As the U.S. Senate race approaches the Nov. 6 election, it's come to resemble a hot and gaseous twilight zone where the granularity of workaday politics is shrouded in the collateral fall out of personality-centric eruptions.
Over the last several days, incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Cambridge, 69, who is seeking a second six-year term, triggered a cyclone of headlines with the news that she carries blood that is 1/1024th Native American. Shock and awe followed.
Warren’s principal opponent, Republican State Rep. Geoff Diehl of Whitman saw his name dominate headlines after Wednesday night's WGBH News gubernatorial debate when Charlie Baker was forced to decide whether “supporting the Republican ticket” included voting for Diehl. The verdict? It did.
Now come the one-on-one, toe-to-toe televised debates in which Warren and Diehl, 49, tangle with each other with only minimal media mediation.
Friday night's session, refereed by WBZ political analyst John Keller, resembled a demolition derby. The hour had no dramatic arc; issues didn't unfold in context. Warren and Diehl gunned their engines, burned their tires, and — whenever possible — T-boned each other.
A spectacle for sure, but it was surprisingly substantive. The candidates attacked with facts and figures, policy and even philosophy came into play. By the time the contest ended, it was clear the studio wasn't big enough for both Diehl and Warren. The implication: Neither was Massachusetts' politics.
Round two takes place Sunday at 7 p.m. when WGBY Springfield hosts the Western Media Consortium Senate Debate. The debate will be broadcast live on WGBH-2, 89.7 FM, and wgbhnews.org.
If Friday's debate is any indication, the discussion will be peppered with a range of issues: transgender rights and Ballot Question #3, public safety and police racism, the release — or failure to release — personal income tax returns, the NRA and gun control.
Bearing in mind that every political encounter develops a warp and woof of its own, there are two big themes to look out for:
1. The White House Factor: There are two central facts in the Warren-Diehl contest, and at this point they have come to resemble two sides of the same coin. It's all about who is president. Warren claims that Diehl, an early an ardent partisan for Donald Trump, will be a rubber stamp for the president, thus enabling inhumane immigration policies and accelerating the economic inequality that buoys the rich and empowers corporate America. Diehl charges that Warren herself covets the oval office; that her extensive national travel is proof of this, as is her writing of books; and that her advocacy of progressive economic reform is pitched to the elites that shape Democratic presidential politics. According to Diehl, Warren sacrifices the needs of average Massachusetts residents on the altar of her ambition. Warren counters that her vision for the nation and her hopes for Massachusetts are one. The Warren-Diehl race may be the closest thing the nation will see to a contest between Occupy and The Tea Party.
2. Restructuring The Economy: Warren has developed a sweeping plan to reshape how America conducts big business. Democratic Socialists like those at Jacobin magazine say it doesn't go far enough. Free Marketeers, such as economists at the American Enterprise Institute, say it will hinder the innovation that drives the economy. But no Democrat active today — not even Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton — has put forward a blueprint of such specificity. Warren would require that all American corporations worth more than $1 billion to acquire a new national charter that would mandate business look beyond only profits and take into account the social implications of its business decisions and that workers constitute 40 percent of boards of directors. Her plan also calls for limiting executives access to corporate equity to promote long-term thinking, not short-term profit; making corporations receive approval of 75 percent of its shareholders and 75 percent of its directors before making political contributions or expenditures; and strict penalties for "repeated and egregious illegal conduct." For his part, Diehl is an ardent supporter of Trump's tax cut, which he says has jolted the economy, especially in Massachusetts, into overdrive. What Diehl doesn't address is the huge burden this tax cut has placed on the federal deficit. And an issue that is still theoretical, which holds that when an inevitable economic correction does come (and many economists expect one within the next two years) the resulting recession will be worse than it needs to be.