Their Big Concern in the 1780s

Bob Bauer, a law professor and former counsel to President Obama, explains what the authors of the Constitution thought about having a president like this one:

The founders feared the demagogue, who figures prominently in the Federalist Papers as the politician who, possessing “perverted ambition,” pursues relentless self-aggrandizement “by the confusions of their country.” The last of the papers, Federalist No. 85, linked demagogy to its threat to the constitutional order — to the “despotism” that may be expected from the “victorious demagogue.” This “despotism” is achieved through systematic lying to the public, vilification of the opposition and, as James Fenimore Cooper wrote in an essay on demagogues, a claimed right to disregard “the Constitution and the laws” in pursuing what the demagogue judges to be the “interests of the people.”

Should the demagogue succeed in winning the presidency, impeachment in theory provides the fail-safe protection. And yet the demagogue’s political tool kit, it turns out, may be his most effective defense. It is a constitutional paradox: The very behaviors that necessitate impeachment supply the means for the demagogue to escape it.

As the self-proclaimed embodiment of the American popular will, the demagogue portrays impeachment deliberations as necessarily a threat to democracy, a facade for powerful interests arrayed against the people that only he represents. Critics and congressional opponents are traitors. Norms and standing institutional interests are fraudulent.

[The president] has made full use of the demagogic playbook. He has refused all cooperation with the House. He lies repeatedly about the facts, holds public rallies to spread these falsehoods and attacks the credibility, motives and even patriotism of witnesses. His mode of “argument” is purely assaultive. This is the crux of [his] defense, and not an argument built on facts in support of a constitutional theory of the case.

Of course, all the presidents who have faced impeachment mounted a political defense, to go with their legal and constitutional case. And it is not unusual that they — and, even more vociferously, their allies — will attack the process as a means of undoing an election.

The difference in [the president’s] case is not merely one of degree. Richard Nixon despised his opposition, convinced of their bad faith and implacable hatred for him. But it is hard to imagine [the current president] choosing (and actually meaning) these words to conclude, as Nixon did, a letter to the chair of Judiciary Committee: “[If] the committee desires further information from me … I stand ready to answer, under oath, pertinent written interrogatories, and to be interviewed under oath by you and the ranking minority member at the White House.”

[Our president] has instead described Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as a “corrupt” politician who shares with other “human scum” the objective of running the “most unfair hearings in American history.”

These remarks are not merely one more instance of [his] failure to curb his impulses. This is his constitutional defense strategy. [His] White House counsel, informing the House of the president’s refusal to cooperate, declared that the impeachment process is unconstitutional and invalid — a “naked political strategy” — and advised that the president would not participate. It matters that the president’s lawyer, in a formal communication with the House, used rhetoric that might have been expected from the hardest-core political supporters. Once again, contrasts with past impeachments are illuminating. Bill Clinton’s White House counsel Charles Ruff testified before the House Judiciary Committee, pledging to “assist you in performing your constitutional duties.”

The demagogue may be boundlessly confident in his own skills and force of political personality, but he cannot succeed on those alone. He can thrive only in political conditions conducive to the effective practice of these dark arts, such as widespread distrust of institutions, a polarized polity and a fractured media environment in which it is possible to construct alternative pictures of social realities. Weak political parties now fall quickly into line with a demagogue who can bring intense pressure to bear on party officials and officeholders through his hold on “the base.” As we have seen…, the demagogue can bully his party into being an instrument of his will, silencing or driving out dissenters. Republican officeholders know that [he] can take to Twitter or to Fox News or to the podium at rallies — or all of the above — to excoriate them for a weak will or disloyalty.

This is how the Republican Party has become [his] party. It is also why that party will not conceive of its role in impeachment as entailing a constitutional responsibility independent of the president’s political and personal interests. It has come to see those interests as indistinguishable from its own. In this way the constitutional defense of the case against [the president] and the defense of his own interests become one and the same. As another fabled demagogue, Huey Long of Louisiana, famously announced: “I’m the Constitution around here now.”

