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A fortune lies in Canada's oil sands. Many voters want to leave it there.

By Kevin Orland and Natalie Obiko Pearson
A fortune lies in Canada's oil sands. Many voters want to leave it there.
Robbie Picard, founder of Oil Sands Strong, sits for a photograph at a diner in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Sept. 24, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Jason Franson.

At the Fish Place diner in Fort McMurray, booths are filled with oil workers in baseball caps and the parking lot is lined with pickup trucks sporting six-foot (1.8 meter) neon safety flags, a hallmark of the mining industry.

Fort McMurray is the regional hub for the oil sands that produce two-thirds of Canada's crude, a status that puts the city carved out of Alberta's wilderness at the heart of the Oct. 21 federal election.

Robbie Picard, who heads an oil-sands advocacy group, calls it "the most important election we've ever had." Over a breakfast of eggs and cheese in the diner, Picard said that a second term for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would cause "anxiety, depression and despair" in the city. "I'm terrified for our future," he said.

In a campaign that's been uncharacteristically personal in tone for Canada, energy and the environment is arguably the key policy area that will decide the election-and most agree the outcome of the vote will in turn be crucial for Canada's energy sector.

Not only will it determine the future of carbon taxes, pipeline approvals and environmental regulations, it's also a referendum on a dispute central to the country's identity: Is Canada a global oil superpower or is it a leader in fighting climate change?

Trudeau and his Liberal supporters argue that it can be both, using proceeds from its oil and gas to fund green-energy solutions. He says he has supported the industry more than his Conservative predecessor, spending C$4.5 billion ($3.5 billion) to save a key pipeline project from cancellation, taking flak from the environmental camp in the process.

But critics including his main challenger, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, hammer him for abandoning a pipeline through British Columbia, failing to push through another line to Canada's east coast and passing a law that they say will make major energy projects impossible to approve. Trudeau's comment at a town hall meeting in Ontario back in 2017 that the country needs to phase out the oil sands has added to the sense that it's not just specific policies but the industry's very existence that's on the ballot.

"Do we want our energy industry to be a global player, or do we want our industry to go into hibernation and we'll just slowly shut it down?" Derek Evans, chief executive officer of oil-sands producer MEG Energy Corp., said in an interview. "That's the point we're at."

The source of the dilemma lies in the expanse of forests and marshes surrounding Fort McMurray. These lands contain the world's third-largest crude reserves, but the sticky bitumen extracted needs to be transported to market, and that means building hugely contentious pipelines. At present, there just aren't enough of them for an energy sector that accounts for a tenth of Canada's economy and a fifth of its exports.

In recent years, rising production from the oil sands has strained against limited pipeline capacity, exacerbated by delays to projects like TC Energy Corp.'s Keystone XL. That has weighed on regional oil prices and prompted companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and ConocoPhillips to sell off Canadian assets in a $30 billion-plus capital exodus.

A year ago, the pipeline pinch reached crisis proportions, sending Canadian heavy crude prices crashing below $15 a barrel and prompting Alberta's government to intervene with mandated production cuts to stave off a full collapse. While prices have rebounded, the situation remains tenuous, hitting Alberta's economy hard and inflaming opposition to Trudeau's federal government.

The political predicament is encapsulated in the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries the heavy crude extracted near Fort McMurray about 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) westward to a Pacific port near Vancouver.

In 2013, then-owner Kinder Morgan of Houston won federal approval to triple the line's capacity, promising to alleviate the bottlenecks and help Canadian crude reach new markets in Asia. But the proposal hit so much opposition-legal challenges, protests and a British Columbia government pledging to block it-that by last year Kinder was ready to abandon it.

Then, in a move that stunned the nation, Trudeau's government swept in to buy it, vowing it would be built. Yet the purchase won Trudeau little support in deeply conservative Alberta, and it only hurt his standing with environmentalists, earning him the nickname "Justin Crudeau." While opposition remains, construction on the project has begun.

Naomi Klein, the prominent Canadian writer and activist, said the purchase highlights the "utterly hypocritical" position Trudeau has taken since coming to power, allowing the oil sands to expand while claiming to make Canada a climate leader.

"What we need to be doing is investing the billions of dollars that the Trudeau government has been spending buying pipelines on rolling out renewable infrastructure," she said in an interview. "We have not done that. We've wasted precious time."

Trudeau's energy policy thus risks alienating voters on both sides of a debate that is increasingly becoming a key dividing line across Canada. It's a political reality that Scheer is playing upon, portraying his Conservative Party as a champion of the oil sector and pledging to remove the stricter environmental regulation brought in by Trudeau. With her party polling at a record, Green leader Elizabeth May also sees an opening.

Current polls suggest a close race, with Trudeau's Liberals set to lose their majority. That raises the prospect of a minority Liberal government with the even more environmentally minded Green Party and New Democratic Party-"a nightmare" outcome for oil sands advocates like Picard, but arguably one in tune with voters in large parts of Canada.

