God help me, but I’m writing about Elizabeth Warren and the likability factor

Elizabeth Warren. Photo (cc) 2012 by Edward Kimmel.

A few very brief thoughts about Elizabeth Warren and whether she’s “likable enough” (to recycle an unfortunate old quote from Barack Obama) to be elected president — the subject of a front-page story in today’s Boston Globe as well as multiple other outlets.

First, yes, of course there’s an element of sexism to it, as there was when the same questions were raised over and over about Hillary Clinton. But let’s not get carried away — it’s not just sexism. Republicans used the likability factor like a sledgehammer against Al Gore and John Kerry, and it was effective. Their opponent, George W. Bush, was regularly described as someone you’d rather have a beer with, which always struck me as pretty odd given that Bush was an alcoholic who had given up drinking.

Second, in Warren’s case, “likability” is shorthand for something real — a lack of political adroitness despite her substantive strengths and despite being, as best as I can determine, genuinely likable. The whole Native American thing is ludicrous, and it seems as though she should have been able to put it behind her years ago when Scott Brown and the Boston Herald first tried to make an issue of it. Yet it’s still here, and it makes you think she should have handled it differently. Certainly the DNA test didn’t help.

Third, there’s something to the idea that she let her moment slip away. The news and political cycles are so accelerated now that 2016 may have represented her best chance. That has nothing to do with likability. The fact that Beto O’Rourke may be a serious candidate seems silly unless you view it in that context.

Finally, Warren’s likability is a phony issue because it’s about the pundits, not the voters. If she wins the nomination and is ultimately elected president, there’s the answer to your question: she’s likable enough.

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Chasing McCain and Bush during the 2000 S.C. primary

John McCain in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2013. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday’s sad news that Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer called to mind this story I wrote for The Boston Phoenix in February 2000 during the crucial Republican primary showdown between McCain and George W. Bush. Bush had just lost the New Hampshire primary to McCain and was hanging on for dear life. As we know, Bush defeated McCain in South Carolina and went on to win the presidency.

I think I had more fun reporting this story than just about any other I can remember. McCain wasn’t quite as accessible to the media (at least not to all the media) as advertised; but as you’ll see, I managed to wedge myself between him and his bus and ask him a question he didn’t want to answer. I have rarely agreed with McCain politically, but his service and courage transcend political differences. He is a great American hero, and my thoughts go out to him at this difficult time.

Continue reading “Chasing McCain and Bush during the 2000 S.C. primary”

A Rapturous new attack on climate science

It’s the latest meme among commentators who want to downplay or dismiss concerns about climate change: those doomsayers are just like the Rapture wackos! Three examples:

  • Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby: “The May 21 apocalypse foretold by the fundamentalist minister Harold Camping never materialized, but end-of-the-world doomsaying goes on as usual among the global warmists.”
  • Syndicated columnist Jay Ambrose: “You can, on the one hand, listen to Bill McKibben, who says the raging Midwest and Southern tornadoes are still another sign of global warming doom. Or you can listen to Harold Camping, who recently announced the world would go kaput not too long after Christians were sent heavenward on May 21 by none other than God himself.”
  • Detroit News editorial-page editor Nolan Finley: “The rapture predicters are no more looney than those who want to connect the serial natural disasters to global warming.”

As with Al Gore, Camping and company are a lot easier to dismiss than atmospheric scientists.

Here is a splendid account of how D.R. Tucker, a Massachusetts conservative, moved from denial to acceptance as he immersed himself in the facts. Well worth reading.

Moving beyond Al Gore

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that Al Gore, his admirable qualities notwithstanding, has used up his political capital when it comes to climate change. By contrast, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina offers the hope of substantive progress.

Obama’s Nobel Prize

obama_20091009I should be reading the papers and getting ready for class, but I just want to get this out there first. No doubt the topic will inspire a long string of comments, and probably a few of you will have more coherent thoughts than I do.

President Obama is a leader of extraordinary promise. I think he’s already accomplished a lot. His policies helped steer the worst economic crisis since the 1930s into something like a normal recession. He’s come closer to enacting comprehensive health-care reform than any previous president.

And, yes, his approach to foreign policy has combined pragmatism, cooperation and an orientation toward negotiation and peace that stands in stark contrast with the belligerent Bush-Cheney team. I’m also glad he’s rethinking his original desire to escalate in Afghanistan.

That said, I’m puzzled, to say the least, by his winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I think Obama might well have been Nobel-worthy in a couple of years, depending on what he’s able to accomplish with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Iran and its nuclear aspirations, with the Afghanistan-Pakistan mess and with North Korea. And that’s assuming he can find willing negotiating partners.

