Not Deadly Enough

Here in Coronaland, we have been awash in so many depressing COVID-19 statistics that we have nearly become inured to their real-world meaning.  Nonetheless, like the virus itself, some numbers still have the power to take your breath away and stop you dead in your tracks.

That was certainly the case last week, when a study by Columbia University estimated that some 36,000 fewer people would’ve died had the United States—and New York in particular—enacted social distancing measures one week earlier than it did—and an additional 18,000 could’ve been saved had those lockdown procedures begun seven days sooner than that.

The implications of these staggering figures are clear enough:  First, in retrospect, the authorities were catastrophically slow in responding to the initial COVID outbreak.  And second, should the country re-open too fast and too sloppily—as it now threatens to do—there is every reason to assume the next wave of infections will be as bad as—or worse than—the first one.

On the first point, I would advise caution in judging our leaders for their slow-footedness more harshly than is strictly necessary, bearing in mind how little they (and we) knew at the time and how wholly unprecedented the notion of sheltering-in-place was once the trigger was finally pulled.

To be clear, I am not referring here to Donald Trump, whose willful, callous indifference to the entire problem—including the withholding of critical supplies to states that urgently needed them—has been a singular failure of leadership in every imaginable context.

However, when it comes to the state and local leaders making the real on-the-ground, hour-by-hour assessments—particularly New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio—it is worth reminding ourselves that on March 8—one week before its lockdown began—the city of New York had a total of 142 known infections of COVID-19 and zero known deaths.

Ask yourself:  Without the benefit of hindsight and with human nature being what it is, would it really have been feasible for either Cuomo or de Blasio to have stepped in front of a microphone on March 8—or any date prior—and ordered the residents of the nation’s largest metropolitan area to lock themselves inside their homes, suspending all but their most essential life activities, in order to prevent the spread of a virus that, at that moment in time, had not killed a single person within the five boroughs and showed no obvious signs of becoming a once-in-a-century epidemic?

Yes, even at that relatively early date, infectious disease experts had warned of COVID’s high level of contagion—as had been seen in places like China, Italy, Iran and elsewhere.  Nonetheless, for an American political leader to unilaterally shut down his own state or city—immediately and profoundly upending the life of every man, woman and child living there—on the mere presumption that things could get real bad, real quick, would have been an enormously large pill for any sizeable population center to swallow.  Frankly, there just wasn’t enough carnage to convince us it would’ve been worth it.

Thus was the Catch-22 by which many public officials were constrained:  The only way to avoid extreme casualties from the virus was to take extraordinary measures, yet the only politically palatable means of enacting those measures in the first place was to passively allow some of those casualties to occur, thereby proving how dire the situation actually was.  While obviously not the official plan, that was effectively how the tragedy unfolded.

And now—100,000 U.S. deaths later—we are seeing this very same dynamic playing out in the minds and Twitter feeds of millions of Americans who are fed up with being confined mostly to their apartments with nothing to do, itching to resume life as it used to be.

The argument today—if only implicitly—is whether the nationwide economic disruption of the past two-plus months was, at long last, a good idea.  Whether putting the country in a state of suspended animation was an overreaction and a folly, rather than smart public health policy that saved countless lives.  Whether (to put it bluntly) the loss of 100,000 of our fellow citizens to an insidious virus was essentially unavoidable and thus not worth the trouble of kneecapping our GDP and driving unemployment rates through the roof.

As with the initial lockdown advisories, the debate invites a vicious paradox:  A six-figure death rate might lead the lay person to believe—falsely—that the mitigation efforts were futile or counterproductive, rather than an indication that the mitigation efforts worked.

As horrific as the COVID fatalities have been with social distancing practices in place, the fairly obvious truth is that a less draconian version of them—let alone none at all—would almost certainly have produced an exponentially higher death toll—possibly above 2 million souls, according to an early projection by Imperial College London—and, conversely, that better overall adherence to such practices would have yielded marginally more tolerable results.

In short, as with so many things, we cannot assess the effectiveness of a given action without considering the alternative—the proverbial road not taken—which in this case would’ve been for all of us to carry on our lives semi-normally, allowing the virus to “wash over the country” (in the president’s words) and hope all the scientific models were wrong.

