What About Sherrod Brown? — Michael Kazin the The New Republic looks at the senior senator from Ohio as a possible presidential candidate.
At the risk of seeming ridiculous, I think Sherrod Brown should run for president. I know that, barring a debilitating health problem or a horrible scandal, Hillary Clinton is likely to capture the Democratic nomination. I realize too that Brown, the senior senator from Ohio, has never hinted that he may be tempted to challenge her. “I’m really happy where I am,” he told Chris Matthews last winter, when the MSNBC’s paragon of impatience urged him to run.
Yet, for progressive Democrats, Brown would be a nearly perfect nominee. During his two decades in the House and Senate, he has taken strong and articulate stands on every issue which matters to the party’s broad, if currently dispirited, liberal base. When George W. Bush was in office and riding high, Brown opposed both his invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act. He has long been a staunch supporter of abortion rights and gay marriage, and is married to Connie Schultz, a feminist author who writes a nationally syndicated column.
Brown’s true mission, however, is economic: He wants to boost the well-being of working Americans by any means necessary. Brown has been talking and legislating about how to accomplish it for years before Elizabeth Warren left Harvard for the Capitol. During Obama’s first term, he advocated a larger stimulus package, called for re-enacting the Glass-Steagall Act to rein in big banks, and stumped for comprehensive immigration reform. He champions the rights of unions and the power of the National Labor Relations Board and criticizes unregulated “free trade” for destroying manufacturing jobs at home. He also led the charge among Senate Democrats that pressured Obama to drop his plan to appoint Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve and appoint Janet Yellen instead.
On his lapel, Brown wears a canary pin to honor the workers’ movement that “gave us all food safety laws, civil rights, rights for the disabled, pensions and the minimum wage.” Like the canaries which miners once took with them into the pits to warn them of toxic gas, the pin symbolizes the need to stay on guard against any employers and politicians who threaten those gains.
There are other Democrats—Warren is the best known—who also skillfully combine a politics of economic populism with a commitment to gender equality and civil liberties. But only Brown represents a populous swing state that has voted for the victor in every presidential election since 1960. In both his Senate races, Brown faced well-known and well-financed Republican opponents—and creamed them. In 2006, his unexpected 12-point margin over Mike DeWine was aided, in part, by the anti-Bush wave that gave Democrats control of Congress. Still, DeWine was a two-term incumbent who had been elected previously by landslides. In 2012, Brown faced Josh Mandel, the popular young state Treasurer. After what became that cycle’s most expensive Senate race, Brown won by six points. He outpolled Barack Obama in Ohio by over 160,000 votes.
Brown’s success, like that of many politicians who are popular in swing states, relies, in part, on charm. He relishes going to hundreds of town meetings around the state, where he answers any question thrown at him. Whether in public or talking to an interviewer in his office, he comes off as relaxed, witty, curious, and rhetoric-free. Two years ago, when I spoke with him in Washington, we spent so much time talking and laughing about his Ohio predecessors—who included the formidable Mark Hanna, the Republican who, in 1896, pioneered the big-money, mass media national campaign—that we barely had enough time to talk about Brown’s career and policies. I have never enjoyed myself so much with any politician, particularly one who was, at the time, fighting to keep his seat.
But Brown earns his popularity by refusing to trim his progressive faith or apologize for it. “If you remember who you are,” he told me, “you don’t have to move to the center, wherever the center happens to be at any moment.” He keeps insisting that America will not become a decent society unless the labor movement regains some of its strength and corporations lose a good deal of their power over campaigns and politicians.
Last summer, George Will paid Brown a kind of tribute. “He looks, sounds and acts like a real, as opposed to faculty club, leftist,” wrote Will in a rare moment when he put his irony, if not his hauteur, aside. “Although he is a Yale graduate, he has the rumpled look and hoarse voice of someone who spent last night on Paris barricades, exhorting les miserables to chuck cobblestones at the forces defending property.” Will did have a point when he contrasted Sherrod Brown’s good-natured, steadfast populism with Hillary Clinton’s “risk-averse careerism” and “joyless plod” toward the Democratic nomination.
Ebola and the Embargo — From The Nation, Arturo Lopez-Levy and Foreign Policy in Focus on the cooperation between the United States and Cuba in battling the epidemic and how it might end the embargo against Cuba.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.
Political conditions are ripe for such a turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.
In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in US policy toward Cuba, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.
As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to US interests. A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update US policy toward Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalization in Cuba.
The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.
Slipping Away — John Lahr in The New Yorker recalls his last lunch with Mike Nichols.
“Shall we Esca?” Mike asked me late this September, making our lunch date sound like a dance, which, in a way, it always was. When I walked into the Ninth Avenue watering hole where we’d meet a few times a year to talk show biz, he was already seated at the back of the restaurant—his table, of course—having been delivered by a chauffeur, who remained outside to whisk him to his next port of call at any time. Mike didn’t talk about his medical issues, but his body told the story. His tall, robust frame was shrunken now; he’d lost weight but not his appetite for life or conversation. (He was planning a Broadway production of Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” in February, starring Meryl Streep.) Nichols was a great raconteur, bringing to his stories both his swiftness of mind and the gift for mimicry that had made him famous as one half of the glorious high-wire improvisational-comedy act Nichols and May. Even as I write this, I can see Mike’s eager eyes, his smile starting to form, and hear his laugh, which could start as a ripple and end as a wave that left him in shuddering, eye-watering, wheezing, red-faced collapse.
At our lunch, which was the last time I saw him, Nichols talked about befriending Marlon Brando when he first got to Hollywood. “We were bullshitting one night, and I said to him, I asked him what it felt like when he first came to Hollywood and he was master of the universe. And he laughed, and he said something like, ‘Oh, honey, I was so busy trying not to go crazy I never noticed it all.’ ” We wandered into talk about his début Broadway play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” “I was immediately mature and experienced,” he told me, and he recalled the adjustment he gave to Robert Redford when he complained about being upstaged by Elizabeth Ashley, who was raising her leg when they kissed. “ ‘I feel like I’ve been used. I’m embarrassed,’ Redford said. And I said, ‘Why don’t you do it too?’ So he did and it got a huge laugh.” “And she stopped?” I asked. Nichols looked down his long nose, “Of course.” Mike was a repository of great knowledge about audiences and actors and the art of storytelling. He had lived a tempestuous life, which included a breakdown and four marriages; he had also achieved happiness, so his observations on people and problems were astute. We had planned a book together, but during the summer he’d withdrawn because, he said, he had neither the energy nor the memory for the task. Over the years, we’d talked of performance, and shows, and directors, and literature, but that afternoon, as he polished off his plate of sorbets, Nichols strayed into an area he’d never before mentioned. It startled me. I wrote it down in my notebook as a piece of wisdom that I didn’t want to forget. “I’m slipping away,” he said. “ I’ve decided to make friends with it.”
He drove me uptown. As we parted, I waved and said, “Next time lunch is on me.”
Doonesbury — Take the money and run.