The implications for the constitutional impeachment process are dire. Until [now], modern impeachment has ended with some generally positive assessment of its legacy. Nixon’s resignation appeared to indicate that serious charges could bring the parties together in defense of the rule of law. “The system worked” was a popular refrain, even if this was a somewhat idealized and oversimplified version of events. The Clinton impeachment suggested that the standards for an impeachable offense required a distinction between public misconduct and private morality, and Congress [allowed] an independent counsel statute [Note: which had been abused by Kenneth Starr] … to lapse.

[This] impeachment is headed toward a very different summation. A demagogue can claim that Congress has forfeited the right to recognition of its impeachment power, then proceed to unleash a barrage of falsehoods and personal attacks to confuse the public, cow legislators and intimidate witnesses. So long as the demagogue’s party controls one of the two chambers of Congress, this strategy seems a sure bet.

Unquote.

When You Hear Them Called “Far Left”

Our Republican friends keep saying Democratic presidential candidates represent the “far left”. In the good old days, being part of the “far left” meant you were a communist, or belonged to the Socialist Workers Party, or maybe you planted bombs for the Weather Underground. Today, it means you’re not a rabid Republican.

David Mascriota, writing for Salon, clarifies the matter:

The latest bromide — boring and obfuscating as always — is that mainstream American political figures, most especially presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the four young women in Congress known as “The Squad,” are fringe lunatics arguing on behalf of ideas that they cribbed from the diary of Vladimir Lenin.

Reality is consistently stubborn and subversive toward right wing propaganda. A cursory study of history, or a functional memory, indicates that [they] are merely trying to restore balance to the American experience — a balance that existed in such radical eras of the 1940s and ‘50s. The proposals of Warren and Sanders would make them moderates in most Western European countries…

Although the United States is slow to progress to the status of civilization that residents of counties like Canada, Japan and Australia take for granted, … the social welfare state is not entirely foreign to American life. Similarly, ideas like Medicare for All, public universities with minimal or no tuition, and high tax rates on the wealthy are entirely faithful to the “good old days” that President [Toddler] and his supporters seemingly long to resurrect.

After the creation of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965, the rate of uninsured Americans plummeted below 15 percent. Unsatisfied with the existence of any American without access to quality health care, President Richard Nixon — not exactly [socialist presidential candidate] Eugene Debs — proposed a universal health care program that would have [offered] a buy-in rate closely connected to personal income. The poor would pay no premiums, whereas working class families might pay a marginal fee. Decades before …, President Truman — another militant leftist — proposed a national health care program accessible to all citizens at no cost….

Fox News viewers currently collapsing into convulsions over discussion of the “Green New Deal” and enraged over environmental regulations might want to also contemplate that Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into law. He also signed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act….

The top marginal tax rate during his presidency was 70 percent. When he was vice president to President Dwight Eisenhower, the top marginal rate was 91 percent….[today it’s 37%, but only 20% on capital gains, which mostly accrue to the rich].

Advocates of debt free higher education face accusations of liberal delusion. Rather than the administrators of a hippie commune, Sanders, Warren, and others are as extreme in their ideology as every Republican governor who presided over their respective states and commonwealths, along with their public university systems, in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. It was not until the 1980s that college tuition began its upward trajectory toward rates of highway robbery.

Many state colleges in the middle of the 20th century charged no tuition, while many others had fees so low that students could pay semester-by-semester with the wages they earned in part time employment. The overwhelming majority of white male college students after the conclusion of World War II funded their studies with the GI bill, while white veterans who did not attend college used the government subsidy to buy their first homes.

For most of the postwar era, robust labor unions ensured that large amounts of full time workers received adequate pay for their work, using the power of collective bargaining and the threat of the strike to create conditions favorable to blue collar laborers, most of whom were low skilled and without advanced degrees….

The right wing … blusters about how illegal immigration — not corporate greed or the destruction of labor unions — is to blame for the stagnation of wages. They have convinced millions of voters that comprehensive immigration plans that include a “path to citizenship” are treasonous in theory and practice. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of American conservatism, granted amnesty to three million undocumented immigrants while president of the United States….

The illuminative story of domestic politics is not how the … Democratic Party has drifted off the edge of the “far left,” but that the far right has so thoroughly succeeded in moving the country’s political culture away from the center that the moderate policies of the 1970s now apparently resemble Fidel Castro’s revolutionary agenda.