That, in effect, is the decision many of us have collectively made by opting to resume certain social activities—and the industries that provide them—for the sake of enjoying the summer warmth that is just beginning to settle in.  Despite all we have learned over the last several months—how COVID spreads, who is most vulnerable and what it does to the human respiratory system—we are betting that, with enough social distancing and mask-wearing (or not), we can simply ride out whatever’s coming next and hope the consequences aren’t as dire as they were (and still are) the first time around.

It’s a hell of a gamble for a first-world country to take, and we shouldn’t expect it to end well.  To paraphrase Boss Jim Gettys in Citizen Kane:  We’re going to need more than one lesson.  And we’re going to get more than one lesson.

American Idols

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.”

In a strong field, that may well be the finest lyric Paul Simon has ever written—and for reasons that have nothing at all to do with the late former Mr. Marilyn Monroe.

Americans need their heroes—be they in sports, entertainment or maybe even politics—and they feel acutely vulnerable and adrift when those idols seem to vanish from the scene. This is particularly true in times of extraordinary distress and upheaval, such as (to pick a random example) a global public health emergency, when inspiring moral leadership is so urgently required.

For liberals who’ve been trapped in an existential funk since November 2016, one such hero is of course Barack Obama, the last U.S. president to exhibit any sort of compassion for his fellow human beings, who, unlike his wife, has made himself relatively scarce since exiting the White House more than three years ago.

That was until last weekend, when Obama made highly-anticipated dual virtual appearances before college and high school graduating classes of 2020—the latter televised in prime time—during which he intoned, “More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.” The speeches did not include the word “Trump,” but we’re not stupid.

Whether by accident or design, these commencement addresses came on the heels of “leaked” remarks by the former president in a “private” conference call that saw him loudly and explicitly castigating the current administration both for its abysmal response to the coronavirus outbreak and its corrupt handling of the Michael Flynn case—words so forceful that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, responded, “I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut.”

As a matter of political timing, Obama’s sort-of reentry into the cultural bloodstream is quite obviously related to the sort-of beginning of the 2020 presidential campaign, and the presumed crowning of Obama’s former wingman, Joe Biden, as the Democratic Party nominee. And certainly the party’s de facto standard-bearer has every right to publicly advocate for his hoped-for inheritor and the values he represents.

Beyond that, however, we, the people, have every reason to question whether McConnell had a point. That is, whether Obama’s broader commentary on the Trump administration is either wise or becoming of a member of the nation’s most exclusive club—namely, those who once had access to the nuclear codes and enjoy Secret Service protection to this day.

Indeed, the question of how ex-presidents should behave in retirement has been a matter of debate since March 1801, when John Adams opted to flee Washington, D.C., on horseback in the dead of night rather than attend the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson the following morning. In our own time—as with virtually everything else—the issue has broken along partisan lines, with Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton maintaining high profiles and busy schedules deep into their post-presidential years while Republicans like the Georges Bush have made a point of receding serenely into the background, content to have their records speak for themselves and their successors left to run the country in peace.

Old fogey-at-heart that I am, I’ve long had a soft spot for the latter approach to elder statesmanship, admiring of the discipline it must take not to gloat at everything the new guy is doing wrong.

In fact, Obama himself vowed to mostly adhere to the hands-off approach to ex-presidenting, telling reporters in January 2017 that, once Trump took office, he would refrain from open criticism except for “certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.” In retrospect, considering the object of his prospective ire, perhaps that was Obama’s dry way of saying he had no intention of keeping his mouth shut and should not be expected to do so.

The real problem, in any case, is that Donald Trump is such a singularly appalling individual that remaining silent on his odious reign could reasonably be seen as a dereliction of duty for any self-respecting public figure—particularly one so devoted to appealing to the so-called “better angels of our nature.” In other words, the sheer awfulness of Trumpism—even compared to that of, say, George W. Bush—is sufficient to override the usual protocols of discretion among past presidents. These are not ordinary times, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

But here’s the thing: Part of the job of statesmanship is to be disingenuous every now and again for the sake of preserving the national fabric. Whatever one might think about Donald Trump, he is the duly-elected leader of our country for at least another eight months and maintains unshakable popularity among a not-insignificant chunk of our fellow citizens. As a head of state, he is entitled to a baseline deference that reflects the majesty of the office he holds, which transcends the character of whoever happens to hold it at a given moment in time.