May characterizes the election as a referendum on climate, representing Canada's last chance to help fight global warming. "We can't negotiate with the global atmosphere to say, 'We need a bit more time,'" said May, whose campaign platform displays a photo of her being arrested protesting against the Trans Mountain pipeline.

That sentiment has traction across the country in Quebec, where about 500,000 people filled Montreal's streets for a climate march led by Greta Thunberg last month. Environmentalist opposition from Quebec played a key role in TC Energy abandoning its Energy East pipeline, which would have crossed the province en route to Canada's Atlantic Coast, displacing oil imports from the U.S. and allowing Canadian oil to be shipped to new markets like India.

British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec-which produces so much hydropower that it has to export some to the U.S.-have all invested heavily to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and Alberta shouldn't get a "free pass" in cutting its own, said Karel Mayrand, director of the David Suzuki Foundation for Quebec and Atlantic Canada, a non-profit environmentalist organization.

"You could say 'Alberta can export its oil, and Quebec can export its electricity and everyone shakes hands,'" Mayrand said. "But the problem is that for a growing share of the population, in Canada as well as in Quebec, accepting this means throwing all of Canada's climate goals out of the window."

Albertans meanwhile feel "extreme disappointment" that other provinces have blocked the pipelines that could help its industry, viewing it as an attack on their entire identity, said Rafi Tahmazian, a senior portfolio manager and energy expert for Canoe Financial in Calgary, Alberta's largest city.

A minority Trudeau government with the Greens' May and New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, both strident pipeline opponents, would create further pain for the industry and lead to turmoil in Alberta, including even increased talk about seceding from Canada, he said.

At the Trans Mountain terminus near Vancouver, the oil paradoxically arrives in a region banking on a post-carbon, tech-dominated economy. Businesses here pay North America's highest emissions tax, electricity is generated almost entirely from hydropower, and all new vehicles will be zero-emission by 2040.

Legend has it that the sediments from the deep blue inlet at the Westridge Marine Terminal, the pipeline's end, were molded to create the Ur-mother of the Tsleil-Waututh, an indigenous group that's at the forefront of a legal battle against the expansion.

Expanding the pipeline as planned would mean a seven-fold increase in oil tankers navigating a narrow route through Vancouver's increasingly congested harbour, and activists say it's only a matter of time until a spill would occur. Local municipalities and the provincial government have joined First Nation groups in the legal challenge. Vancouver's mayor was arrested protesting it last year alongside Green Party leader May.

It's the sharp end of a dilemma over climate and energy that will confront whichever government emerges from the election.

"This battle will continue," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. "It'll continue until we finally declare victory."

- - -

Bloomberg's Dave Merrill contributed.

Warren faced sexism, shed a husband and found her voice teaching law in Houston

By Holly Bailey
Warren faced sexism, shed a husband and found her voice teaching law in Houston
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mass.,at the Capitol in 2017. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken.

HOUSTON - Elizabeth Warren hadn't stepped foot on the University of Houston Law Center campus in nearly 15 years, not since she'd left her first full-time teaching job there.

But on a mid-September morning in 1997, Warren, by then a celebrated professor at Harvard University's law school, returned to memorialize a man who had played a small but not insignificant role in her teaching career.

The five years Warren spent in this sprawling Texas city were among the most transformative of her life. She split with a husband who struggled with her ambition. She started dabbling in the research that would establish her as one of the nation's foremost experts on consumer bankruptcy law. And she found her voice, developing the speaking style that has made the senator from Massachusetts a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Houston is where Liz Warren became Elizabeth Warren.

She had been asked to eulogize longtime UH law professor Eugene Smith, who, as head of the faculty hiring committee in 1978, had been an early Warren champion, urging colleagues to look past her limited teaching experience and what some perceived as her second-rate Rutgers University law school degree.

Smith, who died of complications from the polio he contracted as a child, had specifically requested that Warren speak at his funeral. But what she said inside a small campus chapel stunned her former colleagues.

With a smile on her face and humor in her voice, Warren described how Smith had invited her to his office one day just a few months after she had been hired. He shut the door and lunged for her, she said, and as she protested, he chased her around his desk before she was able to escape out the door.

"Everyone was slack-jawed," recalled John Mixon, a retired UH professor who had been close friends with Smith and Warren. Among those listening: Smith's ex-wife and his three adult sons.

In the pews, people exchanged glances. Some at UH disliked Smith - he'd kept a bottle of Scotch in his desk and often told dirty jokes, one colleague remembered later - but "Mean Gene," as he was known, was generally regarded as harmless. Diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, Smith walked hunched over, his arms increasingly useless as he aged. Some wondered whether it was physically possible for Smith to have done what Warren described.

