Just Send Money: Elizabeth Warren Does Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:53:00 PM

In today’s email: a note from someone named Bruce Mann, earnestly exhorting me to wish Elizabeth Warren a happy birthday. Even though I don’t know the guy, it’s something I’m pleased to do. I was lucky enough to meet her at a Berkeley garden party on Monday, and I’m here to tell you she’s great—just as smart as she seems to be on TV, and even more charming. 

She’s got the economic situation nailed: no surprise there. As expected, she’s 100% on the side of the ordinary citizens caught up in the financial maelstrom they didn’t cause. Her quick reprise of her own background was even more impressive than reported: father an out-of-work janitor, mother a receptionist at Sears, low-level jobs to pay the bills, etc. etc. etc.  

And, perhaps more surprising, she’s tough on politics too. When economist Brad DeLong, Berkeley’s best blogger, sprung a prepared question on her at the event, she was ready. 

Here’s how he framed it on his blog

“You and your causes have been victims of our dysfunctional senate. When elected, will you use all the procedural tools at your disposal to block Republican initiatives root-and-branch, without compromise, on the principle that turnabout is fair play? Or will you seek to build comity and bipartisanship and make the senate a functioning deliberative body?” 

In fact, the actual phrasing he used in the question period which followed her stump speech was simpler, and at least as I remember it without notes the “functioning deliberative body” part wasn’t there. Her response was to describe in quick concise detail how she’d struggled to get the Consumer Protection Bureau approved by Congress, rallying advocacy groups while the namby-pamby sitting Democrats temporized, until they just couldn’t turn her down. In her telling, it didn’t seem that she unquestioningly endorsed the proposition that bipartisanship necessarily made for a functioning deliberative body in all cases. As I said, she’s tough, and she didn’t cut the Dems any more slack than she did the Republicans.  

Brad didn’t get the chance to ask his prepared alternative follow-up questions, which depending on her response were either : 

“(1) Doesn't that guarantee and dysfunctional government, and allow Republicans to say: ‘We told you so: government is dysfunctional?’ “ 


“(2) Doesn't that simply make you a doormat for the next wave of right-wing policy proposals?” 

Neither would have worked anyhow, because despite being a campaigning neophyte Warren’s adept at the requisite “Yes, but also no” way of answering hard questions. This is no surprise, since according to Wikipedia she was the Oklahoma state debate champion when she was in high school. (Let’s hear it for high school debaters everywhere!) 

What was she doing in south Berkeley anyhow, when she’s supposed to be running for office in Massachusetts? Again, no surprise—she was here to shake the money tree which northern California represents for liberals everywhere. An article in today’s Boston Globe describes the phenomenon which produced her Berkeley appearance: 

“Since September, she has hauled in nearly $16 million, more than any of the 1,613 candidates officially running for Congress on the March deadline, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

“What sets her fund-raising effort apart, and has helped her raise cash at almost twice the rate as Brown since entering the race, is the deep devotion she commands from the left flank of the Democratic Party.” 

In Berkeley, of course, there’s Left and then there’s Left. Things are never simple here.  

We don’t just have liberals, we have progressives, we have moderates, we have what you might call “neo-mods” or perhaps “neo-progs” (who follow the policies of those formerly called moderates but wrap themselves in the progressive mantle at election time), we have the New Left, the Old Left, and even the New Old Left (former CP members who finally caught the winds of change in the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s) and some who have tried all of the above—in other words, more flavors of Left sectarianism than Ben and Jerry (well-known Leftists) have flavors of ice cream.  

All of these tendencies were represented at the garden party in my observation, with one notable exception. The “neo-prog-mods” who support Mayor Tom Bates’ latest neo-connish push to ban seedy sitters from city sidewalks, Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, were there. The “mostly-mod” councilpersons, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak, ditto. A former mod councilperson, part of the loyal opposition in the days when Loni Hancock was a progressive, was there. A scion of a famous CPUSA family was there. A lawyer who routinely fronts for big corporate developers was there. Some old-time union leaders were there. A flock of Young Democrat types seemed to have been comped and were helping serve food.  

But the three members of the Berkeley City Council who are actual still-functioning progressives, the ones who are courageously opposing the Bates Anti-Sit initiative, were conspicuous by their absence, as were their supporters for the most part. I asked Kriss Worthington if he’d been invited, and got a characteristically diplomatic response which left me in the dark. But the fact that the garden in question was at the home of Ces Rosales, who tried in the last election to knock him off the council with Bates’s blessing, might have had something to do with his absence—or not. 

I don’t know if the other two real progressives on the City Council, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson, weren’t there because they weren’t invited or because they declined to come, but the money flowed without them or their allies. At the end of the party, the guy who did what’s come to be known as The Ask, after the candidate had left the event, boasted of a haul in the tens of thousands, perhaps $20k or $30k, I was too far away to hear the exact total.  

This is as it must be. Berkeley is the Miami Beach of the Rich Old Lefties, the home of the reliable checkwriters who may disagree locally but donate globally when there’s a candidate to support who doesn’t threaten their personal comfort when they want to patronize downtown theaters or restaurants without being accosted by homeless beggars on the sidewalk. Barack Obama did well here, both in votes and in funding. 

The old saying is that “politics stops at the water’s edge”. Berkeley’s conservative can pose as Sacramento’s progressive. 

Does any of this mean that the local progressives who weren’t invited to meet Elizabeth Warren on Monday should not contribute to her campaign? Of course not. This country desperately needs a better Congress, and she has the best chance of anyone in the country to capture another Senate seat.  

The garden event also missed Berkeley’s public left intellectuals: George Lakoff, Robert Reich and others. Brad DeLong was there only because a friend forwarded to him the link to the invitation website (which is also how I managed to get in, though I wasn’t on the original list.) 

It would be nice if Warren could squeeze in another Berkeley event with the real progressives and the other Berkeleyans who aren’t part of the local Democratic machine, though realistically they probably don’t have as much money as the other crowd. But even if you don’t get invited to a meet-and-greet with her, you can still contribute online. The website is elizabethwarren.com. You can also sign up there as a volunteer. 

Go ahead, just do it. Do it today. It’s her birthday after all. We're not going to do any better. 

And by the way, I looked up the guy who sent me the email about it. He’s her husband, another Harvard law professor. Good to know he’s on the team.