A more helpful and truthful framework would instruct the electorate that the braver and more creative Democrats are making a valiant effort to return the United States to the more balanced and equitable policies of the past — policies that created the largest middle class in the history of the world. In other words, they are conservatives.

Unquote.

By the way, Senator Warren announced a very detailed transition plan this week that would allow us to get to Medicare For All in four years. The main steps in her plan are to take immediate executive action to fix problems introduced by our current president;  pass “public option” legislation in her first 100 days that would permit all Americans to  join an enhanced version of Medicare if they wanted to (legislation that would only require a simple majority in the Senate); and then enroll everyone in Medicare in her third year, after more people had seen the benefits of Medicare over private insurance. It’s a reasonable plan that offers a plausible path to Medicare For All. CNN has more on her plan here.

What the House Decided This Week

Sean Casten is a Democrat who represents the 6th Congressional District of Illinois. He went on Twitter this week to explain what the House of Representatives did regarding impeachment:

A brief thread is in order on what we decided to do yesterday, as there seems to be some confusion about what is in [House Resolution] 660:

First, please read the bill. Rather than relying on shoddy journalists or self-interested partisans, go to the original source material: congress.gov/bill/116th-con…

On the substance, let’s first state the obvious: we did not vote to impeach the President yesterday, nor did we vote to initiate an impeachment inquiry, nor did we vote on articles of impeachment. We voted to set the rules for the next (open) phase of the process.

The question we were all asked yesterday was not whether we should move forward, but whether we agree to move forward subject to a specific set of rules.

The rules we passed were not only fair, but in some cases more generous to the President than the rules that were passed for the Nixon and Clinton processes.

There is a very important point to be noted in that prior table. The protections afforded by this process are to the President, not his political party. As is appropriate, since he is the subject of our inquiry.

This weird narrative that the minority party deserves greater protection implicitly presumes that the minority party is on trial. No one is making that argument, except perhaps for those who doth protest too much.

So it’s worth asking the question why someone would vote “no” on yesterday’s resolution. There are only three logically possible reasons:

(a) Because you want greater protections to the President in this process than has ever been granted in prior processes

(b) Because you are opposed to majoritarian democracies where the actions of a legislative body require the consent of >50% of the members, or

(c) Because you think the Congress should not inquire as to whether the President should be impeached under any circumstances

That’s the extent of the logical objections. That’s not to say that there can’t be illogical objections of course… so let’s examine some of those.

Some have suggested that the prior phase should have been open. That’s irrelevant to what we do next. History is behind us.

However, the approach taken was fully appropriate given the circumstances.

In the Clinton and Nixon cases, impeachment hearings came AFTER the [Attorney General’s] office had led closed hearings to ensure that witnesses could not coordinate their stories. Barr’s failure to do so, and his efforts to distort the Mueller report forced a different process this time.

Others have suggested that the prior process required a vote of the house. That argument is silly, and unfounded. Every committee in Congress has the right to set their own agenda, subject to the majoritarian opinion of their members.

For example, no one would argue that the Science Committee cannot hold hearings on ocean acidification prior to a full vote of the House.

In the same fashion, it makes no sense to argue that the Intel, Oversight, Judiciary, Ways & Means, Financial Services or Foreign Affairs committees cannot hold hearings subject to their jurisdiction prior to a full vote of the House.

Indeed, if we DID require a full vote of the House to approve the agenda of any committee, the House would never get anything done. Every member of Congress knows that. But some are hoping the public doesn’t. That is irresponsible.

So what happens next? We wrap up closed sessions as soon as we can, and then move into open hearings subject to these rules. We do so with open minds and no pre-determined verdict.

I am sorry – and in many ways, angry – that not a single Republican saw fit to vote in favor of these rules. Their obedience and deference to the Executive branch is an abdication of their responsibilities.

But we – and by we, I mean all of us – cannot allow their obedience to conclude that a partisan vote is bad policy.

With heavy hearts, we move forward. No member of Congress celebrates this moment. But yesterday, I’m glad to at least report that the majority of us voted not to shirk our responsibility.

Unquote. 

I don’t know about the “heavy hearts”. I assume the Congressman means he’d rather not have a president like the Toddler who so clearly deserves to be impeached and removed from office.