"To have this image of him chasing her around the desk, it was just comical, and she told the story without rancor," Mixon recalled.

Her account wasn't entirely new to him. While Warren had not shared all the specifics, she had gone to Mixon looking for help when she said Smith came on to her that day in early 1979.

Four decades later, Mixon recalls with mixed feelings what he told her: Say nothing. "My advice was that she was brand new in the business," Mixon said. "He was an established old-guard professor with a lot of power. And if she tried to get him, she would be the one in the long term to suffer because she would become known as a troublemaker."

Warren nodded, and as he advised, she said nothing. Not when Smith continued to flirt with her. Not when he commented on her appearance. Not when she packed up her office in the spring of 1983 to move on to bigger and more renowned schools.

Warren said nothing until she returned to UH to eulogize a man who had been both a promoter and tormentor, a man who, as she put it in an interview, "no longer had any power over me."

At Smith's funeral, Warren told the story in an entertaining way. Two decades later, she would recount it again in a 2017 interview on "Meet the Press," presenting it as her own sobering #MeToo experience with sexual harassment.

By then, the times had changed, and so had she.

- - -

The University of Houston Law Center was in a period of transition when Warren interviewed there in 1978.

At the time, the law school had just one full-time tenured female professor, but the number of female students was soaring. The faculty was trying to inject the place with new blood - younger, fresher faces.

Warren was almost 29, and she knew the campus. A decade earlier, she had dropped out of college to marry her high school sweetheart, Jim Warren. She followed him to Houston, where he had been hired to work as a computer engineer for IBM. She took undergraduate classes at UH - tuition was just $50 a semester - until they moved to New Jersey.

Warren earned her law degree from Rutgers just before giving birth to her second child. She got her foot in the door at UH by offering to teach legal writing, classes viewed by most law professors as grunt work.

Gene Smith, who had talked to Warren by phone, met her at the airport, picking her up in his white 1966 Lincoln Continental. His post-polio syndrome was getting worse, and the damaged muscles in his arms were making it harder to drive, but Smith stubbornly refused to give up the car.

He took her out to dinner with a few others on the hiring committee. They went to his favorite restaurant, a steakhouse called The Stables.

In a story that quickly made the rounds among the faculty - and that Warren later retold at his funeral - Smith ordered a steak, even though his arms were so weak he had trouble cutting it into smaller pieces. The waitress usually helped, but this time, when the steak arrived, Smith pushed the plate over to Warren and ordered her to cut it up for him.

"I guess it was his way of testing her to see how easily she would be manipulated," Mixon recalled.

Warren just stared at Smith.

"Can't you tell I'm crippled?" Smith told her.

"I thought you knew that when you ordered the steak," she coolly replied.

Everyone at the table laughed, including Smith, who advocated for Warren to be hired.

Sitting at that table full of men who smiled as Smith pushed the steak her way, she knew what she would have to endure to teach. "I knew it from the first minute," Warren said.

She also knew that as a woman who had graduated from a lower-tier law school, with limited teaching experience and two young children at home, she was not a top prospect.

"I had no other options," she said.

As Warren had anticipated, some questioned her academic background. "Rutgers isn't a top law school, and for your first job, it really matters where you went to law school," said Richard Alderman, a UH professor emeritus who was on the hiring committee that year. "But when you met her, she had this personality, this energy. . . . You knew, just by talking to her, she was going to be successful."

Warren was hired as an assistant professor, a full-time tenure-track position that included not only legal writing courses but also contracts and commercial law. Warren said she could not remember whether her status as a wife and mother came up in her interviews for the job, but she specifically requested to teach complex financial courses because she thought it might help her be taken more seriously by her colleagues. "I figured if I could manage this, no one would question whether a young woman with two little children belonged," she said.

According to personnel records released by the Warren campaign, her pay that first year was $20,500 - not much more than the $8,000 a semester she had been paid to teach legal writing one night a week at Rutgers. Strangely, the UH faculty candidate profile also asked for her height and weight: 5-foot-7 and 115 pounds.

With her chin-length pageboy, similar to the hairstyle she wears now, she looked younger than 29.

"I was constantly reminded that I didn't look like a real law professor," Warren said.

Her colleagues frequently mistook her that first year for a secretary, the school nurse or even a lost student when they saw a woman wandering through the faculty office suites.

If Warren saw herself as a trailblazer for women in law, she has never acknowledged it. Her mother had long warned her, she has said, about becoming "one of those crazy women's-libbers." And according to those who knew her at the time, Warren, then a Republican, did not espouse feminist beliefs.

But in an interview, Warren recalled being acutely aware of her status as one of the few women on the staff.

"The faculty members themselves, often the men, treated me as if I were a second-class citizen," she said. "It was a lonely experience."

- - -

For UH law students, Warren was one of their first instructors, teaching contracts, a fundamental course that tends to determine whether a student has a mind for the law.

