December 3, 2011
Her earnest, bespectacled features are the very image of a devoted teacher. Elizabeth Warren has for more than a decade walked her Golden Retriever along the sidewalks of Cambridge, just as any resident of her adopted home town. Twelve months before the 2012 Massachusetts senatorial election, however, she is drawing the spotlight of national media. In November Warren's campaign challenging incumbent Republican Scott Brown launched a series of well-conceived public events and TV spots. Preceded by her high-profile as advocate for the middle class and vocal critic of financial industry, Warren's candidacy is attracting coverage not only by The Boston Globe but also The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press.
On December 2nd the campaign coordinated a grass roots network of as many as 2,000 house parties held from Berkshire County to Cape Cod. The first political ad, aired on November 14th at cost of $590,000, gave an evocative introduction to Warren's biography along with her advocacy and policy achievements. The commercial was targeted as response to November 10th advert by conservative PAC Crossroads GPS attacking Warren's expressions of sympathy for Occupy Wall Street movement. Brown-Warren face-off is being touted as one of marquee 2012 contest, a race which may well surpass $60 million in total expenditures.
While much reporting has been receptive and positive, experienced pundits such as Eleanor Clift of The Daily Beast and Newsweek have been cautious about predicting Warren victory. They cite the anti-Obama momentum of the 2010 election cycle driven by dissatisfaction with Administration's handling of economy. With unemployment not projected to decrease by November 2012, Republicans and politically resilient Scott Brown can be counted on to leverage continuing stagnation in their favor. Warren's success thus in large measure may be tied to the coattails of Obama.
Thoughtful observers, including economists Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz (both Nobel laureates) as well as Nouriel Roubini (who predicted 2009 contraction), argue that although restraining excesses of the financial sector is important, fundamental economic policy reordering is needed to drive recovery over the longer term. Effective crisis management by Obama's economic team in 2009 may be generally acknowledged. At the same time there is growing awareness, in government and private sector alike, of mountains of ineffective economic practices entrenched over decades. The long-term challenge and struggle are, hopefully, not underestimated
Humbled by having missed the clouds gathering pre-2009, most economists are supporting no more than incremental corrections along with serious discourse and policy innovation. In Massachusetts strengthening the economy undoubtedly coincides with rebuilding the state's middle class, strengthening conditions for entrepreneurial ventures and consolidating both state and national advances in containment of health care costs.
A campaign for U.S. Senator should not overlook connections of domestic issues with geopolitical arena. Although American policy makers may be reluctant to heed foreign examples, recent actions of Germany's Angela Merkel, leader of fourth largest global economy, may be instructive. Throughout the European financial crisis the Chancellor has been able to limit powerful, self-seeking influence of financial markets and promote a long-term agenda of structural reforms for E.U. maladies. In so doing Merkel has taken a page out of industrial policies which have served her nation well. There are also the cases of China and India, for decades dismissed by U.S. leaders as the "sick men of Asia." Their resilience in the face of recession and return to growth and has allowed these rising powers to turn the economic tables on developed countries. The Asians have achieved stability and dynamism largely by way of state-private sector collaboration in many ways paralleling practices of Germany.
Acutely adversarial U.S. culture of both government - business relations and partisan politics contrasts with the civic values of nations, both European and Asian, where consensus on national priorities has been more consistently achieved. Hopefully, American "exceptionalism" will not prevent us from learning about international "best practices" and averting a Greece-type scenario, one which sage New York Times columnist David Brooks foresees in ten years.
PROMISE OF WARREN
To be sure, Warren's policy proposals at this early stage may not offer a fully-focused vision for addressing America's underlying economic flaws. Nonetheless, her arguments for balancing individualist principles with an ethic grounded in community are based on sound insights. Warren's leadership in establishing the federal Consumer Finance Protection Agency has earned her a reputation as champion of the middle class. Her scholarship as Harvard Law Professor reflects both originality of thought and capacity to explore beyond conventional wisdom. Unlike the secluded academic, Warren has shown herself ready and able to take on formidable defenders of the status quo. Her personal story of struggle to rise from humble beginnings should inspire during times of hardship.
Although the battle for the senate seat will joined throughout Massachusetts, Cambridge may become a special kind of frontline. Weathering the recession exceptionally well, the city can offer lessons in far-sighted economic governance. Cambridge has also been launching platform for many an important national leader. As a hub of discourse and innovation, the city can play a useful role in the Warren political project. Cantabrigians who share her aspirations would be well served by placing a shoulder to the wheel of the Warren campaign.