When a retiring president passes the baton to his immediate successor, he is conferring legitimacy upon the most important public job in the United States—a hand-off in a constitutional relay race that has continued uninterrupted since George Washington peacefully ceded power to John Adams on March 4, 1797.

By then turning around and glibly musing to the nation’s schoolchildren that the sitting commander-in-chief has no Earthly idea what he’s doing, he risks ever-so-slightly chipping away at that legitimacy, rhetorically lowering the presidency to just one more partisan player in a vulgar federal political food fight, rather than the figurehead of the greatest republic the world has ever seen.

I say this in the full knowledge that Obama’s characterization of the Trump White House as a raging dumpster fire of incompetence is objectively, obviously correct. Nor am I under any illusion that the courtesy I am asking of Obama for Trump was ever extended to Obama himself at any point during his eight-year stint in the Oval Office. In effect, I am demanding a double standard whereby when the Republicans go low, the Democrats go high—a strategy that never seems to bear much fruit in the long run, however noble it may sound.

The plain truth is that there will be no good answer to this question until we have a new commander-in-chief. That the catchphrase of erstwhile conservative Rick Wilson, “Everything Trump touches dies,” extends to the presidency itself. That Trump is the exception to every rule, but once he’s gone, maybe we can return to life as it used to be, almost as if he never existed in the first place. Maybe.

In the meantime, with a pandemic raging and an economy cratering, the nation must turn its lonely eyes to someone, and while Joe DiMaggio is no longer available, I can think of at least one other Joe who is.

Checkpoint Charlie

Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, has consistently ranked among the two or three most admired statewide leaders since he was first elected in 2014, with job approval ratings in the high-60s to low-70s. Not bad for a Republican in an extremely Democratic state. (Indeed, he has historically polled higher among Democrats than Republicans. But that’s another story.)

Since the novel coronavirus upended life as we thought we knew it, forcing all 50 states to place their economies in a state of suspended animation, Baker’s popularity has only grown. According to a Suffolk University poll released last week, some 84 percent of Massachusetts residents approve of Baker’s stewardship of the COVID-19 plague—a stratospheric figure even in the context of a national emergency that has seen virtually all governors’ popularities spike. (Overall, 71 percent of Americans approve of their own governor’s handling of the pandemic.)

While there are many possible explanations for the extraordinary goodwill toward Baker by his constituents, I’d offer two as the most self-evident: He is smart, and he is boring.

By smart, I don’t just mean that he has a bunch of fancy degrees from a bunch of swanky universities. Rather, I mean that when he is presented with a problem—be it a faulty public transit system or a contagious, deadly virus—he takes it upon himself to base all major decisions on data, experts and the proverbial facts on the ground. As a former healthcare CEO and state budget chief, he knows his way around a spreadsheet as well as anybody and will happily rattle off statistics until your eyes roll all the way into the back of your head.

In his daily COVID press conferences, Baker has only ever measured the state’s success in beating back the virus—and in planning for the future—in terms of raw numbers: tests, cases, hospitalizations, deaths. In the face of recent criticism that the state is moving too slowly in announcing which industries will be allowed to re-open—and how and when—Baker merely reiterates his longstanding view that the mechanics of returning to normal will be determined by the fickle course of the pandemic itself, and thus cannot be gamed out too far in advance. As he has put it on multiple occasions, “We have to respect the virus.”

So far as I can tell, Baker has not wavered from this basic operational and philosophical framework since this nightmare began in mid-March, which is perhaps why his televised daily updates have tended to blend into each other, consisting largely of Baker repeating his previous advisories concerning mask-wearing, social distancing and other best practices for the general public. While he will occasionally introduce critical new information into the mix—such as when he delayed the state’s tentative “re-opening” date from May 4 to May 18, or when he first enumerated the state’s plan for “contact tracing”—he otherwise seems perfectly content to produce as little drama as possible, almost as if he’s allergic to being the center of attention and making more news than is strictly necessary.

That brings us to his other main virtue: boringness. It has been theorized for years—specifically, since November 2016—that Massachusetts voters’ appreciation for Baker—a moderate, mild-mannered technocrat—is primarily a function of their smoldering antipathy toward Donald Trump, and their relief that not all Republicans are as craven, corrupt and creepy as the current commander-in-chief. That Baker’s apparent disinterest in toeing the national party line—not to mention his stated personal distain for Trump himself—is reason enough to have him in the corner office on Beacon Hill.