She was a practitioner of the Socratic method, cold-calling on students and asking them to discuss the particulars of a case or a legal opinion. She believed it forced students to pay attention, encouraging them to think, engage and analyze ideas.

Warren taught in a large lecture hall that resembled an amphitheater. She had about 60 students in her contracts class. And Warren knew by looking at their faces that she wasn't connecting with them in the way she wanted.

"She came in thinking that students were at a higher level of preparation than they were, and she would teach as if they automatically read the cases and knew what she was talking about," Mixon said.

Mixon had won multiple teaching awards, and Warren went to him for advice.

Three days a week, after Warren's contracts class, they would go to lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Over chips and guacamole, she told him about exchanges with students in which she felt she had struggled, and Mixon would analyze and offer help.

He suggested she try to read her class better and present ideas in a more approachable way - not to dumb it down but to use scenarios that would encourage someone who did not yet have the expertise to grasp and engage.

Some people, especially those cowering in the back, "were scared sh--less of her," recalled Tracey Conwell, a Houston litigation attorney who took contracts and several other classes with Warren.

She knew all their names and had no obvious method for how she called on them.

At one point in the semester, Conwell recalled, a group of her classmates drew up bingo cards with students' names as they sought to game out Warren's strategy. "They tried to see if they could guess who would be called on to speak that day," she said.

One day, Conwell remembered, she and Warren sparred over the philosophical meaning of the word "intent" in contract law, and Warren abruptly cut her off. Conwell was so mad she went to the dean to complain. But the next class, Warren gave Conwell a book: "The Death of Contract," a controversial 1974 publication that questioned the basis of modern contract law. After that, she said, she and Warren "were buddies."

"It made clear to me that she was an obviously insightful thinker who had read more than the standard books to arrive at her own concepts about how the law works," Conwell said. "She didn't accept things at face value. She did her own looking to understand how we got to this system we had. . . . And that approach, I think, helped her take this really complicated and dreadfully boring stuff and make it really interesting."

Michael Olivas, a longtime UH law professor who was hired after Warren, recalled sitting in on her classes and being stunned by how good she was. "She was not Elizabeth Warren yet, but she was Elizabeth Warren in the making," Olivas said.

Many of her students recognize the same techniques and speaking style at work on the campaign trail. Even her raised arms are familiar.

"It just feels the same when you see her on television and she's trying to explain something and she says, 'Look, it's like this,' or she gets very animated and says, 'Here's the thing,' " said Rita Lucido, a Houston family-law attorney who took classes with Warren. "I don't look back and think of contracts as this dry subject, because she made such an effort to keep us engaged with her and to make sure it made sense to us not only from a legal perspective but a real-world perspective."

Warren was younger and less stuffy than the men on the faculty. She painted a wall in her office a bright green and hung a large wicker porch swing, inherited from her grandmother, where she would sit and prepare for classes and talk to anyone who came by.

Warren also seemed human. Dona Bolding, who was in Warren's 1979 contracts class, recounted the time she was shopping at Loehmann's, the discount department store known for its marked-down designer clothing, and ran into Warren standing in her underwear in the store's communal dressing room.

Bolding said she was "mortified." But Warren instantly made light of the situation. "Oh Miss Bolding," Warren called out. "I see you love a bargain! "

- - -

Warren loved her job. To keep it, she realized she would have to maintain a good relationship with Smith, while also deflecting what she described as increasingly inappropriate behavior from him.

He regularly sat in on her classes, evaluating her talent as a professor. He wrote memos to the law school dean and others as part of the process to determine whether she would be promoted from associate professor to tenured faculty member. He was, in many ways, the gatekeeper to her future.

But, according to Warren, he was also increasingly a harasser: He commented on her clothes and appearance in ways that made her feel uncomfortable. He told dirty jokes and invited her out for drinks, which she declined. She had to get home to her family, she reminded him, hoping he would get the hint.

Warren thought she was managing him until that day in early 1979 when she said he lunged for her in his office.

She considered punching him in the face, she said in an interview. But she thought of his evaluations, his sway with the dean and how the school still had not decided whether her contract would be renewed.

"If Gene wanted to sink me, he could," she said. "If he had said, 'She's not very good. Let's push her out the door,' I would have been gone. And so, when he chased me around his office, I wasn't afraid of him physically so much as I was afraid of what I knew he could take away from me."

Warren already instinctively knew silence was her only real option, even before Mixon told her. "That kind of thing was in the air," she said. "Keep your head down and move on. And that's what I did."

As Warren was trying to hang on to her job at UH that first year, her life at home was falling apart. She was trying to balance the pressures of being a new professor, under intense scrutiny, with being a wife and mother. And she was failing.

"My world was stretched to the breaking point," she said.

She would cook breakfast for Jim and her two kids, Alex and Amelia, and then head to school, where she was balancing classes, research and everything else. She would get home around 5, sometimes get dinner on the table around 7 or 8 and stay up past midnight, preparing for classes the next day. And then she would do it all over again.

