An election to anticipate

October 20, 2011

Tired of cookie-cutter political contests between hauntingly similar candidates? Then you’re going to like the upcoming race for one of the Senate seats in the late Ted Kennedy’s haunting grounds. Elizabeth Warren, best known for creating and fighting for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is hoping to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown. They’re both qualified, but they couldn’t be more different — personally or politically.

Brown, a former member of the Massachusetts state legislature, won a 2010 special election to complete the remaining term of the Senator Edward Kennedy. He is well-known for having been named “America’s Sexiest Man” by Cosmopolitan magazine, this distinction coming in 1982, when he was 22-year-old law student at Boston College. Brown spent many years in the Massachusetts legislature, and before that was the New England equivalent of a town councilman. He is well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Brown is conservative on most issues, calling himself a “Reagan Republican.”

Warren, a former Obama administration official, has declared for the Democratic nomination and is the favorite. She has been a law professor at Harvard and at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of a highly regarded book about middle-class living standards, The Two Income Trap. Warren is also well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. She is left-wing on most major issues, to the left perhaps even of much bright-blue Massachusetts.

In recent decades, U.S. Senate races have tended to produce similar candidates with similar platforms. Rare is the race that pits two qualified contenders with dramatically different worldviews. The 1994 Pennsylvania Senate race between Harris Wofford and Rick Santorum comes to mind (strong left-wing versus strong right-wing positions); as does the 1992 New York race between Robert Abrams and Alfonse D’Amato (insider versus man-in-the-street); or the 2006 Maryland race between Ben Cardin and Michael Steele (bland-to-the-point-of-invisible career pol versus loose-cannon movement conservative). But many recent Senate contests have offered a selection between me-too candidates.

That won’t be the case if Brown faces Warren.

When Brown became the first Republican in a generation to win a Senate seat from Massachusetts, pundits labored to interpret this as a repudiation of Barack Obama. More important was that Brown was the better candidate in the 2010 race. He squared off against a Democratic loyalist named Martha Coakley who, rightly or wrongly, could not shed the perception of being a party-controlled hack. Brown came across as self-assured and unafraid to advance views that are unpopular in his state (opposition to gay marriage, for example).

Though Brown has moderated some of his positions in hopes of continuing his appeal to a commonwealth that’s just 11 percent registered Republican, there is no reason a GOP candidate cannot win again in Massachusetts. Massachusetts voters have a Yankee independence streak, choosing Republican governors in 1990, 1998 and 2002. The 2002 Republican winner was Mitt Romney, who appealed to New England tradition as a competent conservative willing to speak his mind. Brown offers the same attributes.

For a state that admires those who speak their minds, Warren is eminently qualified to hold office. Beginning about a decade ago, Warren forcefully warned that too much wealth is being shifted from average people to Wall Street and the gated-community cohort. Warren’s 2003 book (mentioned above) cautioned that inflated-adjusted household incomes were declining — this was a minority view during that boom period, but turned out to be right. She also warned that a liars-loans housing bubble was in progress. The 2008 banking meltdown might have been headed off if Warren’s warnings had been heeded.

As an Obama official, Warren proved a polarizing figure, so much so that the president did not nominate her to be the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she championed. Considering Massachusetts is in better economic shape than much of the nation, her populist rhetoric may not match the state’s demographics. But with Warren, what you see is what you get. The fact that she says exactly what she thinks regardless of the political cost may prove appealing to Massachusetts voters.

Warren is very smart, and thinks on her feet. For those who are tired of politicians who stumble on softball questions, or are addicted to the teleprompter, Warren will be a breath of fresh air.

A Brown-Warren race, if it happens, won’t kick off till next year. But if you’re like me, you’re already sick of 2011 politics. The prospect of two skillful candidates with dramatically different views going at each other in one of the country’s most important states has a can’t-wait allure.

10 comments

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Do you research anything before writing? Like, for instance, whether or not Elizabeth Warren is as left-wing as you’re claiming? Cause she’s not.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/10/e lizabeth-warrens-job-plan-war-with-iran. html

Posted by Sprizouse | Report as abusive

Sprizouse: I got halfway through this op-ed and had already determined to make the same comment you have made. Mr. Easterbrook, whom I have tremendous respect for, is wrong to cast Warren as a far-left liberal. She is not, and I don’t say that apologetically. I’d like her if she was, but she’s not.

Mr. Easterbrook, please don’t define as a far-left liberal anyone who believes that the extreme disparity in the current distribution of America’s wealth is detrimental to our nation’s well-being. Ms Warren, a Sunday school teacher who comes from a military family, is quite moderate in her views; almost conservative in some respects. For example, during the Democratic Primary debate the candidates were asked if they favored the legalization of marijuana, a popular position on the left. Elizabeth Warren was the least receptive to the idea among all of the candidates. She’s against its legalization but would “consider” allowing it for medicinal purposes.

The problem is, our nation’s prevailing ideology has moved so far to the right that it makes what used to be considered “rational” moderate positions appear liberal or left-wing. The American Middle Class is dying and Elizabeth Warren wants to reverse that trend, and believes very strongly in that. That’s not left-wing or right-wing. That’s simply an objective observation of a rational position from a candidate for the US Senate. She’s authentic, but you got that part right.

