A Chat with Elizabeth Warren about the Red Sox

Well, not quite a chat, but a fundraiser at my colleague Ken Klee’s house.  (Ken and Elizabeth are old friends, both being law professors who specialize in bankruptcy).  There were about 30 people there.  The obvious reactions are those that many have had: she is very dynamic and intelligent.  She has thought through the campaign in a very strategic way.  She will make an outstanding Senator.  But I had another reaction, after I tried to trip her up on a question: she’s a damn good politician.

After lots of questions about politics and policy, I got called on.  I said: “I’d like to talk about the issue that is most on the minds of Massachusetts voters.  Were the Red Sox right to let Theo Epstein and Terry Francona go, and what do you think of the Globe’s s coverage of the issue?”

That seems snide, but it isn’t: Martha Coakley got tripped up on a question like this: she thought that Curt Schilling had pitched for the Yankees.  I wanted to see how she’d handle it.  She first said, “It’s terrible that Theo has left.  The Red Sox are really going to miss him. He got us two world championships.”  So she didn’t miss a beat.  But notice: she didn’t criticize the Red Sox management.  That’s not a fight she wants to get into.  It was an excellent way to deflect the question.

Then I pushed ahead.  “But what about the Globe’s coverage?”  This was a tricky one, because the Globe figures to support the Democratic nominee, so she wouldn’t want to make more enemies.  On the other hand, lots of people (most notably Bill Simmons, who should know) think that the Globe has essentially helped the Red Sox management hang Francona out to dry, smearing him on the way out with accusations of alcohol use. 

She paused.  And then she said, “well at least they are holding someone accountable.”  Everyone laughed.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a good retail politician.  She didn’t defend the Globe’s coverage, but she didn’t attack it, and then she stayed on message with a question that had nothing to do with her message, i.e. holding Wall Street accountable.

I recall Al Franken’s wonderful book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.  Franken recalls that he popped up at the Iowa straw poll in 1999 and tried to pin George W. Bush down on whether he had ever used cocaine.  Bush similarly sort of evaded the question, and then laughed and then smirked, got the audience on his side — and never had to answer the question.  Doing so would have forced him either to acknowledge it, which would have taken him off message and kept the issue in the news, or deny it, in which he could have been nailed for lying about it.  And Bush figured out a way to do neither — on the spur of the moment.  Franken concluded that Bush was a better politician than lots of people had given him credit for.

Obviously, the 2012 US Senate campaign in Massachusetts isn’t going to turn on the Red Sox.  But Republicans have used cultural cues like this for years to tell voters that progressives “aren’t like you” and are elitist snobs — even as they relentlessly pursue class warfare against middle-income working Americans.  As lots of people have mentioned, Massachusetts does not have a good record of electing women statewide (although the n is quite small).  Scott Brown, who has done his best to satisfy Wall Street since entering the Senate, will do the same thing.

Note to Senator Brown: bring your A game.  You’re going to need it.



Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

15 thoughts on “A Chat with Elizabeth Warren about the Red Sox”

  1. One of the big problems with the Democratic Party is that too many Democratic politicians act as if they would really rather be on the Harvard Law faculty. Bill Clinton excepted, of course.

    It’s a bit ironic that one of the more demotic Democratic politicians actually is on the Harvard Law faculty.

  2. Franken concluded that Bush was a better politician than lots of people had given him credit for.

    This is obviously true. Deflecting arrows is an artform.
    But Bush’s strongest suit was that he really did feel totally comfortable in his own skin:

    He knew he was born into privilege…
    Knew he was born with connections…
    Knew he was born with a name that could carry him to the presidency…

    He knew all that, and never questioned it, never felt any rich boy guilt, never wanted to hobnob with the cool poor kids, and determined to use his family ties and money to complete advantage. That’s actually quite impressive. A more introspective person might have questioned the silver spoon, Dubya licked it mirror clean. Not ever kid born to fame is so keenly motivated. Often a sense of empathy and conscience (or education) gets in the way. So credit where credit is due. Bush became president because of one reason and one reason only: Because he could. And so he did.

    Which is all to say: He’d have made a better successor to Octavius than Tiberius.

  3. I think that this post suffers from the classist assumption that someone on the Harvard Law School faculty would be too “intellectual” to take an interest in the red sox. Harvard Law faculty (like presidents at that other university) are probably among the few people who have the leisure to take a deep interest in baseball.

  4. It’s funny, I didn’t get the impression that the various ballparks I’ve seen over the years were filled primarily with University faculty. It’s not a “classist assumption,” it’s the history of MA politicians like Coakley and Kerry getting caught making dumb or tone-deaf statements about sports that made it obvious to any even slightly knowledgeable listener that they were faking it.

