Election League America

It’s an election year, and October is almost upon us, so it’s finally time to tear ourselves away from Hulu and Netflix for a few minutes to learn a thing or two about some of the major candidates. The upcoming elections will impact issues important to the Harvard legal community, like whether the judicial nomination landscape will be such that Justice Ginsburg can finally escape the indignity of being captioned another four years (JK—we love Ginsburg too much to ever stop captioning her). Now, this column doesn’t trade in the high-flying, Shakespearean allusions that usually get thrown around in political coverage, so we’ll be teaching you about the candidates in the vernacular of pop culture: DC Comics superheroes.

Barack Obama—Aquaman (JLA)

There’s no doubt that when Democrat Barack Obama was first elected President, his Justice League analogue would have been Superman. He was a symbol of hope, progress, and the American way. He seemed like he could do more than his peers, and even his otherness, like the Kryptonian’s, signaled American greatness (at least to enough people to get him elected).

However, over the last four years it’s become apparent that Obama cannot fly the world backwards rapidly enough to undo our economic problems, and he’s come to be regarded as lame in a similar way to Aquaman. There’s nothing wrong with him per se, but he does not seem have abilities or achievements as cool as a superhero should and therefore has become the butt of a lot of criticism. After a previous election and four years of presidency, no one is really interested in Obama’s biography anymore, just as no one cares what happens in Aquaman’s solo title. The important stuff Aquaman does probably occurs beneath the ocean, and therefore doesn’t seem to have a lot of import for people on land. Similarly, we’re pretty sure Obama is doing something important to try and help the economy or other presidential stuff, but only a couple of things prominent enough to get our attention. Obama also gets criticized for worrying about the oceans too much.

Mitt Romney—Batman (Christopher Nolan Films)

A lot has been written about Batman being conservative and Nolan’s films in particular being a case for Neocon policies, but Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shares more than a political wing with Batman. Like Batman, Romney doesn’t have the special abilities that usually qualify someone to be a successful politician/superhero like tact, stage presence or heat vision. Instead, wealth inherited from his parents, like Bruce Wayne’s, is Mitt’s superpower. Both grew up as children of privilege in crumbling, once-great cities and were seemingly driven to greatness by the wrongs done to their parents (losing an election is a death to these political types). And both seemed to get their father’s legacy somewhat twisted—Batman followed his father’s mission of helping the financially desperate by punching them in the face, and Mitt followed his father’s legacy of serving the auto industry and releasing his tax returns by not doing either of those things. Finally, both Batman and Romney are trying to head off a dangerous attack on society from the people who complain about starving while other people live like Bruce Wayne/Mitt Romney, and Batman and Mitt are both pretty sure those whiners are in league with foreign terrorists.

Elizabeth Warren—Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman)

Democrat Elizabeth Warren is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat against Scott Brown, and is the token female candidate people have decided to care about in this election, like Wonder Woman in the Justice League. Both women also have difficulty communicating with the constituencies they wish to help. One has trouble connecting with normal people because she comes from a classical, insular society with modes of communication and values different from the world at large; the other has a similar problem because she’s an Amazon. Warren and Wonder Woman share another common narrative problem—shitty villains. Compelling Wonder Woman stories were easy in the Golden Age of comics when she was fighting the Nazis, but since the end of WWII, the Amazon has been stuck fighting lame villains like Cheetah, who is so non-iconic nobody notices when the writers change its gender or species. Similarly, Warren made a name for herself in the fight for a Consumer Protection agency against some solid villains: the rich bankers popularly blamed for making everybody poor. In the Senate election, however, she’s up against Scott Brown. Difficult to hate or fear because of his seeming moderateness, and occasionally naked and furry, Scott Brown is the Cheetah of political opponents.