To a large extent, this theory is correct. However maddening Baker’s incrementalism and deliberativeness might be—particularly with a fast-moving pathogen that is killing our friends and neighbors by the thousands—Bay State residents can at least rest assured he will never be drawn into a Twitter battle with a fellow governor, say, or that he will shape policy based on what he saw last night on Fox News. Or pick fights with journalists he believes are treating him unfairly. Or take all the credit when things go well and none of the blame when things go haywire.

In short, unlike other politicians we could mention, Charlie Baker has never caused the average citizen to wake up in a cold sweat asking themselves, “What in God’s name is he going to do today?”

His is a steady hand in a shaky world, blessedly bereft of the deadly ineptitude of Donald Trump, the self-regarding bluster of Andrew Cuomo, the heavy-handedness of Gretchen Whitmer, or the suicidal recklessness of Ron DeSantis or Brian Kemp.

By no means does this make him perfect—or even the right man in the right moment. If nothing else, the COVID-19 crisis has shown Charlie Baker to be exactly who we thought he was all along: An uber-rational, cool-headed nerd more concerned with the well-being of his constituents than his own prized place in the history books, knowing, as he must, that one naturally leads to the other—that prioritizing public health over short-term economic growth is both a noble and savvy means of teeing up a run for an unprecedented third consecutive term in office, which he has not yet ruled out.

For now, he is a dependable voice of sanity and reassurance in a society in dangerously short supply of both, and that’s good enough for me.

Sloppy Joe

If a sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden falls in the New York Times and no one reads it, will it stop Biden from being elected president in November?

On April 12, while America was understandably preoccupied with other matters, the Times printed the account of a woman named Tara Reade, who claims that in 1993, while working as a staffer in Biden’s Senate office, the future vice president—and now-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee—“pinned [Reade] to a wall in a Senate building, reached under her clothing and penetrated her with his fingers.”

Reade first publicly accused Biden of untoward behavior last year, when more than a half—dozen women recounted a panoply of inappropriate touching, hugging and kissing Biden had engaged in over the course of his career—some of it right out in the open—in anticipation of Biden’s entry into the 2020 Democratic primary. Reade’s own accusation at the time entailed unwelcome physical contact such as neck-stroking and hair-grabbing, but not sexual assault. When asked why she waited until now to lay her most serious charge, Reade said she was afraid following “a wave of criticism and death threats” in response to her initial disclosures.

The Times reporting found that Reade mentioned the alleged assault to several people shortly after it occurred, but also that neither the Senate nor Biden’s office has any record of a formal complaint Reade claims to have filed at the time. Biden himself, through a spokesperson, has denied the incident ever took place.

And so here we are, forced to regard Joe Biden as we have previously regarded the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, Woody Allen, Donald Trump and every other public man whose alleged past sins (i.e., crimes) have been brought to light at a moment when the truth about what happened in the past has a singular power over what happens in the future.

As with Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings, one of three things must be true. One, Reade is a liar. Two, she has a severely distorted memory. Or three, Joe Biden is a sex offender. And as with so many other chapters of the #MeToo story, with no definitive proof on either side, it’s up to each of us individually to decide which party to believe—him or her—and to act accordingly.

What makes the Biden case different—and arguably the most high-stakes iteration of the #MeToo era to date—is that how Americans judge Reade’s claim may well determine the outcome of the 2020 election—and, by extension, every action by the federal government through at least January 20, 2025. At this point, it would be political malpractice for the Democratic Party to blithely assume otherwise.

The potential trajectory of this electoral powder keg is not difficult to game out: Reade sticks to her story. Trump and/or his backers believe her loudly and unconditionally, seizing on the allegation as a 10,000-ton albatross to sling around Biden’s neck 24 hours a day. A not-insignificant number of left-leaning independents—and maybe even a few Democrats—decide they cannot in good conscience vote for someone credibly accused of sexual assault, and ultimately leave their ballots blank, bequeathing a second term to one Donald J. Trump.

Don’t tell me this can’t happen. Don’t tell me a presidential election cannot be swung by the 27-year-old recollections of a heretofore anonymous former Senate aide. Don’t tell me there isn’t a sizeable chunk of the electorate who might otherwise vote for Biden—despite his known flaws—but will think twice when presented with as explosive an accusation as Reade has now presented. Don’t tell me that, when faced with the ultimate hypothetical—If you knew, for a fact, that Biden had once committed sexual assault, would you vote for him anyway?—even the most loyal Democrats would not give themselves at least a moment or two of pause.