  5. Well, as Mr. Burns, trying to talk like a regular guy to his employees, once said in an episode of “The Simpsons,” “How ‘bout that local sports team?”

  6. Coakley and Kerry: not Harvard professors.

    Perhaps my experience was different, but when I went to ballparks in new york, a significant part of the stadiums (especially in the less-cheap seats) was filled with the kinds of people who would (like me as a young journalist) not get in trouble with their boss if they took the afternoon off, as long as the work got done. And that would describe a tenure professor better than a 9-5er.

    1. Paul reminds me: how many working stiffs can listen to Rush Limbaugh during the day when his program is on the air? I can see that guys working graveyard or swing shifts can listen, but what about everyone else?

        1. Also people who paint houses and things like that, from general observation walking around my neighborhood. (Not that they’re listening to Rush, but that they’re listening to the radio.)

    2. Yes, that’s a reality. You find a lot of baseball fans among faculty. In places like Massachusetts and here in Minnesota you’ll also find hockey fans. Football fans, naturally, you’ll find all over.

      But this isn’t about reality. It’s about perception. The common perception of college professors is that they are above something mundane like sports. Part of it is the accurate perception that faculty spend a lor of time criticizing the athletic department because of misplaced priorities and bloated budgets. Some of those professors really do hate sports, but a lot of them like sports at the same time they are criticizing. (I’m thinking of both my father and my sister in particular here. I exchange hockey and baseball emails with the former constantly.) The fan in them is just mu ch more publicly quiet than the critic.

      I agree with you; neither Coakley nor Kerry has been a professor, but the other part of this is that they are generally perceived as being a lot like professors, correctly or incorrectly. And it’s perception that is the question here. Elizabeth Warren is managing to project an image of liking and understanding sports as a part of showing that she’s in touch with all of the idiots in Red Sox Nation. All I can say is, better her than me.

    3. I don’t think there was anything classist in Mr. Zasloff’s question, and the issue of whether Harvard faculty do or do not attend ballgames is irrelevant. The fact is that this is likely to be a close election, and if Prof. Warren goes out on the hustings and lets the voters know that she thinks Curt Schilling pitched for the Yankees, the way the horribly unprepared Martha Coakley did, it is not going to help her. Mistakes like that can and do add up and turn close elections.

      Mr. Zasloff’s question elicited the fact that Warren is prepared for the question. The post gives no context on whether Prof. Warren is a bleeds-Red-Sox-red fan, or couldn’t really give a hoot about Theo Epstein and the Red Sox, but it doesn’t matter. She’s done her homework, and is ready for the question.

      If you asked her whether the Celtics should resign Ray Allen or trade him, you get the feeling she’d have an answer.

  7. I’m not positive, but I do recall her having made an appearance in Ken Burns’ Baseball. So, I’m not at all surprised at her response.

  8. Jonathan,

    Massachusetts does not have a good record of electing women statewide

    Well, maybe. But I’m curious as to which recent female candidates you think lost because of sexist attitudes by MA voters. Coakley? She ran an essentially suicidal non-campaign. Shannon O’Brien? She beat several prominent male candidates to win the 2002 Democratic nomination for governor, and then lost to Romney who, it’s worth noting, got less than a majority against O’Brien and three minor candidates, all of them women.

    That’s just to suggest that I don’t think being a woman is going to hurt Warren very much. I think and hope she will win.

    1. I think you are right; it’s just that this fact has been mentioned by many analysts, so maybe there is more to it than that. Others I know of that flamed out were Jane Swift and Evelyn Murphy, but neither of them were great candidates, either. I suppose it came to mind because my question to Warren was about sports, which to the extent that one is playing percentages, figures to be one of those things that female candidate — all other things being equal — will know less about. But as I said, I agree that it’s overrated. Coakley just got re-elected as AG, after all.

  9. Interesting post. I agree macrosocial leaders dependent on popular support (like Senators) should study pop culture like future technocrats study for their SAT’s. I’d like to see a top empirical macroeconomist serve as Governor of Pennsylvannia -it would also behoove them to be literate about the Steelers, etc. The tragedy is what has kept the Elizabeth Warren’s from crowding everyone else out from the Senate and the Governor’s mansions for so long. I can understand Woodrow Wilson as a historical first, but I’m surprised he’s been more of an outlier than the starting point of a trend. One would think the g-loaded version of George W. Bush would trump the middlebrow version of George W. Bush, but I guess book smarts + street smarts has not yet outpaced street smarts in the competition for political resource control.

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