You might have also mentioned that Scott Brown was named Wall Street’s Senator by Forbes Magazine; has a huge campaign war chest, much of which is from Wall Street and banks; and was instrumental in removing a special tax that would have been leveraged on Wall Street that was in the Dodd-Frank bill that was intended to help pay back the TARP bailout. No wonder Scott Brown has a $10 million campaign war chest from Wall Street.

Posted by doggydaddy | Report as abusive

Why oh why oh why do people still call big government corporatist republicans “conservatives”? I don’t know about Warren, but calling Scott Brown a conservative has as much basis in reality as calling Jesus a nazi. Can we at least please start calling it like it is?

Brown is just a corporatist liberal republican like most other republicans, and I’m willing to guess that Warren is a corporatist liberal democrat just like most other democrats. If she isn’t, then best of luck avoiding the pull of millions of maximum “individual donations” from the same companies. You know, the pull that makes most national politicians campaign against the Patriot Act and then vote to extend it while in office.

Posted by zilla2033 | Report as abusive

Generally speaking it is a safe bet to label a Harvard professor as left wing. Whether that is the case of Warren or not is based on what? Its not like people necessarily campaign on views that they fully believe. Beyond that war isn’t really reflective of right wing ideology. WW1, WW2, Vietnam were all started by Democrats. WW2 we were attacked, but we weren’t in the other ones. Sure the anti war movements are associated with the left, but we have a two party system. There are many conflicting philosophies that have to be stuffed into two parties.

When it comes to the economy, which is everyone’s most important issue these days Warren is almost as far left as you will find. If you think that consumers need protections from the government because they can’t understand their bills then what don’t you think they need the government to help them with? Though the idea that the government is truly going to help them and not their millionaire and billionaire donors is the next fallacy. It is what makes the ideology ultimately bankrupt. Through out history people have given governments the power to help the little guy, but when has that EVER actually been what is delivered.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

I, too, feel like we’re all ready for an election featuring stark contrasts. But I think part of our current fatigue (at least speaking for myself) is simply a result of all the attention to the Republican presidential field, where it is ‘dangerous’ to say anything that could potentially get booed from any of the party’s many contingents (unless your name is Ron Paul and you just don’t give a damn!).

So yes, it will be refreshing to see races like the one you mention. But I think, in general, once we get into that part of the season that features the ‘real’ races between opposing parties, there will, by nature, be more interesting contrasts. Looking forward to 2012.

Posted by crichey | Report as abusive

AustinG said: “The government [won't] help [you] instead of their millionaire and billionaire donors. [This] is what makes [left-wing] ideology ultimately bankrupt. Throughout history people have given governments the power to help the little guy, but when has that EVER actually been what is delivered?”

Yikes, huh? We all know AustinG is a moron, but where to start destroying this line of crap?

How bout with slaves? Were they the little guy? Did government help them? How bout with children forced to work in coal mines? Did government stand up for them? How bout with women and their right to vote, did government stand up for them? How bout with blacks and segregation? Did government stand up for them? How bout during the Great Depression? Did the government put the little guy back to work and ensure that the big guy didn’t continue to rob from the poor to give to the rich? Um, yes. Yes to every single one of those. Strangely, the government worked in those situations. Very strangely.

So immediately, we see that AustinG is lying. Government can, and does, help the little people. In fact, it’s happened quite frequently in the past, so there’s absolutely no reason to believe the lies that AustinG is telling you and think that it can’t happen again.

Which means the real argument shouldn’t be why the government CAN’T help the little guy, but rather, WHY HASN’T THE GOVERNMENT HELPED THE LITTLE GUY during the last 20 or 30 years? You see? When you ask the RIGHT QUESTION, you start getting much more interesting answers…

And remember… as is typical of EVERY SINGLE WINGNUT on the planet (like AustinG) they all lie through their teeth when they try to tell you that government has “never delivered” in helping the little guy. Wingnuts always lie. Always. There is no truth to anything they say. Ever. Remember that and you’ll always be smarter.

Posted by Sprizouse | Report as abusive

Wow Spriz. When you have to use arguments from hundreds of years ago to make your case you have already lost. The government had to make slavery illegal because it had previously made it legal. Children in the coal mines? So without the government’s help some evil coal mining companies would be rounding kids up without their parent’s consent and sending them into the mines?

If I am lying please point to something I say specifically that is wrong and counter it with specific evidence of how or why it is wrong. That is what rational adults do. Though I do thank you for responding. It makes it all the more clear who is correct.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

Btw the government instituted and justified segregation, under Democrats. Then Democrats opposed desegregation refusing to enforce Brown vs Board of Education for decades. More schools were forced to integrate under President Nixon than under Kennedy and Johnson combined. Also the Great Depression wasn’t ended by the government putting people to work. Government programs then were so misguided that the government bought millions of cows and pigs only to destroy them while people in the cities were starving. Though please feel free to attempt to submit some success stories.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

AustinG says: Also the Great Depression wasn’t ended by the government putting people to work.

But how can I take anything he says seriously after this? I think you should shuffle off to RedState AustinG, you’ll be much more welcome there, especially since you’re not even going to try to put forth coherent, honest thoughts here.

Posted by Sprizouse | Report as abusive

AustinG, here are other examples of government helping the little guy:

Social Security
Medicare
Medicaid
Unemployment Insurance
Progressive Taxation
Regulations

In fact, it’s pretty much all the government does. So again, the question is why the government hasn’t been doing enough to help the little guy. Not why it can’t help the little guy. HUGEMONGOUS DIFF!

Posted by Sprizouse | Report as abusive