I also wonder how many in Congress don’t know how they will vote. There is so much evidence of corruption and abuse of power that having to make up one’s mind now would betray a lack of attention.

There should be several articles of impeachment, not limited to the Ukraine scandal, and each article should include a list of “whereas he did this” and “whereas he did that”. If they can’t come up with 20 pages of “whereas” clauses for each article, they won’t be trying.

Presenting the evidence in detail would make it harder for some of the Toddler’s supporters and some of the nation’s voters to deny the harsh reality of the situation.

Political Science Says We Should Worry

There is a story in The Washington Post today about more officials in the Toddler’s administration refusing to honor Congressional subpoenas. This isn’t normal behavior. House Democrats could hold these officials in contempt and levy fines. They could even have them arrested, although that’s a power Congress hasn’t used in a long time. So far, the Democrats have asked nicely and sometimes gone to court, but I don’t think a single contested subpoena has been enforced.

Thomas Pepinsky, a professor of government at Cornell, explains why this is a very serious matter:

For decades, Republicans and Democrats fought over the same things: whose values and policies work best for American democracy. But now, those age-old fights are changing. What was once run-of-the-mill partisan competition is being replaced by a disagreement over democracy itself.

This is particularly evident as the president and many of his allies crow about the illegitimacy of the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an attempted coup, and as the White House refuses to comply with multiple congressional subpoenas as part of the probe.

This marks a new phase in American politics. Democrats and Republicans might still disagree about policy, but they are increasingly also at odds over the very foundations of our constitutional order.

Political scientists have a term for what the United States is witnessing right now. It’s called “regime cleavage,” a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.

And there are serious consequences: An emerging regime cleavage in the United States brought on by [the Toddler] and his defenders could signal that the American public might lose faith in the electoral process altogether or incentivize elected politicians to mount even more direct attacks on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. Regime cleavages emerge only in governing systems in crisis, and our democracy is indeed in crisis.

Just look at the hardening split among the American people on impeachment: The fraction of citizens who oppose the impeachment inquiry is the same as that who approve of the president, signifying that partisan disagreement over policy has turned into a partisan divide over political legitimacy. This cleavage … is clearest in the argument that it would amount to a “coup” to remove the president via conviction in the Senate, and thus that the regular functioning of the legislative branch would be illegitimate. These divisions are over the laws that set out plainly in our Constitution how the president can be subject to sanction.

Regime cleavages are different from other political “cleavages.” Conflict between left and right, for example, over issues such as taxation and redistribution, is healthy. Other cleavages are based on identity, such as racial conflict in South Africa, or religious divides between Hindus and Muslims in India or Protestants and Catholics during the past century in the Netherlands. Identity cleavages can be dangerous, but they are common across the world’s democracies and can be endured, just so long as different groups respect the rule of law and the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Regime cleavages, by contrast, focus the electorate’s attention on the political system as a whole. Instead of seeking office to change the laws to obtain preferred policies, politicians who oppose the democratic order ignore the laws when necessary to achieve their political goals, and their supporters stand by or even endorse those means to their desired ends. Today, when [the Toddler] refuses to comply with the House impeachment inquiry, he makes plain his indifference to the Constitution and to the separation of powers. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argues that impeachment overturns an election result, he is doing the same. In the minds of Trump, his allies and, increasingly, his supporters, it’s not just Democrats but American democracy that is the obstacle.

As Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have argued, democracy can manage political conflict only if citizens and politicians allow the institutions of democracy—elections, representative bodies, the judiciary—to do so. Parties and politicians must not be rewarded for refusing to adhere to laws and institutions. Decades ago, a regime cleavage divided Chileans, with conservatives aligning against the elected government of Salvador Allende and eventually leading to a coup that replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet. The United States has confronted a regime cleavage, too: The last emerged in the 1850s, prior to the Civil War, when many in the slave states began to advocate secession—a clear challenge to the legitimacy of the Union.

Growing fights over executive power can mark an emerging regime cleavage in a democracy like ours….Politics becomes no longer about who delivers the best policy or who best represents voters’ ideals, but rather who can control the executive and how far they can push the limits of the rule of law.