For the Nobel committee to award its most prestigious honor to Obama at this early stage of his presidency, the members must have been thinking one of two things:

  • He deserves it for all sorts of symbolic reasons: he’s the first African-American president, he represents a clean break with George W. Bush and he’s reached out to the international community in a variety of ways.
  • He doesn’t really deserve it, but he should get it in order to give him ammunition (oops; bad word) against his critics and to provide some momentum to his peace-making efforts.

I don’t think either of those reasons are good enough.

Conservatives, needless to say, are going to have a field day with this, comparing it to previous Nobels they think were undeserving, such as those given to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. By contrast, I think Gore and especially Carter were very deserving recipients who received the honor on the basis of many years of hard work.

Many liberals are going to be thrilled that Obama won, although the early buzz on the left, based solely on my monitoring of Twitter, is that at least some liberals are as perplexed as I am.

Not that Obama is the worst selection ever. Certainly there have been much more undeserving recipients, such as Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger. (Despite what some conservatives are claiming on Twitter, Adolf Hitler did not win the Nobel. Try looking it up, folks.)

Anyway — there you have it. Discuss among yourselves.

Go-go Gore

Remember when people used to parody Al Gore by talking … very … slowly? He just rushed through his brief speech like the guy from the old Federal Express commercials.

The parallels he drew between Obama and Lincoln — their relative inexperience, their opposition to popular wars, their eloquence — were a reminder that long years in office are no substitute for judgment, even if you think Obama = Lincoln is a stretch.

It’s Al Gore rumor time

I was joking with someone today that it was time to start an Al Gore rumor — i.e., the deadlocked Democrats will turn to Gore at their convention as the only candidate who can bring together the Obama and Clinton forces.

We laughed. But it turns out that Eleanor Clift has already started.

Gore wins Nobel

Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership on global warming. He was so heavily favored that I actually thought he wouldn’t win, but sometimes predictions come true.

Naturally, the focus is on whether he’ll now run for president. Personally, I think he’s more impressive than anyone now in the field. But I also think he shouldn’t run, for two reasons: (1) Hillary Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama are running strong, well-funded campaigns, giving Gore less than a compelling rationale for jumping in; and (2) the media seem to lose their collective minds in the presence of Gore, as Bob Somerby has so impressively documented.

The next two weeks will tell. But I don’t think a Gore 2008 campaign is going to happen.

Smearing Al Gore again (and again)

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby today offers a newish twist on the old “Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet, har, har, har” canard — he quotes Gore accurately but twists the meaning. Jacoby’s intent is to mock Gore on global warming. He writes:

In the worlds [sic] of Al Gore, America’s leading global warming apostle: “There’s no more debate. We face a planetary emergency…. There is no more scientific debate among serious people who’ve looked at the evidence.”

But as with other claims Gore has made over the years (“I took the initiative in creating the Internet”), this one doesn’t mesh with reality.

Yet as the incomparable Bob Somerby has meticulously documented, Gore’s claim meshes perfectly with reality. It was Gore, more than any member of Congress, who pushed for the funding and provided the vision needed to lift a tiny, military- and university-oriented network called the ARPANET into the communications tool we have today.

If, after all these years, you still have any doubts, read this Somerby post. Don’t worry about what might strike you as Somerby’s partisan tone — look at the evidence he’s dug up. Here’s a taste, in the form of an excerpt Somerby found in the Guardian from 1988, 12 years before Gore made his comments to CNN:

American computing scientists are campaigning for the creation of a “superhighway” which would revolutionise data transmission.

Legislation has already been laid before Congress by Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, calling for government funds to help establish the new network, which scientists say they can have working within five years, at a cost of $400 million.

Also note that none other than Newt Gingrich, among others, has acknowledged the truthfulness of Gore’s claim. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a major political figure as frequently and casually lied about as Al Gore. This phenomenon surely cost him the presidency in 2000, and I imagine it’s got a lot to do with why he won’t get into the race this time.

By the way, Jacoby also quotes NASA administrator Michael Griffin’s controversial comments that global warming is nothing to get excited about. But he seems to have missed Griffin’s subsequent apology. Keep in mind that Griffin has never denied the reality of global warming. Thus his personal view that we shouldn’t do anything about it has no more value than my personal view that Terry Francona ought to give Jason Varitek more days off.

Monday update: David Bernstein expertly analyzes Jacoby’s anti-global-warming case. “Surely,” Bernstein writes, “if nine oncologists tell Jacoby that he needs a growth removed, and one tells him that the evidence of malignancy was not as strong as the others suggest, he would demand a strong argument for listening to the one over the nine.”

A fast-moving Prius

I’ve heard it said that one big drawback to the Toyota Prius is that it has no power. Apparently that isn’t true.