Politics, Poetry, and Prose

November 1, 2019

Politics, Poetry, and Prose

Senator Elizabeth Warren for President

Elizabeth Warren

Mario Cuomo, who governed the state of New York for 12 years (and shouted a lot less than his son Andrew, who runs the place now), told us candidates campaign using poetry, and winners govern with prose. Governor Cuomo was a smart fellow, and someone whose life always seemed just a wee bit ethereal.

The poetry / prose dichotomy comes to mind often for this political aficionado. I know, though, that the words don’t resonate for everyone. So, here’s the lexicon: Poetry in this context is aspirational, high-minded, and reaching for the stars; prose represents reality, dealing with whipping votes, trade-offs, and getting stuff done.

Of late, of course, we have Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who moonlights as America’s political Poet Laureate. Liz “I’ve got a plan for that” Warren did, most famously, say:

You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it.

The poetry / prose issue matters right now because Senator Warren stood up for Medicare for All, aka single payer health care. Stand up for a cause and expect those who won’t to call you out. Won’t work. Too expensive. It’ll never pass.

Let’s get real. But for climate change—the can we just keep kickin’ on down the road (and does anyone have a burning desire to move to California?)—health care still represents our national disgrace. The Affordable Care Act offers millions of people access to health care. (No, the ER does not offer adequate treatment for an uninsured person with metastatic cancer.) Realistically, though, Obamacare was always an interim solution. At a high level it’s jury-rigged. It’s what was possibly in 2009, awaiting success and a rational solution from Congress and the White House.

Will Medicare for those who want it work? I don’t know, but adverse selection seems like a big risk. Adverse selection? People choose what works for them, and in an insurance pool that means those who need coverage choose options which work best for them, and others take a pass. It’s the principle which underlies the mandate under the ACA, and why “let’s keep the good parts of Obamacare” never made a lick of sense.

Can President Warren deliver Medicare for All? Probably not. Should she try? Probably not, for so much which matters more, immediately, will confront her when she arrives at the White House.

More? Yes, more. As in, will the movers arrive to take the Trumps’ furniture? Will DJT hand over the keys? Will we have an ordinary transfer of power, like the ones which have happened for more than 200 years?

Let’s remember, in the coming weeks, that Senator Warren stands up for principles. She advocates for policies which benefit the 99%. Does some of what she pushes seem impossible? For sure. And does poetry always make sense? Uh, no!

When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ran against one another almost a dozen years ago, we saw poetry and prose in motion during the campaign. We made the right choice then, although Senator Clinton would have served us well in the WH, too. We get that choice again, as we choose among those who tell us what won’t work, and those who reach for the stars.

In my lifetime, the most inspirational candidate for president I ever heard was Robert Kennedy. At the end of the eulogy after he was murdered in June 1968, his only surviving brother, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) quoted him:

Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.

Senator Robert Kennedy represented New York. Ted, however, represented Massachusetts, and did so for almost 47 years (and was a far more effective senator than either of his older brothers.) And Elizabeth Warren holds his seat in the United States Senate. She’s got it going on, and let’s not get bogged down with the fact that Congress will not pass every “plan” she’s got promptly after the inauguration.

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