But what distinguishes the current moment … from the normal, albeit worsening, politics of executive-legislative relations in the United States is the politicization of the very notion of executive constraint in the face of an impeachment hearing—this is the source of the regime cleavage.

American politics is not yet fully consumed by this current, emerging regime cleavage. But if it continues without a forceful, bipartisan rebuke, we can expect that politics in the United States will increasingly come to be characterized by the kinds of intractable conflicts … that have characterized presidential democracies in countries like Argentina and, more recently, Taiwan. Our regime cleavage has not yet hardened to the extent that it has in these countries, but if it does, … both sides of the regime cleavage will argue that the other is illegitimate and undemocratic. Voters, understandably, will lose what faith they have left in the value of democracy itself. In the worst-case scenario, presidents and their supporters would be entirely unaccountable to Congress, while their opponents would reject the legitimacy of the presidency altogether.

Even worse: What if [the Toddler] refuses to acknowledge defeat by a Democratic opponent in 2020? What would happen in that case? Might the president’s supporters resort to violence? Might broad segments of the [Republican Party] simply refuse to recognize an elected Democratic executive as well?

Protecting the rule of law, defending the separation of powers and restoring constitutional order to Washington increasingly seem as though they will require the impeachment, conviction and removal from office of the current president. At the very least, Americans of every political persuasion must demand that the administration take part in the impeachment proceedings, even if the Republicans in the Senate ultimately weigh partisanship over evidence in their vote. So long as the executive and legislative branches respect the procedures and powers outlined in the Constitution, we must all respect their legitimacy—regardless of the outcome. If we fail to agree on and abide by our common democratic principles, our emerging regime cleavage will harden, and the future for American democracy will be bleak.

Unquote.

The Professor Got Educated

I wish every voter in the country would read this article. Okay, relatively few will, but I’m convinced she’ll be our next president anyway. From “The Education of Elizabeth Warren” in the New York Times, here’s a much shorter version:

By 1981, Ms. Warren and her husband had secured temporary teaching posts at the University of Texas, where she agreed to teach bankruptcy law. She quickly earned a reputation for lively lectures, putting students on the spot and peppering them with questions and follow-up questions…

Even visitors to her class got the treatment. One of them was Stefan A. Riesenfeld, a renowned bankruptcy professor who had come to lecture on the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978. The law, which had expanded bankruptcy protection for consumers, was already under attack by the credit industry, which argued that it made personal bankruptcy too attractive.

Even so, Mr. Riesenfeld explained to Ms. Warren’s class, those who filed personal bankruptcy were “mostly day laborers and housemaids who had lived at the economic margins and always would,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir.

“I asked the obvious follow-up question: ‘How did he know?’” Ms. Warren wrote. After more questioning, it became clear that not only did Mr. Riesenfeld have no real answer, he was irritated by Ms. Warren’s probing.

The subject struck close to home. When she was growing up in Oklahoma, her father’s heart attack had thrown their household into precarious financial territory, forcing her mother to take a minimum-wage job answering telephones at Sears.

She remembers being fearful as she lay in bed at night listening to her mother cry. “She thought I had gone to sleep. I didn’t know for sure the details of why she was crying, but I knew it was bad and that we could lose everything,” Ms. Warren said.

(Later, the oil glut of the 1980s would destroy her brother David’s once-thriving business delivering supplies to oil rigs. Her brother John, a construction worker, would also struggle after the oil market collapsed….)

She wanted answers, more than Professor Riesenfeld could provide….

Dozens of people would eventually be involved in the … analysis of a quarter million pieces of data gathered from bankruptcy cases filed from 1981 through 1985.

Among the researchers was Kimberly S. Winick, then a University of Texas law student … While Ms. Warren didn’t talk a lot about her views, Ms. Winick said she believed that the project’s initial theory was that, “If you filed bankruptcy, you must be cheating.”

“Liz was from a more conservative place,” Ms. Winick said. “And she was somebody who had worked very, very, very hard all her life. And she had never walked away from a debt. And I think she kind of started with the view — let’s see what people are doing and how they’re cadging on their debts and screwing their creditors.”

That was the conventional thinking of the day….

