Sen. Warren Got Off Easy

I am a huge fan of Senator Elizabeth Warren. I believe that she does need educating on some issues, but she is highly admirable. Anyone who is concerned with the plight of the working poor, or has something of a feminist bent, should read her book. A Fighting Chance. Any proposal for replacing Obamacare must first address the question, “During Elizabeth Warren’s childhood, would her family have had access to health care under this policy?”

But — well, call me quaint if you wish — fair is fair, and rules are rules. A few weeks ago, when Warren tried to denigrate then-Senator Jeff Sessions during the hearing on his appointment as Attorney General, she was asked to take her seat, as a Senate rule forbids personal criticism of fellow senators. The Democrats howled! Yet just weeks later, the Democrats in the California State Senate did the same thing.

State Senator Janet Nguyen, a Republican Vietnamese-American whose Orange County constituency includes a large number of ethnic Vietnamese, stood up on the Senate floor to castigate her fellow legislator Sen. Tom Hayden, who died recently and had been the subject of a Senate memorial just two days before Nguyen spoke out. She too was violating Senate rules in doing so, not to mention violating an unwritten rule of decency concerning those recently passed away. She finally had to be “escorted” out of the room by guards (see the lower left of the video a couple of minutes in), more dramatic and humiliating than in the Warren incident. And this time the Republicans howled.

The actions taken in both instances, against Warren and Nguyen, were correct. And frankly, I side with Hayden on this issue. But like millions of people, I am concerned with the total lack of civility, and extreme partisanship, in current U.S. politics. I would accuse Nguyen of lacking civility, but I am most concerned with the partisanship. What next? Fist fights on legislative floors, as happened frequently in Taiwan in the 90s? We are in absolute gridlock, to the tragic detriment of the American people.

To be sure, the Democratic leadership of the State Senate did later indicate regret for their action against Nguyen. But the incident brings up other issues.

First, there is the disturbing trend here in California of treating the words minority and immigrant as synonymous with Latino. As George Skelton of the LA Times wrote,

Many of the same politicians, after all, seem to be spending every waking moment trying to protect Latinos who, unlike Nguyen, migrated to this country illegally. Good for them. But where’s the compassion for a legal immigrant colleague who was living the American dream until Democrats briefly turned it into a nightmare?

How true!

Since the issue of refugees is so salient today, Nguyen’s example shows that often refugees, and indeed other immigrants and foreign guests, not only bring with them a desire for a better life but also bring the politics of their homelands. My recent report on the Chinese foreign students protesting UC San Diego’s choice of the Dalai Lama as a commencement speakers comes to mind immediately. And to some people, Nguyen’s choice to deliver the first part of her tirade against Hayden on the Senate floor in Vietnamese may be troubling.

As I have said, if nothing else current politics is making for good theater. But the price of this theater ticket is steep.

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10 thoughts on “Sen. Warren Got Off Easy

  1. Dems better watch out. Groups other than Latino are aware of the hispandering. They are beginning to wonder why the Hispanics get stuff and attention, and no one else does.

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  2. I recall reading about the typical Kennedy family reunion. It shouldn’t have been surprising to me, but I was surprised to learn how hostile and violent those reunions would get. It shouldn’t have surprised me not because I regard politicians or specifically Democrats poorly, which I don’t, but rather as you mentioned in your post, the state of affairs of the political landscape is extremely partisan. Yet some idealism remains inside me hoping for those who are supposed to serve the country to do so without prejudice.

    I can be so naive.

    I would love to plop fMRI helmets on all the politicians during session. If I could, what I would suspect the scans would show should instruct me not to be surprised. Simply put, when attitudes are built from the peripheral route to persuasion, strong emotions can result and invoke the fight or flight response. And since one would be a horrible politician to run away from a political fight, then fight it usually is.

    We have the equipment to override such emotional responses but that equipment “runs slower” and since politics seem to be addicted to catch phrases and impetuosity, there’s not enough time. Such, I believe, is the origin of the political vitriol we often see.

    But I have to admit, I probably would have great difficulty as an elected official in such sessions, because I have a low tolerance for stupid, and what I often see on the C-SPAN channels is stupid.

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  3. Old words for both sides to consider:

    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

    Oliver was not a nice person, but he was right about this one.

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    • Congress during 40 years before the Civil War is something students should learn about. How not to replicate? What is the issue akin to slavery that is pulling us apart now?

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  4. Sorry for a question unrelated to your article professor, I’m a software engineer at one of the Big 4 who’s looking to get started in ML (to that end I’m moving to a team that does work on ML infrastructure). Do you have a recommendation textbook or course for reviewing the Statistics side of it? I took Discrete Mathematics in school but we only went as far as Bayes theorem and Conditional Probability (the Rosen book). Appreciate your response.

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