[You actually mustered up the resolve to crawl out of bed and venture out into arctic temperatures, in one your most loathed cities, no less, to witness Elizabeth Warren’s rally?]
Here at Overwritten.org, we suffer so our readers don’t have to.
The readers of tomorrow, the readers who will look back to this era, an era that they will have been blessed enough never to have experienced personally, and who will ask us, “Why did you just sit there and do nothing as the American Empire stood on its last legs?”
[Oh, please spare me that vainglorious pap. You’re not exactly a revolutionary, and your babbling doesn’t quite qualify as an act of insurrection. When you put some of your own skin in the game, then we’ll talk.]
Obviously, this blog doesn’t put much of a scare into the hearts of powerful people; it hardly can, when they don’t even know it exists. I have no illusions about this, and besides: I don’t write any of this from a sense of benevolence, from an ethereal obligation to write charitably towards my fellow man. I write because I want to, and because I think I have to—for me, though not necessarily for anybody else.
[Did you want to go to the rally, too? Or did you go just to give yourself something to write about?]
Uh . . . no, I wanted to go. I knew none of the speakers would knock my socks off, but all the same, I knew I would have a good time. Just like I knew I would have a good time at Bernie Sanders’s rally in November, even though nothing of circumstance occurred.
[And yet, you still justify this expatiation on the subject.]
Your criticism might be more convincing if it were fortified by context. Neither of these two most recent rallies were campaign rallies. A campaign rally is a pretty easy sell: you go because you’re supportive of the person who is running for office. However, in the case of these two rallies, there was no one running for office, or for anything else, so there’s an inherent awkwardness to the idea. There’s no reason for a headline speaker when there is no line to head.
[In other words, we’re going out to support the politician, but there is no objective reason to support him or her.]
Exactly. Sanders’s rally at Brookside was obviously meant to support Democratic candidates in the midterm elections, but even so, it was strange to see him in New Hampshire when he wouldn’t appear on any ballot in the state. Clearly, these events are meant to act as prologues to the inevitable announcement of a formal presidential campaign, but then again, there’s a reason no one watches preseason football: it’s all a lot of bruising with no tangible result.
[So, in conclusion, if I’m going to take you to task for writing about it, I should probably turn my disapproving eye where it belongs: in the direction of those who organized this campaign to begin with.]
And in my defense, I actually wondered, en route to Manchester Community College, whether the Senator from Massachusetts might have chosen this day and this event to announce her candidacy. The only reason I doubted it, aside from this event’s being in New Hampshire, was because Tulsi Gabbard had announced her own candidacy the night before.
[Didn’t you see someone wearing a “Gabbard for President” t-shirt at Sanders’s rally?]
Yeah, I did. It’s always interesting when people who support a different Democrat show up at one of those rallies. It’s hard to tell if that person is seen as “the enemy” or not.
[You have plenty of experience in this, having gone to rallies for Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman when you had already pretty clearly decided on Ron Paul. But as for Gabbard, do you think she’s a credible candidate? Do you think that she could be the nominee?]
At this point in the political preseason—and it is still the preseason, regardless of Gabbard’s early announcement—there is no cause to dismiss any of the contenders, in particular those with formal political experience. My own question is how these Democratic candidates will be treated within the liberal press: they can’t all receive a pass and be treated with felt gloves, but at the same time, the commentators of this country don’t want to expose too many of their sins to sunlight.
[Does Tulsi Gabbard have any sins that we should note?]
Well, I usually don’t read the Huffington Post, but one of their staffers just republished a couple of her comments on homosexuality. I didn’t take the time to read them in full, but allegedly, she referred, once upon a time, to proponents of same-sex marriage rights as “homosexual extremists”. But, as I say, I haven’t exactly studied this subject.
[I don’t mean to defend her comments, whatever they were, but I would like to point out that many Democrats, including Barack Obama, were skeptical of the gay marriage question until fairly recently. We tend to forget, in our ongoing state of cultural amnesia, that support for gay marriage at the federal level did not become a mainstream position until, well, arguably until 2016.]
