Time to Get Going

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 28, 2019 - 11:12:00 AM

During my decade or two wandering in the wilderness, when I did both intellectual property law and marketing for the family high tech business, I went to a lot of trade shows and conferences. There I quickly learned that if I wanted to have an interesting and/or intelligent conversation with one of my fellow attendees, I should find an African-American or a woman to talk to.

Why was that? Because in those days (1980s-90s) if you were a member of a racial or gender minority you needed to be twice as qualified to get a job in big business, especially in tech. In our tiny software company, the path for some of us women was smoothed by family ties and our commitment to equal opportunity, but the big corporations we met in the marketplace had formidable barriers to entry for those who were not White men.

In a few cases, some of them (notably AT&T and IBM) had been compelled by various forms of government action to hire a few individuals from protected classes. Inevitably, kicking and screaming all the way, they hired the best and the brightest from such classes.

I was reminded of that experience as I watched the last two nights of what were called debates, but were actually, if you will, political versions of a county fair, a place where the Democrats could showcase and compare the products they might be offering to the electorate in November of 2020. It was apparent to me that here, as in my business experience, the women and the people of color were head and shoulders above the chorus, because they had to be in order to get on the stage at all. 

Reading the contributions for today from our regulars and our readers, and also checking online for the usual Very Serious People, a lot of them agree with me. The aspirants had a variety of virtues, but some looked better than others, and the best were either women or people of color. 

But first, let’s stipulate that Bernie Sanders richly deserves an honorable mention. He has performed an invaluable public service over the years, and especially recently, for articulating at top volume the Marxish economic ideas which have been talked about in the more daring academic circles for a good while now. He gets high marks for audacity, somewhat lower for empathy.  

He’s the professor many wish they’d had, the grandfather who has answers to all your questions. But sadly, he’s just a bit past his pull date, and seems a bit shopworn. 

He’s been the insider’s outsider in DC for too long but is short of experience in making things work. He (like me) is, frankly, too old for 8 more years of the presidency. Some of my most beloved friends are Old White Guys, but we just don’t need another one for president at this time—the current model has given the brand a bad name. 

Red ribbons for second place go to Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. They have very different personal styles, but both exhibit a winning combination of brains and passion.  

Booker, who comes from a comfortable IBM family, has a CV which features Stanford, Oxford and Yale Law, but he deliberately chose to settle in gritty Newark, among the people he chose to serve. He’s eloquent when he talks about them. 

Kamala Harris is also eloquent, but in an entirely different way. She’s a sharp prosecutor in the Perry Mason style, not inappropriate in a political situation where lies are the common discourse. She showed her empathetic side when she used her experience as a Berkeley schoolgirl, a contemporary of my BUSD-educated daughters, to challenge Joe Biden about his embarrassing recollections that he got along with ardent segregationists and opposed federally mandated busing for integration. 

Both of them looked very good on stage this week, but neither appears to have enough relevant experience to assume the presidency, or at least the office as it used to be before being trashed by the incumbent. Both deserve the second-place ribbon, and either would make a terrific candidate for vice -president.  

Julian Castro was also impressive, great for a cabinet slot. In fact, I'd cheerfully vote for any of them myself, against Trump. 

The blue ribbon, in my opinion, goes to Elizabeth Warren. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen the fading bumper sticker on my 2012 Prius: “I belong to the Elizabeth Warren Wing of the Democratic Party”. It’s been there since I met her in Ces Rosales’ backyard in the LeConte neighborhood, sometime after 2012. I was there with my mother, whose 90s were informed by a lot of CSpan broadcasts of the Senate which made her a major Warren fan. After hearing Warren’s off-the-cuff dialogue with a typically demanding Berkeley audience, I became a fan too. Nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. 

An academic friend, well-known as a feminist, told me ruefully that after the 2016 election she’d never again vote for a woman—just too risky politically. But I think she’s wrong. It’s not as if Hillary Clinton didn’t win the 2016 election, it’s just that she and whoever was advising her missed the electoral college piece all together. That can be fixed—I’m sure Warren has a plan. 

Warren is a much better candidate than Clinton. She’s got both an excellent mind and the common touch, and is a vigorous, persuasive speaker. 

Unlike Clinton, she’s had real on-the-ground working class experience and has earned all the honors she’s attained on her own. Unlike, for example, Bernie Sanders, she has not only goals but, yes, detailed plans for exactly how she’ll meet those goals. After two terms, she’ll just be as old as he is right now. 

I also heard this morning from an African-American friend, a longtime Democratic Party activist in the Midwest, who was concerned about the possible consequences of Kamala Harris’s takedown of Joe Biden. She’s one of those older Black women currently beloved of the electoral strategists who have finally noticed their crucial role in turning out votes in their communities. She remembers Biden’s somewhat dubious early record, but also remembers that later he accomplished a lot for civil rights. Living in the Midwest, she thinks he might appeal more to her White neighbors. 

She has a point, but the fact that Biden has spent his whole life in politics could turn out to be more of a liability than an asset. He's had time to make a lot of mistakes that we haven’t heard about yet. Warren, on the other hand, had a real life before entering the political game, so that even though she’s older than some candidates, she’s a fresh face.  

I went to a couple of debate watching parties this week in Santa Cruz, and it looks like at least activists are ready to rumble. The first one, which was sponsored on behalf of Elizabeth Warren in someone's home, had about 40 people, some of them Sierra Clubbers and the rest assorted strangers attracted by public postings. Most of them were officially uncommitted. To a person, they cheered whenever Warren spoke, but they were pretty enthusiastic about Castro and Booker too. Women predominated perhaps 3 to 1. 

The second night, sponsored by the Bernie crowd, who were wearing his face on their tee shirts, was in a pizza and beer joint. There men were in the majority. These people seemed pretty set in their choice, but then again Warren wasn't on the screen. My question would be whether they represent a political movement, transferable to another candidate with approximately similar ideas, or if they're a cult of personality centered around Sanders.  

Some might say that we should wait a while and hear all the “debates” before choosing a horse for this race. I usually deplore endless campaigns, but circumstances have changed.  

The incumbent is of course beyond appalling, and the whole field of Democratic aspirants looks pretty darn good. The unselected ones should go home and run for the Senate and the House and statewide offices, and the rest of the county should get behind Warren and, e.g., Booker, and throw the rascals out. As the oldy but goody slogan has it, it's time for a change.