I’ve already previously discoursed ad nauseam on the Presidential election and why it’s important to me, but I also wanted to weigh in on the Senate contest between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.
First of all, to Scott Brown. I have nothing against the man. He’s been a relatively moderate and inoffensive Republican, whose legislative record shows an emphasis on veteran’s issues. And there are things about Brown to respect and even admire. For example:
– Brown had a difficult childhood which he has overcome.
– Brown has served honorably in the National Guard.
– Brown appears to be a devoted family man – despite coming from a broken family himself – and has been a faithful husband to former Channel 5 report Gail Huff, and by all accounts a good father to his two daughters, Ayla and Arianna, the former of whom was a semi-finalist on American Idol.
Brown started a part-time modeling career while still in law school at Boston University, triggered when he won Cosmopolitan Magazine’s “America’s Sexiest Man” contest in June of 1982. While he has been derided by some for this, I admire his resourcefulness and how it helped him pay for law school. And yes, I would still admire him if he was a her and she had posed in a men’s magazine.
Brown’s tenure in the federal Senate has been short, and there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot to judge him by. However, we do know that he has signed Grover Norquist’s insanely regressive “taxpayer protection pledge” which requires him to refuse to compromise on any measure to raise taxes, no matter how minuscule. He has also promised to vote against Obamacare even though he voted for Romneycare, making him just as cynical in this arena as Romney. We also know that in December 2011, with a temporary payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of the month, the Senate considered the Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011, which would have extend the tax cut for millions of families with a 3.25% percent surtax on incomes over $1 million. Brown voted against proceeding to take up the bill (i.e., voted against cloture that would end the filibuster).
His record in the state legislature is comparatively more extensive. InstaTrac, the premiere legislative tracking service in Massachusetts (and one of the firms I work with), did an extensive analysis on Brown’s State House and Senate records back when he was first running in 2010. They found, among other things, that Brown was very consistently for tax cuts and tax credits across the board; that he was against gay marriage and mixed on women’s rights; that he was against restrictions on assault weapons; that he was for privatization of government services, for stem cell research, for mental health parity and for medical malpractice reform; that he generally had a pretty good record on environmental concerns; and that he was strong on veterans’ services, which is his specialty.
All in all, Brown appears to be a relatively undistinguished, fiscally conservative, modest Republican. He’s trying very hard to sell himself very hard as an independent voice, and for an obvious reason – he needs a large majority of the independent voters in Massachusetts to vote for him in order to keep his seat. As Bill Clinton might say, let’s do a little math: the Commonwealth’s enrollment statistics (the last time I checked) are about 37% Democratic, 11% Republican, 51% Independent, and 1% other parties. At those rates, Scott Brown needs to get about 75% of all the Independent voters in order to be reelected.
Is he as independent as he claims to be? Don’t you believe it. If reelected, he will also have six years before he has to face the voters again.
Now, to Elizabeth Warren: like Brown, she seems to have an admirable family life. Like Brown, she has two daughters, although maybe not as photogenic as Brown’s two lovelies. Like Brown, she came from a working class background, and like Brown, she worked her own way up. Unlike Brown, Warren has been divorced once.
Elizabeth Warren first came to my attention through an NPR story about how difficult it was for ordinary people to understand their credit card contracts, to which credit card companies pointed when they were making usurious increases in people’s rates. The story turned to Elizabeth Warren, who, it turns out, had asked her law students in a contracts class to try to decipher the terms of a typical credit card agreement. They couldn’t do it. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s great!” What an effective way to make a point. Warren next came to my attention when she was appointed to chair the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the implementation of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act in 2008. And Warren was famously snubbed by the U.S. Senate when Obama wanted to appoint her to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created in the Dodd-Frank legislation.
Elizabeth Warren has the potential to become this generation’s Howard Metzenbaum. Let’s not forget that Howard Metzenbaum, when he was running for Ohio Senate against former astronaut and military veteran John Glenn in 1974, made the mistake of telling Glenn that he had “never worked for a living.” Glenn excoriated him with what came to be known as the “Gold Star Mothers” speech – “go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job” – and Metzenbaum lost the election.
Metzenbaum came back and won in 1976 and became the most pro-consumer Senator the Senate ever had. And that’s what Elizabeth Warren could become. The Wall Street crowd are all afraid of her. She actually understands the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. She is an expert in anti-trust and other financial regulations. She would look out for all of us who don’t live on Wall Street.
And I now live on Main Street. Literally.
If you’re outraged, as I am, that not a single person has yet been indicted in the Wall Street scandal that almost ruined us all at the end of the Bush administration, then Elizabeth Warren is the candidate for you. Not because, as a Senator, she could indict somebody. She can’t. But she could at least keep watch on this gang and hold them accountable. And make sure that Dodd-Frank doesn’t get repealed.
Now let’s be honest: Elizabeth Warren is not a perfect candidate for office. She has a school-marmish quality that turns some people off. At times she has a scolding tone to her delivery. The biggest question raised so far about her so far has been her self-inflicted self-identification as a “Native American” at Harvard Law School. Why did she do this? I have no idea. Maybe it was a lark. Maybe it was to give Harvard the veneer of diversity. Maybe it was, as she said, “in hopes of being invited to events to meet people of similar background.” I don’t know. It was an unfortunate choice. And whoever the political operative was who unearthed that little nugget, they sure delivered their money’s worth.
Scott Brown also tried to make an issue out of Elizabeth Warren’s involvement in an asbestos case involving the Traveler’s Insurance Company. The case, Travelers Indemnity Co. Et Al v. Bailey Et Al, 129 S.Ct. 2195 (2009), is complicated, but I’ll try to make it as simple as I can: as an element of a 1986 bankruptcy reorganization plan of the Johns-Manville Corporation the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York enjoined certain lawsuits against Manville’s insurers, including those related to certain previously-litigated asbestos claims. The Travelers Indemnity Company and its affiliates were Mansville’s insurer. As part of the bankruptcy agreement, Mansville and its insurers agreed to set up a $700 million trust fund to pay for asbestos-related health claims. In turn, Mansville and its insurers were to be protected from further claims. The trust fund was to be the mechanism through which claims were paid; the Bankruptcy Court therefor enjoined the bringing of any additional claims. The question before the Supreme Court was whether the bankruptcy injunction barred separate state-law actions based on acts or omissions by Travelers. In a narrow ruling, the Supreme Court held that the state law actions were “policy claims” barred by the bankruptcy court injunction. Warren was hired for her bankruptcy expertise and as part of the effort to uphold the original settlement.
Is that clear? I thought not. This is not an issue that one can either explain or rebut in a 60 second commercial. The Warren campaign did their best by trotting out victims of the asbestos litigation who affirmed that Warren was on their side.
So, I also have to say to the Scott Brown campaign . . . is that all you’ve got? That she identified as a Native American in a law school directory and once worked for the Traveler’s insurance company on a case? Is that all you’ve got?
Finally, there is also one other consideration: the Senate will likely vote on one or two Supreme Court nominations in these coming four years. The next Supreme Court has the opportunity to overturn both Citizens United and Roe v. Wade. The first would be highly desirable, as Citizen’s United is the worst Supreme Court decision since the famous Dred Scott decision upholding slavery (more on that in some future post). The second would be a disaster, as it would return us to the dates of coat hangers and back alleys. You’d think that we’d be past that in the 21st century. The Warren vs. Scott contest has the possibility of swinging the Senate Democrat or Republican.
Because she would be the most pro-consumer voice in the Senate, because she would most probably help to keep the Senate in Democratic hands, vote for Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts Senator.