While the [bankruptcy files] did not tell the whole story, they provided enough evidence for Mr. Warren and her co-authors to write, “Repeatedly, we have been surprised by the data and forced to rethink our own understanding of bankruptcy”.

… Over the years, the research elevated Ms. Warren’s status, from little-known Texas professor to sought-after lecturer, writer and consultant in bankruptcy law. It also set the stage for her career in politics.

In 1995, Mike Synar, a former Democratic congressman from her home state, asked Ms. Warren, by then a Harvard professor, to advise a special commission reviewing the bankruptcy system….

It was during that period, in 1996, that she switched her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, though she insists that her essential conversion was from “not political” to “political”.

“I didn’t come from a political family,” she said. “I hadn’t been political as an adult. I was raising a family, teaching school and doing my research,” she said.

Then she went to Capitol Hill.

“I quickly discovered that every single Republican was on the side of the banks and half the Democrats were,” she said. “But whenever there was someone who would stand up for working families, it was a Democrat.”

She added, “I picked sides, got in the fight, and I’ve been in the fight ever since”.

merlin_159494604_bb8319a0-292c-4940-9d65-d3e2c6834404-jumboUniversity of Texas, 1985.

An appropriate addendum.

Something Positive for a Change: They Read

Quoting a background article about our next president from Huffington Post:

When [Elizabeth Warren] was elected to the United States Senate, she wanted to solve a growing problem: student debt.

… So, as her Senate office began to staff up, [she] wanted to roll out a policy proposal to bring down the cost of student loans. Her staff did what they always did when working for Warren: They looked for the best existing plans and the best data to show her the root causes of the problem. What they found was lacking. The number of ideas floating around to fix the problem was minuscule.

Policy development in Washington normally runs through think tanks. Think tanks need to raise money for policy programs. But since there was no money devoted to developing a policy to relieve student loan debt, there were relatively few experts in Washington on the issue at the time. So Warren hired a top academic expert to develop student loan debt relief policy on her staff.

In the seven years since, Warren has become the most active politician in America when it comes to investigating, transforming and eliminating student debt. As the problem has grown, her proposed solutions grew. She started by fighting to lower interest rates and pushing the Obama administration to investigate for-profit colleges with high default rates, and she slowly reached the point where it was time to push for the near-total elimination of student debt.

This is how Warren has pushed the boundaries of progressive policy since coming to Washington. Instead of relying on the traditional D.C. think tank world, she made her office into her very own think tank. This vast, over-qualified policy team then consulted with a kitchen cabinet of legal academics, economists and other scholars outside the Beltway. Her goal all along has been to craft and sell policies to help solve one overarching problem: inequality in American society.

“It looks like we’re trying to solve a lot of different problems, but we’re only trying to solve one problem,” said Jon Donenberg, who is now the policy director for Warren’s presidential campaign. “It’s the rigged system; it’s the corrupt government and economy that only benefits those at the top. Every solution flows from that.” 

Now Warren’s policy-first politics is the unlikely fuel for her bid for the White House. Her steady release of detailed yet easy-to-digest policy papers became a meme [“Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that”]…. She now sits among the top tier of contenders in the polls and fundraising — all while eschewing big-money fundraisers. 

It’s no surprise that her focus on policy has catapulted Warren back into serious contention. Digging into policy solutions for overlooked problems and explaining it in digestible soundbites is what she has done since the publication of her first book, “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” an empirical study of bankruptcy that completely changed how academics viewed the issue. 

“This is what she’s been doing her whole life,” said Georgetown Law School professor Adam Levitin, a former Warren student at Harvard Law School.

Other presidential candidates have highlighted their policy advisers…. But Warren’s approach is unique. If elected president, she won’t be testing out a new policy process in office. She’ll bring one that’s been tried and tested in her offices for nearly a decade.

She’s been doing it since even before her Senate run. A decade ago, she ran the Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing the 2008 bank bailout. It was a temporary post on a hot-button issue likely to anger powerful figures in both political parties. That made it hard to attract staff from the typical pool of Washington applicants. But Warren attracted policy experts to work with her. She connected them to her world of policy-oriented legal academics.

“That’s kind of where you can start to see her build a policy shop,” said Levitin, who also worked for Warren on the oversight panel. “And then she was able to build on that model when she went into the Senate.”