Paul Ryan—Ozymandias (Watchmen)

In light of Paul Ryan’s love of Ayn Rand’s philosophy (shared by Cult. Lit. for different reasons), the most obvious Watchmen comparison for the Republican vice-presidential candidate would be Rorschach (or his more explicitly Randian predecessor, The Question). However, Ryan’s story parallels Ozymandias’ arc much more closely. Ryan and Ozymandias are both motivated by obsessions with figures from their early studies. They are also well known for being in peak physical condition and performing amazing feats, such as running sub-three marathons, climbing all the tall mountains, and catching bullets with their bare hands. Ozymandias used this renown to pimp his own exercise program to fund his plans to save the world, and Ryan won’t shut up about P90X. Ozymandias and Ryan share a commitment to plans rejected by their colleagues as too drastic, whether or not they’ll save the world. Even if his colleagues flinch at the outrageous nature of cutting Medicare, Ryan, like Ozymandias, knows the right incentives for a better tomorrow can only be created by subjecting us to the giant, killer, psychic squid of fiscal austerity. We’ll have to wait for election day to find out whether Ryan will match his comic book counterpart in seeing his plan through.

Cultural Literacy and the Law is a humor column written by an anonymous Harvard Law student. The column runs every other Monday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record.

Senate Seat Is Warren’s to Lose

Is it possible that in a state as blue as Massachusetts, Senator Scott Brown would be able to repeat his 2010 feat and win a second race for Ted Kennedy’s seat? The conventional wisdom is that Brown might be able to prevail in a close election. The latest Kimball poll has Brown leading Elizabeth Warren among likely Massachusetts voters by 46 percent to 45 percent. The latest Intrade prediction gives Brown a 57 percent chance of winning.

Nevertheless, I think that the dynamics of the race still favor Warren.

Look, Brown is a formidable political opponent. He is an attractive 6’2″ ex-centerfold model who dons a colonel’s uniform, drives a GMC truck, and plays a good game of basketball. As Massachusetts Republicans go, you can’t get more moderate than Brown—he is pro-choice, accepts gay marriage, and has a centrist voting record. Neither does it hurt that Brown’s family speaks eloquently of his positive attributes.

In contrast, Warren’s campaign has lagged for months. She is a Harvard Law professor who struggles harder to identify with the average voter, unlike the basketball-bouncing Brown. Her TV commercials have been criticized for focusing on national issues rather than issues relevant to Massachusetts voters. Her animated speaking style, so useful in the classrooms of Austin Hall, has been labeled by many as overly strident. Political analyst Dan Payne even criticizes Warren for her “Page Boy haircut” and “granny glasses” that “add about 10 years to her age on TV.” And controversy over Warren’s Cherokee heritage has distracted from her campaign’s message.

Yet, despite Brown’s positive attributes and Warren’s apparent shortcomings, the race still stands at 50-50. Basically, Brown’s ceiling is Warren’s floor. Even back in 2010, when Brown was facing Martha Coakley’s lackluster campaign, Coakley still managed to win 47 percent of the vote. And Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is far better-funded than Coakley’s ever was.

Surely all this must be cause for optimism in the Warren camp.

Most of Brown’s political challenges are deep-rooted, systemic, and difficult to overcome. He is a Republican in a deep-blue state. He needs the support of at least 15 percent of Obama voters just to maintain the 50-50 balance. He depends on winning a large majority of independent voters if he hopes to squeeze out a razor-thin victory.

In contrast, most of Warren’s perceived problems are easy to fix. Within a week, her campaign could adjust its focus from national to local issues. With a little voice coaching, Warren can easily recalibrate her speaking style. For two dozen dollars, Warren could temporarily trade her glasses for a month’s supply of contact lenses. And should Warren so choose to inch her rhetoric further towards the political center, she could eat into Brown’s vital centrist constituency. None of these steps appear difficult.

Scott Brown is a fine senator, and it would be a pity if he loses in November. Nevertheless, the fundamentals seem to favor Warren. She is holding her own at 50-50 despite her campaign’s shortcomings. And as an accomplished, ambitious law professor, she surely has the pragmatism to take the steps necessary to build a majority.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record