"Child care nearly brought me down," Warren often says, until her mother's sister, Bess Reed Veneck, came to Houston from Oklahoma to help out with the kids.

But Aunt Bee, as the senator calls her, couldn't fix what was wrong with Warren's marriage. By Warren's telling, she and Jim never really fought. He just gave her looks - when dinner was late or when she was up all night grading exams.

When they were on their high school debate team together, Jim had been drawn to her because she was smart and driven, Warren remembered. Now he seemed to yearn for a more traditional wife. But she had become a different person than she was at 19, when they married.

"I think we were both shocked by who I turned out to be 10 years later," Warren said. "He thought I would be someone else, and truthfully, I kind of assumed that, too. I kept changing and growing almost despite myself."

Teaching law, Warren said, "was when the whole world opened up for me." It was impossible to put her ambitions back into a box and close it away, not even to save her marriage. "I wanted so much to do the work," she said. "I wanted to do the work, I wanted to be a good mom, I wanted to be a good wife but didn't manage all of that."

One night, Warren recounted in her memoir, "A Fighting Chance," she asked Jim whether he wanted a divorce. She was shocked she said it. But he didn't appear to be. "Yes," he replied.

Jim moved out and into an apartment in southwestern Houston, according to public records. She and the kids stayed in the family's suburban home. The couple separated sometime in early 1979. Warren has never said exactly when, though she later wrote in her memoir that "there were reconsiderations and some attempts at one-more-try-to-make-it-work."

Her family watched the kids that summer as Warren traveled to Florida to attend a conservative law and economics retreat. One of the other attendees was Bruce Mann, a professor and legal historian at the University of Connecticut.

Both have described a moment of instant attraction. It's unclear when the two officially became a couple, but Warren has said she visited him that fall in Connecticut. And he came to see her in Houston.

Warren filed for divorce from Jim on Nov. 5, 1979. The divorce was finalized on Jan. 16, 1980. Jim agreed to pay child support that increased by 5 percent a year, as well as contributing to their kids' college educations, an unusual detail even now, according to Susan Myres, a former Warren student at UH who is now a top divorce attorney in Houston. The agreement, Myres said, reads as if it were written by "a future consumer advocate in the making."

While Warren has been careful to call her ex-husband "a good man," she has occasionally hinted at bitterness. After their divorce, Jim quit smoking, took dance lessons and got remarried, she wrote in her memoir.

"We didn't see him much," she said. He died of lung cancer in 2003 at 58.

While Jim had struggled with Warren's ambition, Mann embraced it. The two were married in July 1980, shortly after Warren's 31st birthday, and Mann gave up his tenure-track job and moved to Houston, where UH gave him a one-year teaching contract. Warren was awarded tenure and named assistant dean of the law center. But by 1983, she was packing up her office and taking down her porch swing. Warren, her second husband and her two children were heading to the University of Texas law school in Austin, leaving Houston behind.

- - -

On a hot summer day this past July, Warren walked back through the hallways of UH, the place where it all began for her. She pointed out her old office, the classrooms where she taught.

"This is a homecoming for me," she later told a crowd of more than 2,000 people who had lined up for hours to hear her speak. This was where she had gotten her first real job. "Full time, tenure track," she said. "It still sounds so good to say it."

Forty-one years earlier, she had turned heads for looking so out of place. But this time, people knew her instantly. They ran up to shake her hand. She was Elizabeth Warren, the woman running for president.

Meet the historian who's asking America to rethink the very nature of bigotry and how to fight it

By David Montgomery
Meet the historian who's asking America to rethink the very nature of bigotry and how to fight it
Ibram Kendi is a leading voice among a new generation of American scholars who are reinvestigating - and redefining - racism. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Michael A. McCoy

Ibram H. Rogers, 17, hadn't even told his parents that he was entering a Martin Luther King Jr. Day oratorical contest. They found out after he won one of the early rounds and they got a videotape of his performance. "We'll never forget that Saturday morning we put the tape in and watched him," Larry Rogers, Ibram's father, told me recently. "We were really surprised."

Ibram was a bright but underachieving senior at his northern Virginia high school. His GPA was below 3.0; his SAT scores were just above 1000. He thought he wasn't smart enough for college, even though he had been admitted to historically black Florida A&M University.

The Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, sponsor of the competition, saw to it that the finale, in January 2000, was filled with pride. The MLK Community Choir serenaded the mostly African American audience of 3,000 that filled a local chapel.

"It was a very proud moment," recalls Carol Rogers, Ibram's mother. "An awesome event." Six students out of more than 100 contestants made it to the final round to deliver 10-minute speeches on "Dr. King's Message for the Millennium."