Warren’s Senate office was built entirely around policy, with the largest such team in Congress. She hired an investigations team to research issues she was considering pushing or to continue to build the case for legislation she had introduced. The team, whose members had sterling academic credentials — one of the office’s first health care staffers had a doctorate in pharmacology — consulted with academics that Warren read and talked to to help guide her policy thinking.

“They were a conduit for people who had 50-year careers working in whatever the field was and had literally written the textbook on it,” said Graham Steele, a former staffer to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)…. 

Other Senate offices would consult with her staff on policy development because they knew it was the best team around, according to Steele. Or sometimes her office would hear from Warren’s kitchen cabinet of academics about a particular bill. “There’d be a D.C. consensus, and then her office would come to you and say, ‘Hey, we’ve heard some concerns about this particular bill, and I’d love to put you on the phone with this person who’s like the foremost expert on whatever this issue is,’” Steele said.

Warren doesn’t totally eschew the D.C. think tanks … But it’s relatively rare for her staff to think the ideas emerging from think-tank land are the best ones out there.

The goal of think tanks is to prove their worth to donors by having politicians adopt their ideas. That means they mostly assemble and pitch ideas politicians are likely to adopt, and it can be hard for them to push the type of ideas that have been banished from polite conversation in Washington, even if that’s where the data leads them….

What really sold Baradaran on Warren and her policy team was something very simple.

“They read,” she said. “That’s something that can’t be overemphasized enough because it really contrasts starkly to me with the rest of the members of Congress all over the spectrum. People just don’t engage with or read, not only just not academic work, but other work in general.”

Take special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” which lawmakers have said they didn’t read because “It’s tedious,” “It is what it is,” and “What’s the point?” Warren read it. She came to the conclusion that President Donald Trump obstructed justice and followed the clear message of the report: that only Congress can do something about a president breaking the law. She called for the House to launch an impeachment inquiry [she was the first presidential candidate to do so].

She also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 article for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” and reached out to the author to discuss it. “She had read it, she was deeply serious, and she had questions, and it wasn’t like, ‘Would you do XYZ for me?’” Coates told The New Yorker in June. Warren is the only 2020 candidate to talk to him about the issue, he added — and he thinks she’s the only candidate who is really serious about it. 

Warren’s plan to levy a 2% tax on fortunes above $50 million stems from reading the work of University of California economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Their research found that the current wealth inequality in the U.S. is the result of the growth of wealth among the top 0.1% of households caused by policy choices in Washington. Warren’s team reached out to Saez and Zucman in January to help craft her wealth tax. The two economists also worked on her corporate tax proposal and her plan to reduce overseas tax avoidance by the wealthy.

“She is really ― and I want to contrast this with every other member of Congress I’ve worked with — she gets it, she gets down and dirty in the weeds like nobody else,” Levitin said.

Sometimes Warren gets her policy from her own reading, but other times it bubbles up from her staff’s research. She makes sure to direct them toward answering the questions she always asked herself in her academic career.

“The two questions Elizabeth asks the most often is: ‘What’s driving the problem?’ and ‘What does the data say?’” Donenberg said. “If you don’t have answers to those two questions, it’s time for you to go.”

When all the research is complete and the policies appear done, Warren has one final task. It must be possible to explain every policy that comes out of her office in practical language to anyone.

She asks staffers to consider, “How can I tell the story about this that people will understand?” according to Levitin.

When she ran the Congressional Oversight Panel, every 100-page report her office put out first went to her desk, where she would write a one-page plain-language explanation for the press and the public.

“Her unusual strength is being able to translate really complex problems into a way that an ordinary person can understand them,” Levitin said.

She rocketed to political stardom by deftly explaining why the 2008 financial crisis happened in appearances on “The Daily Show.” And she’s using her policy plans not only to show what she’ll do as president to shrink the yawning inequality gap in the country but also to reveal her character and seriousness to voters.

Note: As more voters are paying attention, the two best-known Democratic candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have both gone down in the polls. Elizabeth Warren has gone up, to the point where some polls show her in second place.

Warren is the opposite of our current president in several ways. She has an excellent chance to become the Democratic nominee. If she is, I think the Democrats will do very well in the next election. I want to say more on that soon.