By which time, the question had already been answered and the controversy settled by the Supreme Court ruling of the year before. And have you ever noticed how seldom Republican candidates say anything about it? I had an interesting discussion with a conservative who said that, in his opinion, the Republican Party is thankful that gay marriage has ostensibly been taken off the table: now, a Republican doesn’t really have to worry about being pressed on that issue.
[The convenience of capitulation, I suppose. Do you see any similar phenomenon on the Democratic side? Do you think that any issues have been fortuitously dodged for them as of late?]
I’m glad you asked that, because I thought about this very issue when I drove to the rally. Lately, we’ve been hearing the Democrats propose all sorts of ambitious social programs, not the least of which is universal Medicare enrollment. Much of the skepticism has focused on funding, but there is a separate, more pressing question of legislative support: how would President Elizabeth Warren sign such a monumental bill into law unless it is first passed by both chambers of Congress?
[That’s a problem for any piece of legislative proposal. What’s your point?]
What is the likelihood of the president, whoever that may be, claiming party control of the Senate and the House? Donald Trump enjoyed that kind of lopsided leverage for two years, even though he was unable to take full advantage of it, but do you see that reoccurring any time soon, for either party?
[Probably not. Didn’t we discuss the stalemate that was the midterms? Everyone was desperate to frame it as some kind of smashing success for one of the two parties, but that kind of analysis was too shallow to be taken seriously.]
In the current political climate, it’s very hard to force all of the pieces to one side of the board.
[I think I see where you’re going with this. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and the rest can talk about Medicare for all, and free college tuition, and all sorts of things, but they’re unlikely to have meaningful congressional support. Concordantly, they don’t have to worry about having their feet held to the fire: they won’t have the ability to keep their promises.]
Some writers have suggested that Trump will benefit from the Democratic seizure of the House, as he can position himself as the victim of circumstances.
[Barack Obama made a similar case in 2012, depicting himself as the voice of reason surrounded by the Tea Party, by the barbarians at the gate. So, you’re accusing Warren of insincerity? You’re accusing her of selling the people a product that doesn’t exist?]
Pretty much. I think she would be in a very awkward position if she won the presidency while the Democrats took control of the Senate.
[So, let’s get into the rally itself. Did you see anything especially interesting?]
There were some protesters standing near the road, none of whom I could snag a picture of, sadly. They were dressed up as devils, skeletons, and ghouls, holding up placards warning of the evils of socialism. I give them credit for their theatricality, but at the same time, do they honestly think that kind of demonstration is effective? How many of Warren’s supporters looked at them and said, “It all makes such startling sense to me now. Socialism is an evil, and Warren is the devil. I’m going to turn around, buy a gun, and vote for Trump in 2020!”
[Yeah, I’ve often asked myself the same thing about those zealots who stand on the sidewalk and hold up a cardboard sign warning of the Judgment: do passersby respond enthusiastically to that? Is that really the most effective way of drawing new people into your camp? I could see it working at Planned Parenthood, or something, where the protester’s intent is not to welcome you in, but to scare you away; in this situation, though, it’s just really unbecoming. At least, that’s how it strikes me, a person who has no dog in the fight.]
I agree. I think, in that situation, dressing like a devil casts doubt on the depth of your reasoning. I have a hard time believing you put on the motley only after thoughtful, protracted analysis.
[Did you talk to them, at least?]
No. I didn’t arrive as early as I’d hoped, and I didn’t want to run any kind of risk that I’d be turned away for fear of overcrowding. That fear was eventually proven to be baseless, even though most of the gymnasium was packed quite some time before I made my entrance. Everyone at my end of the train was corralled into the back. Standing room only.
[Hey, that’s not so bad. Gives you a better chance to walk around and chat, which was something you wanted to do at the Sanders rally, no?]
Yeah, I’m not complaining. I was more upset with the ushers, who didn’t even try to direct traffic at the door. You had to make the error of walking directly to the gym before they caught up to you and told you what to do.