The contestants dressed like young business people - except Ibram, who wore a loud golden-brown blazer, black shirt, bright tie and baggy pants. (The fact that the public school he represented, Stonewall Jackson High School, was named for a Confederate general was one of those ironies that, in the moment, was too deep to dwell on.) For his speech, Ibram adopted the persona of an angry King come back to life to scold black youth for thinking "that the cultural revolution that began on the day of my dream's birth is over. ... How can it be over when kids know more about Puff Daddy than they know about me? ... How can it be over when many times we are unsuccessful because we lack intestinal fortitude?"

The speech swelled into a jeremiad of disappointment. Ibram paced around the pulpit as he reeled off more supposed failings of young black people: "They think it's OK to be those who are most feared in our society! ... They think it's OK not to think! ... They think it's OK to confine their dreams to sports and music!"

The audience loved the message, reacting with "whoops of agreement," according to a Washington Post account at the time. Ibram didn't win the top prize, but, two days after the big night, a picture of him speaking was spread over three columns in The Washington Post, with the headline: "Students Give New Voice to King's Dream."

Ibram H. Rogers has grown up to be Ibram X. Kendi, 37, a leading voice among a new generation of American scholars who are reinvestigating - and redefining - racism. In 2016, at 34, he became one of the youngest authors to win the National Book Award for nonfiction, for "Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" - which, gushed the award judges, "turns our ideas of the term 'racism' upside-down."

The following year, American University recruited him from the University of Florida to join the faculty and create the Antiracist Research & Policy Center. (The very evening in September 2017 when Kendi introduced the center at a gathering of students, faculty and administrators, someone stuck cotton balls to flyers depicting Confederate flags and posted them around campus.) More recently, the crowds turning out to hear Kendi discuss his new bestseller, "How to Be an Antiracist," have been so large that bookstores have resorted to holding readings in churches, synagogues and school auditoriums.

Kendi's ideas - that few, if any, are free of racism; that we should confess to our own racism as a first step toward becoming anti-racist; that racism begins not with the prejudice of individuals but with the policies of political and economic power - are bracing and challenging. They also constitute a very different take on race from the speech he gave at 17. For years afterward, he had vague memories of his MLK oration, and they were troubling. The competition, he told me, had been "a pivotal moment in my life" - one that gave him the confidence to believe that he was college material after all and that his future would involve communicating ideas to a larger public. Yet he also recalled how, a couple of years ago, when he took the time to watch his performance on a DVD that his father had made, "I cringed and was completely ashamed."

The speech, he saw, had been a litany of blame, implying that there was something wrong with young African Americans as a group and that they could conquer white racism by behaving differently. How did these perspectives get lodged in the young orator's brain? Why did the African American crowd respond with such enthusiasm? To his chagrin, Kendi realized his own experience was a prime example of how racist ideas quietly worm their way through the culture. It also showed all too clearly how one can be anti-racist in some contexts yet sick with racism in others.

Reflecting on the shame he felt at his words, he realized that the best way to communicate his newest message would be to hold out his journey as an example. Whereas his previous book, "Stamped From the Beginning," had been built around five historical characters - Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Angela Davis - he reluctantly concluded that his next book, "How to Be an Antiracist," must be based on the errors and evolution of Ibram X. Kendi.

"Initially, I was like, that central character will not be me," he told me. "I'm too private. I don't want to show all of my bones and all of my baggage and all those shameful moments that I'm still ashamed of. I don't know - I don't want to do that. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized: How can I ask other people to share those shameful moments, to free themselves of their baggage, to confess the most racist moments of their lives, if I'm not willing to do that, too?"

And so his work and his life have built to this moment of invitation to his readers, his audiences, America. After a precocious scholarly career spent demonstrating the depressing pervasiveness of racism, he stands uncommonly hopeful, inviting us onto a path forward. "We know how to be racist," he writes. "We know how to pretend to be not racist. Now let's know how to be antiracist."

Recently, Kendi's life and work have fused in another way, too - this one potentially tragic. In January 2018, after having drafted about five chapters of "How to Be an Antiracist," he received a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer. About 88% of people in that condition die within five years, he was told.

Kendi was devastated but still detached enough to fold his illness into his work. He began to make sense of racism through cancer, and to make sense of cancer through racism - essentially seeing both as diseases that can be systematically fought. He wrote through months of chemotherapy and recovery from surgery, taking naps when he was too weak to remain at his keyboard, then awakening to write some more. "I was like, you know what, I want to finish this book before I die," he told me.

Sadiqa Kendi, his wife, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., kept watch to see that at least he didn't work himself to death. "I think even the book got better after his diagnosis," she says. "I think he was writing for his life."

- - -

Have you noticed that almost everyone self-identifies as "not racist"? Consider: In June, responding to backlash over his fond recollections of working with segregationists in the Senate in the 1970s, Joe Biden insisted, "There's not a racist bone in my body." The following month, in response to backlash over his attacks on four women of color in Congress, President Donald Trump tweeted, "I don't have a Racist bone in my body!"