And whatever you do, don’t tell me that because Donald Trump has been accused—indeed, has admitted to—behavior that is demonstrably worse than anything ever said about Biden, there is no moral compromise to be made in choosing the latter over the former.

Sorry, folks. It turns out that, in 2020, life is not going to be that simple.

Barring a sudden confession from Reade that she made the whole thing up, every Biden supporter in America—most of whom, one presumes, have been cheering on the #MeToo movement for the last two-and-a-half years—will be forced to reckon with the fact that on November 3, they will be voting for a man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault, and that the only true rationalization for this decision—the alternative would be worse—is a rationalization all the same.

Liberals have spent the past four years excoriating conservatives for supporting a president whose very existence is an affront to nearly all of their so-called principles—honor, dignity, family values—but whose promises of tax cuts and a right-wing judiciary made the tradeoff both justified and unavoidable in their own minds.

Is that not the moral bargain that today’s liberals will now need to make about Joe Biden? Will the never-Trump crowd not be spending the next six months talking themselves into the idea that one sexual assault is a fair price to pay for universal healthcare and debt-free college education? And given the essentially binary nature of U.S. presidential elections, will they not, in some horrid sense, be correct?

St. Mark asked, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  I guess we’re about to find out.

Coronacation

Three weeks into the coronapocalypse—which, for me, has consisted primarily of eating, drinking, exercising, and avoiding all human contact—I’m still waiting for the moment when this de facto national lockdown is anything other than pure heaven.

Before COVID-19 reached our shores in the early weeks of 2020, my life was pretty simple: I would wake up early, go to work, come home, read the Boston Globe, ride my bike, have dinner, watch TV and go to bed. On the weekend, I’d fix myself a cocktail.

Now that COVID-19 has subsumed every other concern in the United States—forcing the closure of virtually all commercial and business activity for the sake of limiting the virus’s spread—things are even simpler: I wake up late, read the Globe, ride my bike, work remotely for an hour or two, ride my bike again, have dinner, watch TV and go to bed.

And I drink. Lordy, do I drink.

We have been told—and have told ourselves—that this coronavirus pandemic will irreparably alter the course of human history. That it will change, to varying degrees, how we Americans relate to each other, our government and the culture at large. That it will upend and/or wipe out entire industries, while accelerating and/or creating others. That life as we know it will never be the same. That COVID-19 is—in its own way—the 9/11 of our time.

In the long run, that may well be true. Then again (to quote Keynes), in the long run, we are all dead.

But in the short run, in my world, this blindsiding national emergency is exactly what every public official has claimed it is not: One long, blissful vacation from reality. Spring break without the sunburn.

Michelle Obama once famously declared, “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.” Much the same could be said of this pandemic: With few exceptions, every citizen is behaving more or less exactly as you’d except them to, albeit in a slightly more extreme form than under normal circumstances.

To wit: Doctors and nurses were performing heroic, tireless work before, and they’re performing heroic, tireless work now. Donald Trump was a bumbling, narcissistic schmuck yesterday, and he’s a bumbling, narcissistic schmuck today. The most philanthropic among us are opening their hearts and wallets like never before, while the snakes and charlatans are leeching off the weak and vulnerable as they can always be counted upon to do.

Circumstances change. Human nature does not.

Hence my own proclivity for carrying on my modest day-to-day lifestyle with near-perfect continuity from the pre-COVID world to the world in which we now reside, as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. In my essence, I am a boring, obstinate creature of habit, and I’ll be damned to let a little thing like a worldwide public health crisis interrupt, say, my 7-8 hours of beauty sleep every night, nor the rotisserie of podcasts and TV shows that take up the majority of my discretionary waking life in between. Those New Yorkers aren’t going to read themselves.

Social scientists will tell you that maintaining a steady, consistent routine amidst personal or societal upheaval is a cheap and easy way to maintain your sanity even as the world around you is going to pieces. From my own experience, this hypothesis is confirmed, and I don’t expect that to change anytime in the near future.

Admittedly, I’m working with a mere three weeks’ worth of data and a sample size of one. If we get to May and I’m gnawing on my own arm just to see how it tastes, perhaps I’ll re-run the numbers to see if there’s anything I missed.