[Didn’t the New Yorker publish an article on Thursday titled, “The Expert Efficiency of Elizabeth Warren’s Populist Campaign”?]
Complete with a charcoal drawing of Warren, suffocated by an air of obeisance. We’ll include the link, just in case anybody wants to check it out.
[“A Warren event is a clockwork operation.” It’s probably time to revisit the question of embedded journalists: maybe, just maybe, there’s a conflict of interest. Speaking of which, what should we know about the media presence? For an event that, as you say, was technically meaningless, there was an awful lot of coverage on the local stations.]
Which is interesting, because I didn’t see any marked vans outside. Once I was in line, a reporter from New Hampshire Public Radio became obsessed with me. He tracked my progress from one corridor to the next, but with the lack of a camera, I wasn’t concerned. Eventually, he asked me if I planned to ask Senator Warren a question.
[What did you say?]
I told him that I was curious to know what she thought of Wikileaks and, more importantly, what, if anything, she would do to help Julian Assange.
[Oh, my goodness. He must have been delighted that you mentioned that.]
I don’t remember him asking me any follow-up questions. He changed course and asked if I had a preferred Democratic candidate. Briefly, I described my lukewarm support for Sanders in ’16, but I emphasized that I probably would not support him this time.
[Sounds like you served him a plate of cold meat. Reporters don’t want to hear anything they can’t abridge. Did he take your name?]
And my picture. He tried to snag it without letting me know what he was doing, but he wasn’t half as subtle as he fancied himself to be. He took out his phone, held it at a completely unnatural angle, and then put it back in his pocket.
[Did you confront him?]
I asked if he had taken my picture, and then he turned defensive, saying: “Yeah, I’m a reporter!” As if what he had done had been only the most innocent action imaginable. But we’re all china: I can’t get upset, considering I agreed to speak with the man.
[Did you get a chance to chat with any other writers?]
Just a woman from WGBH 89.7. When she asked how I “lean politically”, I said I’m an anarchist. She didn’t ask any more about that, but she did ask what I thought about Warren’s speech. This, by the way, was after the rally, when I was waiting to take a picture with the senator herself.
[Let’s go back to the time before the rally, after you had wrapped up your discussion with the man from NHPR. At this point, you had moved inside the gym and were waiting for the event to begin. How many people were there?]
Excluding the media crews, probably two or three hundred. If I had to guess, I would say it was a bit more crowded than Bernie Sanders’s rally, although it’s hard to say. Truthfully, Warren should be a bigger draw in New Hampshire, as Sanders has already visited the Granite State several times in the last four years. This was the first chance that many of us had to see Warren, and although it was not a campaign rally, it certainly felt like one, more so than Sanders’s event, which had more to do with the midterms than with him specifically.
[I’m guessing there were no shenanigans inside? None of the protesters invaded the gym, I trust?]
Nah, that sort of thing is strongly discouraged. You can make whatever statement you want outside, but once you pass through the doors, you’re expected to be on the straight and narrow. You can’t have persona non grata, shouting down the speakers and intimidating the spectators. Part of that comes from an expectation of basic courtesy—this is Warren’s event, not yours—but part of it has to do with the natural claustrophobia that people experience inside, especially among large crowds.
[So, counter-demonstrations that are intended to disrupt are more common during outdoor events?]
Typically. Some commotion broke out during the March for Our Lives rally I attended when a big man waving a black flag tried to drown out the speeches, but even then, he was shut down pretty quickly. You just don’t want to do that inside: you don’t want to instigate a stampede or something.
[Yeah, I hear ya. So, no weirdos at all?]
Nah, this was pretty uneventful. There weren’t even any provocative t-shirts. Just a couple of those reading: “Nevertheless, She Persisted”. There was, however, one man wearing a t-shirt that read: “Democrats of Germany—Join the Party!”
[Oh, dear. What about the music? Did they try to lead you all into a mass trance, like at the Sanders rally?]
