Monday, April 27, 2015

A Response to Charles Pierce

Charles Pierce took issue with what I wrote comparing the records of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. So I'd like to respond.

First of all, I find it interesting that he couches his critique in the current debate about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. I said nothing about that controversy in my piece. When I want to talk about that issue...I do. Seeing it simply as some kind of effort by President Obama to - as Pierce puts it - "bring people like Warren and Sharrod Brown to heel" is insulting and diminishes the importance of the issues at stake.

My point in making the comparison was to challenge progressives on how we go about assigning hero status to politicians. Where TPP comes into play in all that is that recently I've seen people make the argument against it based on the fact that Senator Warren is against it, and they trust her. Of course they are free to use that as their standard. But it made me wonder how we go about deciding who we trust and who we don't.

Secondly, when I point out that Senator Booker has been willing to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans on criminal justice reform, Pierce doesn't think they're serious.
Within the Republican centers of power, "Criminal justice reform" does not exist as an actual issue. It exists as dumbshow in an attempt to convince minority voters that the Republican party is on their side. If the Republican party really were interested in actually reforming the criminal justice system in this country, it would have gotten behind then-Senator Jim Webb's attempt to do that during his one term in the Senate. Instead, it filibustered even the possibility of a commission to study the problem. When either the REDEEM Act or the Smarter Sentencing Act come to a vote, then I'll take the point.
We will see whether either of those bills Sen. Booker is co-sponsoring comes up for a vote. But to say that Republicans aren't serious about criminal justice reform is to ignore all the evidence to the contrary. It hasn't moved on a federal level yet, but an awful lot of red states are making significant progress on the issue. Rather than get in to all the specifics, I'd simply suggest that you check out the web site Right On Crime.

Pierce suggests that Republicans are using the issue of criminal justice reform to "convince minority voters that the Republican party is on their side." I say, good for them! Those voters have learned over the years to trust walk rather than talk. A "dumbshow" isn't going to fool them. So if Republicans want to impress people of color, they'll have to deliver.

In many ways, the contrast between these two Senators encapsulates what can cause a divide between white progressives and people of color. While black people prioritize criminal justice reform because they are literally going missing and dying from the problems in that system, white people tend to prioritize reigning in Wall Street. There is nothing inherently wrong with a focus on either one. But we need to be able to hear the disconnect that happens when we don't recognize the importance of both.

My point was that in the current Congress, Senator Booker has seen that one of these issues might have a chance of being addressed. And he's going for it. As a pragmatic progressive, I value that.


  1. First of all: Charles Pierce reads you! Way to go. Second--this is a great response.

  2. So I went down the rabbit hole from Pierce's column to Joan Walsh's comments, which I would not have sought otherwise. I find it interesting that, according to Walsh, PBO is 'distorting the truth' by pointing out -quite truthfully- that Warren can view the latest negotiation text whenever she wants to. That's a distortion, according to Joan, because Warren can't violate the confidentiality of the negotations and disclose details to the public. Which is, apparently, a Very Bad Thing because the public needs to know those details so they can - something.

    But exactly what do Joan and Elizabeth want the public to do once the latest details are published I wonder? Advise the POTUS? Isn't that already Senator Warren's job? I've not read or heard her complain that the President refuses her input; in fact all evidence shows he's been conscientious to a fault in that regard. In fact, all I've heard from Warren about the TPP itself is a lot of "if's" that would be Very Bad Things IF they're included in (or excluded from) the final partnership agreement. But absolutely no indication from her whether she believes they will be.

    *Someone* is being disingenuous in this disagreement, but from the cheap seats it doesn't look like it's Obama.

  3. Mo'nin, Nancy
    I second Tien Le's first point! Way to go! And, Tien's second point, too.
    It's disappointing that Ms. Warren is comin' off all "emo". A point I read somewhere else...'you trust him to negotiate with Iran, but he's sellin' us down the river in negotiating with our regular Asian partners'.
    Indeed...I'd like to see her get some things done.

  4. Pierce has always struck me as an emotional writer. Even when I agree with him (maybe half the time), I find it unsatisfying to read him because his arguments often seem logically weak, based more on fear and anger than reason. I just listened to him on Stephanie Miller, and he had no facts about TPP, or TPA, only anger about NAFTA and fear that TPP is more of the same. I think you should take his attention as a compliment. Like with Glenn Greenwald, if he's taking aim at you, it's because he's noticed you and you struck a nerve.

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  6. I'm a bit surprised to see these posts thinly veiled shots at the President's lack of leadership. When Obama's lost even Nancy LeTourneau...

    1. Where do you get that Obama has lost me?

    2. Your swipe at Democrats who can't get Republican buy-in for their ideas. Obama has had those issues for 6 years.