

Basically, she wants to save capitalism from itself.

To that end she has outlined detailed plans for everything from Green Plans to deal with the climate crisis, restore jobs, and invest in rural America, to restoring our democracy by overturning Citizens United and ending the influence of PACs and lobbyists, to Universal Child Care and Health Care for all Americans, to comprehensive criminal justice and immigration reform, to restoring American diplomacy as the core of foreign policy, rather than a future of endless wars and military threats. (Details for these and other plans can be found at: elizabethwarren.com/plans)

How will she pay for all this? Senator Warren doesn’t want to “soak the rich” as much as use that enormous capital currently sequestered in the super, super-rich to fund social programs and address needed climate-related, infrastructure, and other priorities after the damage that has been done to the functioning of our society over the past three years.

About The “Two Cents” Wealth Tax

Senator Warren wants to focus only on households with a net worth of $50 million or more — roughly the wealthiest 75,000 households in this country, the top of the 0.1%. These households would pay an annual 2% tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million and a 3% tax on every dollar of net worth above $1 billion.

Frankly, this does not seem like asking a lot of the Uber Rich, yet this proposal would raise almost $3 trillion dollars in tax revenue over the next ten years. That’s not a typo and it gives you some idea of the amount of wealth concentration in America today, far beyond that of any other developed nation.

Oh, and there’s one other source of revenue Warren is eyeing: our bloated defense budget, and the “military-industrial complex” influence on Congress We are currently arms makers for the world and exporters of a considerable amount of violence. Brown University’s “Costs Of War” study reports that our government is now obligated to spend $5.9 trillion on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019 and concludes that “high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern because they are unsustainable.”

Is that what we want our country to be? Warren believes that her plan to dampen corporate influence at the Pentagon will help to curtail waste and over-investment in boondoggles, opening up funds for higher priority programs.

Waking Up From The Radical Right- Wing Dream

At a recent gathering, Warren urged the group to “be brave” and not accept radical Republican ways of thinking about the economy and health care and our responsibilities to each other. I realized how narrowed down and timid my own thinking and those of many of us has become since at least the Ronald Reagan years. (Remember “Morning In America” and “Trickle Down Theory”? — How’d that work out?)

We have come to accept as normal what is not normal. We all say this about Trump’s behavior but the problem is far larger than him — decades of very conservative lobbying — spending millions and millions of dollars on advertising and buying influence — has led to successful assaults on public education, our health care system, the environment, labor unions, our voting rights, and other essential aspects of our democracy. (In 1948, President Harry Truman made universal health care one of his first priorities, seeing it as part of the basic rights that the post- war GI bill was trying to support — then the American Medical Association, fearing loss of profits and control of the “health care industry,” spent millions of dollars to scare people into voting against Truman’s legislation. Truman was shocked and enraged but helpless to stop it…and that Right- wing conservative effort continues to the present day.)

Warren, it seems to me, wants us to wake up from the strange dream that enormous amounts of money and influence has created in our society. She believes in “the common good” and she wants to use the government to protect capitalism from itself — preserving markets as engines of growth and ending the excesses that stifle innovation and drag down our sense of well- being and health.

At a time when empathy scores among students are declining, and empathic behavior among our leaders is disappearing, Warren wants us to be empathic. She believes in the common good — that govt can do good, protect the vulnerable, and support social priorities; it is not the enemy.

And here’s the thing: Warren has not only studied these issues, literally writing the book on some of them — she has lived through them. This gets through to voters. Her so-called “radicalism” disappears when people hear her campaign, and that is what is happening. Her warmth and ability to connect with people is remarkable. She is drawing large, enthusiastic crowds. Over 50,000 selfies to date. A million contributors since January.

Here in NH, one voter quoted in the Globe had this to say about why she is voting for Warren:“At first I thought she was this fancy Harvard Law School professor, but then I got to see her and learn more…You see she is really a Midwesterner and her life story just really connected to me.”

But, Is A Woman Electable?

There’s an understandable nervousness among some men and women about again nominating a female candidate for President. After the tragedy of 2016, who wants their hearts broken again?

Yet, I think this hesitation — though understandable — is misplaced. We all know that elections are won by turning out the vote. In a sharply contested election, the candidate who can motivate her/his voters wins.

And people vote for candidates who advance their interests and offer a compelling vision that speaks to their concerns and worries. Trump energized the white male (and to a lesser extent the white suburban female) vote because he was able to give voice to the sense of being left behind and left out. He has, alas, betrayed that trust, making the economic situation of working people more desperate. The strong economy figures he keeps touting merely reflect an increasing income inequity, benefiting the rich and stiffing poor whites and people of color. That is very clear here in NH, where people who used to be considered “middle class” now worry about making ends meet and educating their children.

Trump’s “strong economy” is not a healthy economy. The deaths of despair by suicide, alcoholism, and violence and the sense of hopelessness in many white working class men and women have not been addressed by the current administration. Appeals to hate and division do not heal despair and hopelessness.

Warren has a deep awareness of this despair, cogent ideas for healing it, and a very human ability to respond to the pain of the voters she encounters.

“What difference do all of your policies make, if we destroy our planet ?” a young person asked the Senator recently at a Warren rally in New Hampshire. Senator Warren immediately got it and connected her plans to get fossil fuel/Koch brothers money out of Washington to restoring the health of our planet. So, too, with her support of the Green New Deal — — decarbonization, lower-cost health care, and decent living standards for the working class are ways to create a sustainable economy that is healthy for the men and women who live in it and healthy for our planet.

Warren’s answers are so important because if a candidate can speak honestly and intelligently to the economic and climate crisis we are living through, she can unite a number of interest groups across age, gender, race and income.

A competent, experienced woman who can transcend our polarized, mistrustful, siloed politics. Someone who asks us to “be brave” and not let fear drive our behavior. Someone who believes in “the common good.”

What would it be like to have a President like that? That, IMHO, is what wins elections — someone who can offer a compelling narrative that sparks our imagination and energizes our hope for the future.

What if that figure is a woman named Elizabeth Warren?

In these perilous times calling for calm, savvy, compassionate leadership, perhaps we all now have a date with Elizabeth Warren.

Author, Father (grandfather!), Spouse, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Faculty, Stanley King Institute

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