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The Trouble with Warren

September 18, 2019
The Trouble with Warren
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

1. Warren

I’ve always been partial to Elizabeth Warren, which is why I was bummed out a few months ago when it looked like her campaign was toast.

But she’s back from the dead! And she’s still rising! And she got 20,000 people to show up for a rally in NYC a couple days ago!

Rally size is one of those phantom indicators, like lawn signage, that seems like it tells you something about a campaign.

And it does! Sort of. You will not often see a candidate like, say, Eric Swalwell attract 20,000 people to show up in a given place at an appointed time to see him. Just like you won’t get blanket lawn signage across a state for a candidate who’s pulling single digits. Unless that candidate is Ron Paul.

All of which is to say that big crowds are indicative of a certain type of energy. And that energy isn’t nothing. But it’s also not everything. Howard Dean got the biggest crowds of 2004. Obama got the biggest crowds of 2008. Bernie got the biggest crowds of the 2016 Dem primary and Trump got the biggest crowds of the 2016 general.

Of those four campaigns, only two of them were winners and only one of them won more votes than his opponent in their race.

2. Obama

All of that said, there are a couple of aspects about Warren’s challenge that I find interesting.

The first is the overall dynamic of Warren vs. Biden.

On its face, this is the classic tired establishment favorite versus energetic insurgent ideologue that we seen in politics all the time: Reagan-Ford. Mondale-Hart. Buchanan-Dole. Kerry-Dean. Obama-Clinton.

The difference is that normally the establishment candidate is charisma-deficient and the insurgent is a ball of fire. In this case, Biden has much better candidate skills and Warren is the horse trying to cover up her political liabilities with policy talk.

Then there’s this oddity:

We are today three years removed from what Democratic voters regard as the most successful presidency of their lifetimes.

And here is what Warren told the crowd in Manhattan the other night: “As bad as things are, we have to recognize that our problems didn’t start with Donald Trump. He made them worse, but we need to take a deep breath and recognize that a country that elects Donald Trump is already in serious trouble.”

Warren is asking Democratic voters to believe that Obama’s presidency left America “in serious trouble.”

Now maybe she’s correct. (I happen to agree with her, but that’s neither here nor there.) But the implications of this charge is everything is terrible and has been for generations.

Because if Obama’s administration left us in serious trouble, then the Bush years must have been horrible. The Clinton years—where the Democratic party first mortgaged itself to the bond market and big business—must have been really bad, too. And the Reagan-Bush years? Cataclysm. The ’70s? Forget about it.

In other words, to sign on with Warren, you need to take a really dark view of American history over the last two generations.

You can do that! Again, I generally agree with this idea. But the point is that Warren is hinting at this critique without being willing to openly criticize the Obama administration, in part because she is weak with black voters (who have strongly favorable views of Obama) and in part because she’s running against Obama’s implicit heir.

Bernie Sanders is willing to criticize the Obama years. He has that luxury because he’s an independent socialist who just happens to be running in the Democratic primary. But Warren’s play requires her to try to have it both ways: To make the big “system is rigged” argument that Bernie makes while also holding onto the “I’m part of the Democratic legacy that includes Barack Obama” that’s Biden’s main pitch.

This tension has not been explored just yet, but it will be. It’s inevitable because of how she is trying to position herself.

And it’s not clear to me how she will square this circle.

3. Worst. Watch. Ever.

I’m a fair-sized watch nerd but I’ve never really understood the attraction to the Italian watchmaker Panerai. I mean, I get the history. And in a sense you can see echoes of their World War II military heritage in their modern collection.

But it’s a real stretch to see purpose-built tool watch in hipster luxury.

Whatever. That’s not the point. The point is this:

Take in the full horror.

We have two kinds of index markers: a triangle and horizontal lines.

The horizontal markers are arranged asymmetrically, so that the markers at the 3 and 9 point toward the center of the dial and while the marker at the 6 is perpendicular to the center point, and thus leaves a big hole.

But Panerai decided to use indices and numbers.

And not just numbers, but both Arabic numbers and Roman numerals.

It’s like they want to hurt your brain. Or it’s an elaborate troll of their customers. I can’t figure out which.

Okay. That’s enough watch talk for the week. In case you’re jonesing for a longread, here’s a great Los Angeles magazine piece about how Waze is screwing up the city:

Today Los Angeles residents could be forgiven for feeling stuck in the film Groundhog Day, waking up over and over again to a tech-triggered, traffic-nightmare time loop now going on five years, with no end in sight. As early as December 2014, L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian, whose district includes North Hollywood and Studio City, began hearing from the front lines of the nearly 100,000 households he oversees. “Neighborhood streets that had been quiet all of a sudden during the morning commute were filled bumper to bumper,” he recalls. “Residents were forcefully complaining to my office.” It came on like a tornado. “There was a sudden change. Mostly in the hillside areas with narrow streets. People looking for shortcuts. The impact was dramatic.” The minutes or seconds you might save by Wazing transformed dozens of peaceful L.A. neighborhoods into loud, exhaust-fumed residential gridlock. Drivers careened down local streets steeper than double-diamond ski slopes. Trucks got pinned on corners. Citizens fought back, reporting phony crashes and traffic jams in a desperate counterattack. Not so fast. A Waze spokesman, oblivious to the irony, reflexively sneered that “a group of neighbors can’t game the system.”The headlines from that long-ago December captured the first wave of what Krekorian termed “the ultimate failure of laissez-faire, libertarian thinking,” what happens when corporations wreak havoc on communities for profit . . .

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.