Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Hi It's Stupid: Horse Race

Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, figurine by Donald F. Saari, 1973, via WorthPoint.

Hi, it's Stupid to say Elizabeth Warren shouldn't compete for the vice presidency with all the means at her disposal, including deploying all the power of those hot influencers Lawrence Tribe and Jane Fonda. After all, doesn't she have the right to think she's the best for the job?

With all respect and fervent admiration, she has the right to think she's the best for a lot of jobs, and she's probably right about it, too, but that doesn't mean she has to take all of them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: why shouldn't she chair the Senate Banking Committee after the coming blue wave democratizes the Senate and exercise some real power? Why should she opt instead to be "buried before I am dead", as Daniel Webster saw it when he turned down the vice presidency in 1839?

"I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president." — Theodore Roosevelt, before becoming William McKinley's vice president and succeeding to the presidency upon McKinley's assassination in 1901.

"The chief embarrassment in discussing the office is that in explaining how little there is to say about it one has evidently said all there is to say." — Woodrow Wilson, when he was a professor.

Or does she think she can be a puppeteer like Dick Cheney controlling Biden from behind the scenes? I hope not. Biden isn't as passive as he sometimes looks, and he's a lot more cunning and knowledgeable than George W. Bush, and she's better off as a public figure being able to criticize the president freely and fearlessly, if necessary (not that I'm assuming it will be!) than stuck in a position where she must pretend to submit to him with the deference of an Old Testament wife, like Mike Pence.

I'm not saying vice presidents haven't found active roles for themselves in recent years, from good Gore and evil Cheney to, of course, Biden himself, perhaps the best vice president in our history, but they've had to put themselves in the obedient background to do it, and that doesn't suit Warren. She'd inevitably be more like the worst vice president in our history, Thomas Jefferson, chafing and constantly conspiring against President Adams. Her ideas are better than the other guy's whoever he may be, and she needs the freedom to say so.

Some people think she's needed for the campaign as a representative progressive, to attract the votes of the restless and unhappy Sanders supporters. I don't see that at all; they're clearly divided between a majority who will vote for Biden without reservation, though they may not speak very politely about him (Sanders himself is the only one who can help with that, and he's been doing a much better job of it so far than he did four years ago), and a minority of Sarandonists who think Warren herself is a neoliberal monster indistinguishable from Pence. I don't see how it gets a single vote Biden doesn't already have.

And there are important votes it doesn't help with at all: I'm thinking with the softest important part of the Democratic coalition, the Latin part, who have the lowest turnout rate and need to be churned up by a candidate who inspires them directly by speaking with fire about the issues around immigration, or who represents them—the only candidate on the shortlist who can do that being my own favorite, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico (but Kamala Harris is a powerful voice on immigration issues speaking from knowledge and personal first-generation experience). Warren, wonderful as she is, is a 70-year-old white former college professor, and adds nothing to the ticket's diversity perspective.

Beyond the horse race to the prospects of a Biden presidency, I don't, as I say, think Biden is a passive as he looks, but I do think the whole situation presents opportunities for retooling the constitutional imbalance between the First and Second Branches: he's absolutely a collaborative worker, with a deep understanding of Congress (his most important job in Obama's administration was as liaison to Congress. a job he's still better equipped to do than anybody he could name as VP), and maybe disposed by the example of Obama to participate in the surrendering some of the executive's excess power (nobody gets this about Obama, but I hope they will some day, how much he worked on that, to put himself in a position of what the Republicans scornfully called "leading from behind", not only in the international arena, where he was unable to get cooperation from the obdurate racist Putin, but also in D.C. where he had the same kind of problem with Mitch McConnell).

It really is of the highest importance, if we want to preserve whatever democracy is left us after the Trump debacle, that the presidency should be less powerful, and it would be nice if it could happen as much as possible in a friendly and collaborative way such as a Biden in the White House might permit, and it would be such a bonus if Elizabeth Warren were on the side of the power-takers in a development like that.

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