Kendi has little use for such protestations, for two reasons. First, he thinks "racist" should be treated as a plain, descriptive term for policies and ideas that create or justify racial inequities, not a personal attack. Someone is being racist when he or she endorses a racist idea or policy. Second, he doesn't acknowledge "not racist" as a category. At all times, people are being either racist or anti-racist; in Kendi's view, "there is no in-between safe space of 'not racist.' " Through his scholarship, Kendi has traced nearly six centuries of racist and anti-racist ideas. He could not do the same for "not racist." It's an identity without content.

All policies, even the most trivial, are either racist or anti-racist, he argues - they support equity or they don't. A do-nothing approach to climate change is racist because climate change overwhelmingly affects people of color on the planet. Forgiving student debt and offering universal health care would be anti-racist policies because people of color are more likely to have student debt or lack health care, so those policies would lessen if not erase those inequities.

In Kendi's analysis, everyone, every day, through action or inaction, speech or silence, is choosing in the moment to be racist or anti-racist. It follows, then, that those identities are fluid, and racism is not a fixed character flaw. "What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what - not who - we are," he writes.

In studying the history of racist ideas, Kendi has found the same person saying racist and anti-racist things in the same speech. "We change, and we're deeply complex, and our definitions of 'racist' and 'anti-racist' must reflect that," he told me. Those who aspire to anti-racism will, when accused of racism, seriously consider the charge and take corrective action. They will not claim to lack any racist bones. "The heartbeat of racism is denial," he writes in his new book. "The heartbeat of antiracism is confession. ... Only racists shy away from the R-word."

As for where racism comes from: A popular explanation for the genesis of racism assumes that people's ignorance and hatred harden into racist ideas, which lead to racist policies. "But that gets the chain of events exactly wrong," Kendi writes. From slavery to Jim Crow, from redlining to mass incarceration to the unequal distribution of government largesse, power has been the first link in the chain. Power, he argues, devises racist policies for economic self-interest and then justifies the racist policies with racist ideas of hierarchy, inferiority, necessity, greater good and otherness. These racist ideas are consumed and reproduced at large, giving rise to ignorance and hate. Stop focusing on people, Kendi advises: The smart anti-racist identifies racist policy and attacks the racist ideas justifying it.

Contemporary thinkers on race say Kendi's approach represents a bold extension of previous work on the subject. Molefi Kete Asante, who in 1988 created the nation's first PhD program in African American studies at Temple University (where Kendi got his doctorate in 2010), told me he recalls when Kendi returned to campus in February and presented his idea that racism begins with policies.

"I remember how shocked we were when we first heard him lecture on that, and people, you know, had to go back and reread [his argument] to figure out how he does this work," Asante says. "I think it's a wonderful innovation. ... There were questions, and he defended himself quite well." Kendi, he adds, "is really the ascendant African American intellectual of his time. ... He has attempted something that is in the Afrocentric tradition ... and that is: Let's redo almost everything. Let's look at everything and ask ourselves the question, What if we turned it upside down?"

Kendi's contention that racist policies spur the creation of racist ideas, not the other way around, is not fully embraced by all scholars, including his doctoral adviser at Temple, Ama Mazama, professor of Africology. "I don't think that the power of ideas can necessarily be minimized," she says. "It would be great, like he suggests, if we want to do away with racism, we could have anti-racist policies. ... I'm not sure if it would work. ... Maybe too much damage has already been done, too much ignorance that would be very difficult to eradicate through anti-racist policies."

Still, she is proud of her "brilliant" former student: "His work is important. ... He's also looking for solutions. It's not just an intellectual exercise, it's something much more than that."

- - -

Members of Kendi's own generation of scholars praise his ability to break through to a wider audience. It certainly helps that his writing is lyrically accessible. "I think it's just astonishing that someone is able to have an intellectual history like 'Stamped From the Beginning' influence so many people's thinking about understanding the undercurrents of white supremacy in the United States and its durability over such a long period of time, and then pivot to actually spending time with people to rethink the strategies of their own choices in their own life," says Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University, who, after the 2014 police shooting and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, organized scholars to develop the Ferguson Syllabus, a curriculum aimed at digging into the marginalization of black and brown communities.

"Ibram represents a generation that I see myself as part of where we take our ideas in a number of places and we take the feedback from a number of audiences, and we really struggle and grapple with how our work isn't just confined by the traditions of academia, but is really defined by its ability to resonate in people's lives and help them to move closer to the types of worlds that people have long imagined but never realized," she said.

One of Kendi's early racial memories is from when he was 7 and his parents brought him to check out a private school on Long Island where he might attend third grade. The family, including Kendi's older brother, Akil, lived in Queens at the time, but Carol and Larry Rogers were looking to send their children to a school outside the neighborhood. It was after school hours and the third-grade teacher, an African American woman, met them at the door. Are you the only black teacher? Ibram asked with uncomfortable directness. She was. Why are you the only black teacher?

