In most political campaigns, I don’t know any of the contestants personally. I vote based on what I can glean about them. But I do happen to know some of the candidates this time. So let me comment about a couple of people I know about two races in the area reached by this station.
First, a word on the race for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. I met Elizabeth Warren years ago when she came to speak at Albany Law School about proposals to change the bankruptcy laws. At the time, she was on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, before she moved to Harvard. Her talk was stunning. What she showed us in the clearest black and white numbers was the way that the proposed changes to the bankruptcy laws were targeting women who had suddenly lost everything because of divorce or illness. Not the “deadbeats” of popular imagination and the proponents’ rhetoric, but people who were working around the clock to take care of themselves and their families. Warren has always cared about the least of us, ordinary Americans, good hardworking people who were being ground up by events out of their control. I liked her as a person and I loved what she stood for.
I also know lots of people who have worked with her, friends at various institutions who, to a person, sing her praises. Independently of Elizabeth Warren, I have also met and spoken with her husband at numerous meetings of legal historians, when they were both at Penn, and now when they are both at Harvard. From all these contacts and experiences, it is obvious to me that Warren is terrific.
There is, of course, another issue. The reason this country is not better off than it is now, is that the Republican House has blocked most of what Obama wanted to do. With so many open seats in the U.S. Senate where Democrats have retired, the Republicans are trying to take control of the Senate. That would mean that they would be in total control of appointments to the federal bench – appointments to the Supreme Court as well as the lower courts. That could spell disaster. It is important to keep the Senate in Democratic hands. And there aren’t any hands in which I would rather place our future than Elizabeth Warren’s.
I’d also like to comment about a local race for the NY State Senate. I met Neil Breslin years ago but I run into him frequently and over the years have had plenty of opportunity to talk with him. Neil clearly believes in civil liberties. The Civil Liberties Union does not endorse candidates – it’s nonpartisan on principle. But speaking only for myself, there is no question but that Neil is a friend of civil liberties. Neil’s work on civil liberties issues in the state legislature won him an award from the local chapter of the Civil Liberties Union a decade ago. Neil and I have stood together on the death penalty, on protecting our kids from discrimination, as well as on health care and the environment. He has been a friend to the homeless and the vulnerable. And I think he has been an effective advocate in the Senate. My only regret is that there are not enough Neil Breslins to take over the state Senate and bring more freedom and justice to New York. That primary is this Thursday.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, September 11, 2012.