These Things Didn’t Hurt Them Much

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi apparently still believes starting an impeachment inquiry would hurt the Democrats in the 2020 election. It’s hard to understand why, since publicizing the president’s clear unfitness in televised hearings and forcing Republicans to endorse his behavior, if they chose to, would almost certainly hurt the Republicans.

David Roberts, who writes for Vox, cites an article that says impeaching Bill Clinton didn’t really hurt the Republicans (even though Clinton’s misbehavior was infinitesimal compared to this president’s). Mr. Roberts is angry and has a question:

Impeaching Clinton didn’t hurt Republicans much; stealing the 2000 election didn’t hurt them much; launching a disastrous war based on lies didn’t hurt them much; walking the US blindly to a global recession didn’t hurt them much.

Running a series of fraudulent investigations into fake Obama scandals didn’t hurt them much; gerrymandering didn’t hurt them much; abusing the filibuster didn’t hurt them much; stealing a Supreme Court seat didn’t hurt them much.

Working with hostile foreign power to elect a criminal didn’t hurt them much; running multiple concurrent state-based schemes to suppress or deny minority votes didn’t hurt them much; running concentration camps for children on the border didn’t hurt them much.

Building a whole parallel media apparatus devoted to propaganda didn’t hurt them much. Lying — relentlessly, endlessly, about climate change, about crime, about immigrants, about taxes, about EVERYTHING — didn’t hurt them much.

The U.S. right’s accelerating evolution into a party of lawless minority white rule, which has involved shitting all over truth, decency, and every democratic norm still standing, has not hurt them much. A really good question to ask is: why?

Well, one reason is that there are plenty of Americans who relish Republican bad behavior. Concentration camps for children? Hey, their parents shouldn’t have brought them here. The president is using his position to rake in the cash? That shows he knows how to play the game. All politicians are crooked anyway.

Another reason is that having “a whole media apparatus devoted to propaganda” helps a lot. The right has a national television network (Fox Television) and cable channel (Fox News) that both push right-wing propaganda while claiming to be more accurate than their middle-of-the-road competition. Talk radio shows all over the country push the same propaganda. The internet offers a steady stream of the same nonsense. These outlets feed off each other, creating a vast echo chamber. As a result, it’s easy for Americans who lean right to absorb Republican Party bullshit 24 hours a day. They can avoid the networks and newspapers that practice traditional journalism and, if they hear something troubling anyway, they can reject it as “fake news” from the “liberal media” since it’s not what they heard on Fox and Friends.

Thus, when Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican congressman, declared that the president should be impeached, one of his constituents was curious:

Cathy Garnaat, a Republican who supported Amash and the president said she was upset about Amash’s position but wanted to hear his reasoning. She said that she will definitely support Trump in 2020 but that Tuesday night was the first time she had heard that the Mueller report didn’t completely exonerate the president.

“I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn’t heard that before,” she said. “I’ve mainly listened to conservative news and I hadn’t heard anything negative about that report, and President Trump has been exonerated.”

Millions of our fellow citizens don’t know what the hell is going on, either because they aren’t paying attention or because they’re immersed in “news” and commentary that’s seriously misleading. Throw in voter suppression, gerrymandering, the absurd Electoral College system, the over-representation of lightly-populated rural states in the Senate, outrageous hardball politics, journalists who fear being criticized by the right, feckless Democratic politicians and some fortuitous circumstances (James Comey’s big mouth, for example) and it’s easy to understand why the Republican Party isn’t hurting at all.

It doesn’t look like Bloomberg, Soros, Gates or Bezos are going to buy Fox and clean house, so how can we fight the Fox infestation? One thing we could do is find a way to make Fox TV and Fox News less profitable for the Murdoch family. Elizabeth Warren declined to be interviewed on Fox because she didn’t want to make it look like a legitimate news operation. If more politicians, actors and other notables refused to appear on Fox, if Fox’s corporate sponsors were pressured to take their business elsewhere, if Fox was subject to a national boycott, maybe the Murdochs would change direction. We need to do something, because, as a famous Republican once said, back when it was honorable to be a Republican, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

P.S. — If you want a taste of what they’re seeing, take a look at this random selection.