Thankfully, they did not, although I am tempted to write a metaphysical commentary on the use of “American Girl” in the hour before Warren took the stage. After all, that song is featured at an especially significant scene in The Silence of the Lambs—
[As your Editor-in-Chief, I’m going to have to ask you to pass on that. Did anybody introduce the Senator?]
Yeah, some representative from Merrimack. His name escaped me, in part because he rattled off the names of so many other local Democrats as to overwhelm me, which may have been his intent, or maybe it wasn’t. In any case, he expressed excitement to begin working with the “new, diverse Democratic House” and to legislate on behalf of “working families, college students, and young professionals”.
[I sense your sarcastic appraisal forthcoming. Are you picking up on the unintended irony of the term “diverse Democratic”?]
Definitely. There’s this paradoxical concept on the Left that representation becomes diverse once the Democrats are in office. It may become more categorically diverse, featuring greater numbers of women and people of color, but so far, there is little evidence of the Democrats providing more diversity of intellect or ideology. Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive warmongers this country has ever seen, and that is saying something, when you appreciate our bloodstained legacy in full.
[Well, a politician representing Merrimack can’t be expected to make that his focus.]
No, but when you hear people talk about diversity in Washington, you have to ask: to what end? Is it diversity for diversity’s sake, diversity that addresses social attitudes only, or is it ideological diversity, diversity of thought that will recognize the malfeasance of government? For example, I tend to be intrigued by a lot of the economic proposals of the Democratic Socialists, even though I question the proponents’ sincerity, but at the same time, I haven’t heard any of them take a serious stance against our country’s ridiculous military spending. It doesn’t sound like they want to change the country as an empire; they want to keep the empire intact.
[In other words, some of the Democrats may be interested in skimming the surface, but they won’t advocate for deep, systemic change.]
That’s right, which is why I kept returning to this point when Warren, who took the stage shortly after the aforementioned representative, continuously spoke of “real, systemic change”. She didn’t offer many specific examples of what “real, systemic change” entails: she spoke only of Medicare for all and, later, a bizarre proposal to build 3.2 million “new housing units” in the United States.
[Hopefully on the grounds of the Steeplegate Mall.]
Yeah, really. For the most part, we were left to fill in the blanks with our own imagination. I don’t know what everybody else in the audience was thinking of, but I was stuck on 2008, when Senator Barack Obama visited my high school and talked about change. It was time for change, he said. I don’t think he spoke of “real, systemic change”, though, which raises the question: is Warren, as well as the rest of the current Democrats, admitting that Obama failed to follow through on his key theme? Are they saying, in effect: “We know Obama didn’t bring change, but that’s because he wasn’t talking about real change. We are! We’re not gonna bring just any old ordinary change; we’re gonna bring real, systemic change this time!”
[They really need to come up with a new slogan. Even Trump’s supporters were talking about how he was going to bring change to Washington.]
Actually, Obama was on my mind pretty often during the rally. Warren talked about her early life of borderline impoverishment, presumably in an effort to convince us that she would fight for those desperate people, too, but all the same, you have to ask yourself: did Obama’s past guide him when he was in office? I’m not trying to castigate Warren unnecessarily, but in these times, in the post-Obama age, in the Trumpish Age, you can’t just tell us you’re from Oklahoma, refer to your parents as “momma and daddy”, and expect us to believe that you’re going to be different from any of the charlatans who came before you. Where do you actually differ? What is your legislative record?
[I assume she mentioned her work in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?]
Yes, but she mentioned nothing about how President Obama denied her directorship of the Bureau in favor of Richard Cordray—the same Cordray whom, this past year, Obama supported in a failed gubernatorial bid. However, that’s beside the point. The point is, the CFPB hasn’t engendered any “real, systemic change”. It will only, in theory, prevent exploitation in the future—which doesn’t do anything to help people in the here and now.
[Don’t you think you’re being unfair? Don’t you think that the erection of the CFPB took a step in the right direction?]