Then There Were Two

I don’t know which candidate is the most electable. I don’t know which one would make the better president. I don’t know which one I like more.

Like Cosmo in “Moonstruck,” I don’t know where I’ve been, and I don’t know where I’m going.

Having spent my Super Tuesday voting for Elizabeth Warren—an act of such earthshattering import that she dropped out 36 hours later—I am now left with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as the only remaining contenders for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020. And much to my surprise, I find myself in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty about which of those candidates to root for.

I’ve happily voted for both men before: Biden for vice president in 2008 and 2012, and Sanders in the presidential primary in 2016. While I couldn’t quite bring myself to fill in the oval for either of them last week—not Sanders because of his repulsive cult following, not Biden because of his evident cognitive decline—I nonetheless retain great affection for both and, given the alternative, would be entirely comfortable with either as the next leader of the free world.

Accordingly, like the New York Times editorial board earlier in the year, faced with a stark ideological divide between two equally-pitched factions within the Democratic Party, I have decided to come down firmly on both sides. In the battle of ideas between these two feisty septuagenarians and their most rabid fellow travelers, I will stay neutral between now and the convention in July.

Partly, this is out of sheer exhaustion with the whole process. After more than a year of comparison shopping my way through the dozens of would-be challengers to Donald Trump, I have long resigned myself to the fact that the party’s eventual nominee will be a highly imperfect vessel for the values of the American left (such as they are) and that defeating Trump in November will be a monumentally difficult task regardless of who that nominee is.

To my thinking, any Democratic voter who believes his or her preferred candidate is a sure bet in November is necessarily living in a fantasy world, which makes it all the more striking that the respective cores of the Biden and Sanders campaigns have so fully convinced themselves of their own infallibility. Indeed, if there is one thing about which partisans of both would-be standard-bearers agree (albeit with varying intensity), it’s that their own guy is the republic’s One True Savior, while their counterpart is the second coming of George McGovern, fated not just to lose, but to lose in crushing, spectacular fashion.

On the night of November 3, one of those assertions will be proved correct, while the other will remain a mystery forever. Until then, this whole “electability” argument will function as the parlor game that it has always been—unknown and unknowable until it’s too late.

As for the real argument in this contest—the one that asks, “How far to the left is the Democratic Party prepared to go?”—well, that exhausts me, too. While there is simply no way around the fact that Biden and Sanders represent two distinct visions of liberalism and the role of government in our highly unequal and disjointed society, I am as wary as ever that the upcoming three-month intraparty war to resolve that question will ultimately drive a portion of Sanders loyalists into the arms of Donald Trump—or some third party candidate-to-be-named-later—believing, as many of them already do, that in the grand scheme of things, Biden is a fate worse than Trump.

My own view is that Sanders is correct in believing that the wealthiest nation on Earth should be providing more services to (and collecting higher taxes from) its citizens than it currently does, but that Biden—whose own philosophy is similar, if watered-down—better understands how to wield the levers of power to bring that kind of bright, equitable future about.

While it would be nice for Sanders to possess more executive experience and for Biden to harbor more socialistic views, you can’t have everything you want all of the time. Someday Democratic Party voters will understand that. Until they do, they will continue to tear themselves apart, ensuring a photo-finish result on Election Night 2020.

But not to worry: Only the fate of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court and all of Western civilization hangs in the balance.

The Professor

The first time I ever saw Elizabeth Warren—or at least the first time she ever made a real impression on me—was in a two-minute amateur YouTube video from 2011, recorded at a Massachusetts house party in anticipation of Warren’s first run for the Senate.

In the clip, the then-Harvard Law professor and architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau railed against the national debt accrued during the Bush administration through such unnecessary expenditures as tax cuts and the Iraq War, before offering up her own vision for how the American economy should function.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” Warren intoned. “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 at your factory […] because of the work the rest of us did.”

“Now look,” she concluded, as only she could, “You built a factory and it turned into something terrific […] 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.”

Here, in embryonic form, was the Warren Doctrine in a nutshell. Here, indeed, was the entirety of Democratic Party economic orthodoxy distilled to its purest essence—namely, that American society is an ongoing give-and-take between individual enterprise and collective responsibility. That everyone must pay his or her fair share to participate in our capitalist system. That even in a nation as large, diverse and complicated as ours—however powerful and enduring the myth of the rugged individual might be—we are nonetheless bound by common ideals and a commonweal. In the words of David McCullough—biographer of no less than Teddy Roosevelt—“There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.”

