Saturday, July 19, 2014

Aristotle, Virtue And Elizabeth Warren


The other day I visited my old campus-- Stony Brook-- for the first time in exactly 45 years. I was there to begin a relationship with a program that assists high school kids from financially strapped backgrounds envision themselves going to college and the succeeding in college. Great program! It's called EOP/AIM-- Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit. The kids in the program have a significantly higher rate of graduation than the general college population does. While I was talking to the students about my experiences at Stony Brook and how those experiences changed and impacted my life, I also realized how much older I am than they are-- and than I was when I was there on that campus for those intense 4 years.

I talked to them about what I did as freshman class president and as the Chairman of the Student Activities Board. I talked to them about our role as students back then in ending racial segregation and the bigotry that it was built on, and about ending the war in Vietnam and the authoritarianism that allowed that to happen, and about widening self-awareness and extending consciousness. But I kept going back in my mind-- I spared them this part-- to the regret I feel that as I enter the final third of my life I have still never experienced a great and transformational president who has moved the country forward. We've had aggressive reactionaries who have moved the country drastically and tragically backwards-- Reagan and Bush/Cheney being the worst-- and uncourageous conservatives who have just been part of the status quo-- basically all of the rest from Eisenhower to Clinton to Obama.

It was lovely and even profound that we elected an African-American president. I wish it would have been a great African-American president, but at least it wasn't a reactionary like Reagan or Clarence Thomas. Next we're going to have a woman president and the symbolism will be, for many, especially women, worth the mediocrity of the likely candidate.

I knew better from his wretched Senate record but I gambled on Obama in 2008 anyway and was disappointed enough in his weakness to not vote for him again in 2012. I know I can't bring myself to vote for Hillary, or any other less of two evils.

When I spoke with the students I brought up artists I hired to play at Stony Brook, ones who I thought there was a chance they may have heard of-- Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Otis Redding, The Dead, Smokey Robinson, Big Brother, the Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the 4 Tops... but there were dozens I didn't mention and a song from one get going through my head. It was a song by Tom Jans who, like so many of the great artists we had there, died very tragically and very young. The song was "Once Before I Die" and the reason it popped into my head for the first time in so many decades was because that's what I hope for, one great president before I die. Is it too much to hope for?

I missed Elizabeth Warren in Detroit because I was at Stony Brook. Read her new book, A Fighting Chance, if you're unsure that she has what it takes. Or just listen to me: she has what it takes in a way Hillary or Obama never will. Yesterday the National Journal outlined her 11 commandments of progressivism as presented in her Detroit speech. I was in a philosophy class that day learning about Aristotle and his virtues. This:

When the professor talked about "Magnificence" as public virtue, only Warren popped into my heard. This is what she was talking about in Detroit while the students were sorting through Aristotle:
"We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it."

"We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth."

"We believe that the Internet shouldn't be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality."

"We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage."

"We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them."

"We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt."

"We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions."

"We believe-- I can't believe I have to say this in 2014-- we believe in equal pay for equal work."

"We believe that equal means equal, and that's true in marriage, it's true in the workplace, it's true in all of America."

"We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform."

"And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!"

And the main tenet of conservatives' philosophy, according to Warren? "I got mine. The rest of you are on your own."
That's not the kind of talk Hillary Clinton will ever give. Shenna Bellows... for sure. But a cut-and-paste corporate-Democrat... not in a million years. Friday, the L.A. Times noted the contrast between Warren and Clinton as well, pointing out that "the themes of her speech offered a striking contrast to recent appearances by Hillary Clinton... In comfortable settings that often involve a moderator and an armchair, Clinton frequently talks about her concerns for the younger generation and their struggle to find jobs or pay for college. But she has yet to outline a fist-pumping cause or coherent argument that would define a run for president. While Warren can fire up crowds with her populist call to rally against the powerful, Clinton is viewed by many Warren supporters as too close to Wall Street with a career that has been built by a proximity to power."

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At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Sue said...

I would prefer her as Senate Majority Leader for its power and longevity!


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