I don’t know. I haven’t examined the nature of the Bureau. I’m not suggesting that the Bureau has done and will continue to do nothing; I’m saying only that, when people hear her speak of “real, systemic change”, the CFPB isn’t exactly what they have in mind. Dodd-Frank is not what people have in mind, helpful though such legislation may be. They want to hear about wages, jobs, taxes, health care, things of that nature. They don’t want to hear about federal oversight of banks, even if such management is far more important than the American people will ever understand.
[That’s true, but didn’t she say something about the minimum wage? The New Yorker praised this as one of the highlights of this speech.]
Yes, and I will agree: Elizabeth Warren made a very powerful point when she explained that the minimum wage no longer supports a family of three. It is this point, the departure of the minimum wage, the retrograde evolution of the minimum wage to something effectively meaningless, that really strikes a chord with people. Even I was affected, incurably cynical though I appear to be. A simple statement such as hers about the transformation of America in the last few decades is almost enough to convince you that maybe, just maybe, this time this candidate is serious, this candidate means what she is telling us.
[I’m sure, then, that she said what she intends to do about the minimum wage? Did she say what it should be—meaning, of course, what it should be raised to?]
No, although I suppose I probably shouldn’t give her too much grief for failing to present a specific proposal on most issues: after all, this was not a campaign rally, and so, our expectations must be relatively modest. Her only specific proposal, other than to “end lobbying as we know it”, was to “reform the criminal justice system” by . . . legalizing pot.
[Earlier, you mentioned the potential dishonesty of the Democratic Socialists’ economic proposals. Do you think there is something similarly mendacious about this effort to legalize weed? At this point, with state laws tilting in such an unmistakable direction, is it really even accurate to say that a pro-marijuana politician is doing anything other than acknowledging an inevitability? I’m sorry, but I don’t think that Warren’s position is really as radical as people believe.]
No, it isn’t, and you’re absolutely right: the legalization of marijuana is going to become the law of the land eventually. Warren is taking this opportunity to depict herself as an innovator when, in actuality, she is merely looking at the dark clouds and telling you that there will soon be rain. This is especially obvious in her case, as she represents Massachusetts, a state that has already legalized weed. It would be very awkward for her to oppose it.
[The point here is not that Warren is dishonest in her position, but that she is dishonest in her presentation of her position.]
Correct. Likewise for her call to compel all people running for office to release their tax returns on the Internet: Warren knows as well as we do that, on this issue, Donald Trump is an extraordinary case that is highly unlikely to reoccur, but still, she will press this issue because it sends her fans into a frenzy. It actually reminds me of a bill that came up before the Arizona legislature in 2011, one that would require all presidential candidates in the Grand Canyon State to present their birth certificates. While the circumstances are quite obviously different, in both cases the purpose is not to solve an active problem, but to send a message or to make a political point.
[Any other highlights from her speech?]
Not really. Just a couple of notes from the question-and-answer session. The first man chosen from the audience asked if she would call to abolish the superdelegate system in the Democratic Party, to which Warren reacted with puzzlement: “My understanding is that they already did?” After a brief disagreement, she said that, in any case, she does not support the superdelegate system. She then changed the subject to discuss her proposal for the 3.2 million new housing units, which made for an incredibly awkward shifting of gears.
[The classic politician. Anything else?]
A woman with a broken wrist talked about how, for the past twenty-five years, a man from Florida has been stalking her. She wanted to know if Warren, as president, would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
[Isn’t that Act still part of codified law?]
Technically, it isn’t: it expired amidst the government shutdown. However, I cannot imagine that President Trump is dumb enough to refuse to sign such a bill once the government is reloaded.
[And did you have a chance to ask Senator Warren anything?]
Yes, I did. I waited in the photo queue for quite some time, and when I finally stood on the stage with her, I asked her if she supports Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. She looked quite nonplussed for the moment, as if I had asked if she was wearing underwear, before finally saying: “Well, you heard what I said? They’re just getting the information out, right?” I thanked her, and then left.
[Last question: how much money will you donate to her campaign?]
A lot less than those guys spent on their devil costumes.