For all the ideological firepower baked into this worldview, Warren’s 2012 challenge to Senator Scott Brown was no sure thing. Having shocked the world in 2010 by winning a special Senate election to succeed the late Ted Kennedy, Brown—a genial, moderate Republican who wore a bomber jacket and drove a pick-up truck—remained a popular figure in this supposed bastion of liberalism, while Warren had attracted a fair share of notoriety for her harsh rhetorical treatment of Wall Street executives in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown and subsequent bailout.

Indeed, I briefly entertained the possibility of voting for Brown myself—largely out of gratitude for his vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which Warren also praised—until it became plain just how much of an intellectual dynamo Warren truly was.

Throughout that race, Senator Brown made a point of referring to Warren as “Professor,” which many viewed as a subtle skewering of his challenger as an elitist, egg-headed know-it-all. I must say, I never quite got that impression myself. Considering that she was teaching law at Harvard at the time, the “Professor” moniker made perfect sense and, if anything, conferred more respect than merely addressing her as “Ms. Warren” or “my opponent.”

In any case, now-Senator Warren is very much an elitist, egg-headed know-it-all, and has never made the slightest effort to hide it. Prior to entering the public arena in the late 2000s, she spent virtually her entire adult life in academia, from which she accumulated an almost dizzying amount of expertise on matters highly relevant to both the Senate and the presidency—perhaps none more so than the ability to mount a sophisticated argument and express it in the form of a story that ordinary people can appreciate and understand.

In Warren’s case, those arguments almost invariably relate to how big banks, multinational corporations and the like are able to fleece millions of Americans of their hard-earned money without giving them any realistic means of fighting back. Hence the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was specifically designed to empower citizens to assume control of their livelihoods without drowning in lawyers’ fees, exhaustion or despair.

Since joining the Senate and the presidential race, of course, Warren’s portfolio of policy proposals has expanded exponentially, and while the sheer volume of ideas she has offered on the trail over the past year is enough to give even the most diligent Democratic primary voter a migraine, in her telling they all flow organically from the lived experience of those—like her, at one point—who are teetering on the cusp of economic ruin and are in desperate need of relief from the only entity equipped to provide it: the federal government.

As such, her plan to soak the rich—specifically, to tax all wealth above $50 million—is a moral crusade as much as a means of generating revenue and balancing the budget. As she expressed in that video nearly a decade ago—and at regular intervals ever since—Americans have a shared stake in how this whole experiment in self-government shakes out, and it is to no one’s long-term benefit for 99 percent of the nation’s wealth to be held by just a handful of people, however industrious they might be. Non-billionaires ought to be able to buy a house, raise a family and occasionally eat out at a nice restaurant without going bankrupt, and the government has every incentive to ensure that this is so.

Elizabeth Warren believes in her bones that a more equitable society is both desirable and achievable, and while she is under no illusions that redistributing that wealth will be simple or without profound institutional friction, she will fight like hell to bring that society about. For all her faults, when faced with an enormous bureaucratic challenge, she does not—and will not—give up.

Speaking of her faults, they are manifold. Like so many high-profile academics before her, she is a little too sure of her own theories for how to solve the world’s problems and a little too dismissive of those who think differently. She is too quick to react to trolling by the likes of Donald Trump, as when she felt compelled to submit to a DNA test to establish her Native American bona fides following the whole “Pocahontas” kerfuffle last year. In her zeal to level the proverbial playing field, she is more openly contemptuous of the world’s financial fat cats than is strictly necessary, as though picking fights and making enemies were an end in and of itself. There is a fine line between a brawler and a bully, however just one’s cause might be.

But Warren’s cause is just—exuberantly so. It’s the cause of the common man and woman. It’s the cause of the underdog who’s been screwed over by the system for decades and is just looking for a square deal. It’s the cause of reforming institutions from within rather than blowing them up from without. It’s the cause of ensuring that every American has a fair shot at happiness and success, that his or her fate is not sealed at birth, and that not every outcome in life is determined by who has the most money.

With her tireless fervor, unmatched intelligence and uncompromising resolve in agitating for that cause, Elizabeth Warren has earned my vote. On Super Tuesday, she will get it.