Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Another Reason to Vote for Elizabeth Warren

It’s a sad commentary on the character of political debate, as well as on the ability of progressives to make their narrative resonate, that Elizabeth Warren’s Massachusetts campaign is now making the case that voters should support their candidate to keep the Senate from going Republican rather than because Warren is one of the most unflinching progressives in the country.

Scott Brown, as weasely, unprincipled, and self-aggrandising a figure as ever slunk up and down the corridors of the Senate, seems to have mastered the art of making himself politically indispensable.  He has chosen to play the role of the 51st Senator, exacting concessions from his colleagues unmerited by their coherence, and praise from the media unwarranted by his conduct.  

Warren, on the other hand, is one of a handful of figures who understands and has understood for a long time, how inequity of opportunity, a dearth of information, and deregulation run amok have created an unacceptable state of affairs weighted towards interests that have nothing in common with the public good.  A trenchant critic of the financial moguls and their political enablers who ran our country into the ground, Warren was and remains more passionate than the President, more committed than Congress, and more articulate than just about anyone else out there.  I don’t know whether she would prove more effective in the Senate than at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Republicans, at the behest of their corporate handlers, shot down her appointment), but we need a voice like hers in the public sphere, otherwise largely dominated by reactionaries and invertebrates.

But during a recent debate, Scott Brown gave voters yet another reason to turn to Warren in answering a question on our long-standing, bloody, and singularly unproductive war in South Asia.  Warren suggested that an end to the war—the objectives of which change too often to allow us to achieve them—is long overdue and should proceed at a faster clip than that projected by President Obama (who would, in any case, leave thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan beyond 2014).

Scott Brown, on the other hand, suggested that we should “listen to the generals”.  This, for the record, is the same “policy” as that embraced by his party’s presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.  The idea that we should let the military commanders and their runaway egos determine our foreign policy is not only irresponsible, but is guaranteed to generate a series of actions which run in diametric conflict with the public interest. 

The Pentagon is populated by a group of people who seem incapable of seeing the forest for the trees.  They have exactly zero sense of how their militaristic approach to the world creates rather than addresses security threats, and their attachment to the ‘coercive and blunt instruments’ drawer in our policy tool-kit means that their approach to security issues is weighted from the get-go towards the use of force, armed intervention, moral lawlessness, and the kind of pre-emptive action that does infinitely more harm than good to our nation.

The military-industrial complex in our government overstepped their constitutional remit when they lobbied arms of government and the public during President Obama’s Afghanistan review, forcing an escalation and expansion of that war down the throat of a quiescent public and a morally-drifting President.  They effectively overturned the premise of civilian command and control, and we’ve paid a high price since for their hubris. 

The duties of our political leadership include setting policy and making judgement calls, not deferring to unelected soldiers.  Our generals comprise just one of the many sources from which the President and Senate take information.  They also hear from diplomats, NGOs, civil society, academics, the press of our country and of others, as well as the leadership and publics of other nations.  The military has no pride of place, and our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan should be examples of what happens when our international relations are sub-contracted to the Pentagon: lots of blood, lots of bombs, and we’re no safer for it.

If passing the buck in this manner constitutes leadership from the perspective of men like Scott Brown and Mitt Romney, we need none of it.  Here as elsewhere, Warren speaks for a growing national consensus, and her voice would be as welcome across the country as in Massachusetts. 

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