Elizabeth Warren says she is “not running” for president, but hasn’t ruled it out. Photo: Getty
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Why Elizabeth Warren should take on Hillary Clinton and run for the US presidency

Simply by running, Warren will drag the centrist Clinton to the left and put the causes she cares about – financial reform, fairer taxes, income inequality – at the centre of the 2016 presidential election.

Can you imagine Ed Miliband giving the following speech?

I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.’ No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything . . . Now, look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless – keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

If only, eh? The centre left in the UK tends to recoil from using such stridently populist language. Miliband, in particular, is sensitive to the tabloid charge of being “Red Ed”. But the centre left in the US? It’s got Elizabeth Warren: senator, former law professor and darling of the Democratic Party base.

It was Warren who delivered that rousing address in Andover, Massachusetts, in August 2011, a month before announcing her candidacy for the US Senate. (Spoiler alert: she won.) Her audience applauded wildly; the video of her speech went viral, amassing more than a million views online.

Here, it seemed for the first time, was an unashamedly left-wing US politician who could tell stories and capture the public mood; who could tailor a message for both middle-class and working-class voters; who was confident and unapologetic, rather than defensive and cautious.

In an age of Occupy Wall Street and Thomas Piketty, of growing public concern over income inequality and rising anger towards the big banks (including among supporters of the Republican Party), Warren has become a progressive superstar. Her memoir, A Fighting Chance, has been on the New York Times bestseller list since it was published in April. In the book, she recalls a dinner she was invited to in April 2009 with President Obama’s then chief economic adviser, Larry Summers. “Late in the evening, Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice,” she writes. “I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access . . . [but they] also understand one unbreakable rule: they don’t criticise other insiders. I had been warned.”

The warning didn’t work. Four years later, Warren led the Senate Democrats’ campaign to prevent Summers from being nominated to run the US Federal Reserve. Hers is a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach. In February 2013, at her first appearance on the Senate banking committee, Warren skewered a gaggle of top regulators by asking when they had last prosecuted a major bank. Again, the video of her remarks went viral. So, too, did her July 2013 clash with a CNBC cable news host over whether or not to break up the big banks – it was viewed online more than a million times.

Will Warren dare to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the presidency? She repeatedly tells reporters that she is “not running” for president, but hasn’t ruled it out. She is 64. If Clinton runs, wins and serves two terms, there won’t be a White House vacancy until 2024, when the Massachusetts senator will be 75.

It’s 2016 or never. Can she win? Junior senators with a single term on Capitol Hill, a lack of foreign-policy experience and an opponent called Clinton can’t win, right? I mean, er, just ask Obama.

Like Hillary Clinton, Warren is a feisty female with a national profile and a knack for fundraising: she secured $40m for her Senate race, more than half of it online. Unlike Clinton, who gave two paid speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013 alone, Warren does not have to rely on the big banks for financial support: eight out of every ten contributions to her Senate campaign were less than $50.

Then again, whether she wins or not isn’t the issue. Simply by running, she will drag the centrist Clinton to the left and put the causes she cares about – financial reform, fairer taxes, income inequality – at the centre of the 2016 presidential election. A Warren candidacy would not just be “Hillary’s nightmare” – to quote the headline of the New Republic’s cover story on Warren last November – it would be Wall Street’s.

Ed Miliband tells friends he’s an admirer of Warren but he hasn’t yet been able to emulate her style, passion or rhetoric. (The only videos of Miliband that go viral involve him either robotically repeating himself or trying to eat a bacon sandwich.)

There is still time. On paper, Warren, lest we forget, is as wonkish as Miliband, if not more so. The Labour leader may sound professorial; Warren was a professor. There is no reason why the Labour leader, if he eschews the triangulating tendencies of some of his aides, stops giving dense speeches and takes a much stronger stance against Big Finance, can’t rediscover his own inner populist. He has done so before: on those brief occasions when he stood up to Rupert Murdoch or when he challenged the “big six” energy companies.

Forget the hapless Hollande or the opportunistic Obama: Elizabeth Warren’s way should be Ed Miliband’s way. You never know – he may even end up paying her a visit at the White House.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The last World Cup

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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era