"The beauty about being 7 years old is that chances are we're not hypocritical, chances are we're not filled with contradictions, and chances are we see the world for what is in the world," Kendi told me, recalling the moment, which he also describes in "How to Be an Antiracist." He credits his parents with anchoring him at an early age with enough pride in being black to make such an observation. Both rose from poverty to the new black middle class and had been inspired by the Black Power movement of the 1960s. His mother became a business analyst for a health-care organization, and his father became a tax accountant and later a hospital chaplain. As committed Christians, they were steeped in black liberation theology. They gave Ibram piles of books from a junior series on black achievers, which he devoured.

Kendi's mother tried to explain all this about her son to the taken-aback teacher at the school, but they ended up not sending him there anyway. Instead, Kendi went to another school, where his third-grade teacher was white, and he engaged in his first anti-racist protest: After the teacher ignored the raised hand of one of his black classmates, and called on a white student yet again, Ibram sat in the school's chapel and refused to return to class. The principal was summoned, and his parents were called.

"We tried to raise both of our sons, Akil and Ibram, to think for themselves, and if they want to challenge authority, then they have to be willing to suffer the consequences," Carol Rogers told me. (Akil is now an event specialist for Sam's Club in Florida, where Carol and Larry Rogers are retired.) Such was the anti-racist path his parents set Ibram on from an early age, but it's a deceptively hard one on which to keep your footing.

"How to Be an Antiracist" takes the form of a memoir, with Kendi interspersing his experiences with analyses of types of racism that he has found in himself: ethnic racism, bodily racism, behavioral racism, cultural racism, color racism, class racism, gender racism and queer racism. It's hard to believe one person - let alone a scholar of racism - could have encompassed so much bigotry, but that's Kendi's point: Anyone can.

In college at Florida A&M, he wore honey-colored contact lenses for a time, until he realized this was a form of racism, privileging a look associated with another race. He dated a light-skinned woman, until he realized what a warped sensation this was causing among some of his friends, who wished they were dating light-skinned women, too. He dropped her and vowed to date only dark-skinned women - until he realized this was an equally twisted obsession, driven by racist colorism. During another phase in college, he determined that the problem with white people was that if they were not devils, maybe they were just plain destructive by nature - until he realized judging white people as a group is as racist as judging black people as a group.

He came to see in retrospect that even his parents had sometimes strayed from the anti-racist path. Like others in the black middle class, he writes, "My parents - even from within their racial consciousness - were susceptible to the racist idea that it was laziness that kept Black people down, so they paid more attention to Black people than to [President] Reagan's policies, which were chopping the ladder they climbed up and then punishing people for falling. ... Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy."

I asked Kendi's parents how they felt about their son's loving chiding. "You know, a lot of times, parents don't want to be challenged by their children, but that's a sign that we've done our job, when they start challenging us to be better human beings," Carol Rogers says. She thought back to the sentiments Ibram had expressed in the oratorical contest. "He was basically feeding the crowd," she notes. "And he's no longer about feeding the crowd but feeding the truth."

Kendi is harder on no one than himself. "I arrived at Temple as a racist, sexist homophobe," he writes of the dawn of his graduate school career. His most important mentors in shedding those views - in learning how racism, sexism and homophobia intersect - were fellow graduate students Yaba Blay and Kaila Adia Story. "I learned from them that I am not a defender of Black people if I am not sharply defending Black women, if I am not sharply defending queer Blacks," he writes. They held court in one of the common areas during study breaks and sent him scurrying to bookshelves for works by Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks and Kimberlé Crenshaw.

"What's so wonderful about Ibram is that even though he talks about his journey, and here he is meeting me and Yaba and he's some kind of black male patriarch homophobe, he never gave us that reception," says Story, an associate professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Louisville. "He said, 'OK, these women, if I say how I'm feeling or how I'm thinking about freedom, they're going to challenge me. ... So let me be open enough to actually listen to what they're saying.' And I'm grateful for that. ... Ideological vulnerability is so important when it comes to dealing with ideas of anti-racism and intersectionality."

In 2011, Kendi was doing postdoctoral work at Rutgers University - turning his dissertation into his first book, "The Black Campus Movement" - when he met Sadiqa, who was doing a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine in Philadelphia. He had reached out to her on

"We both kind of ended up in online dating in the same way," she recalls. "We just didn't have time but still wanted to pursue meeting people. ... I saw he was younger than me and said, 'Well, there's no way I'm going to date this dude. But I'm a nice person, so I'll respond at least.' So I responded and we ended up going back and forth on Match and communicating there for a little while. After a few back-and-forth messages on Match, I thought, 'Well, gosh, this guy actually seems really cool, pretty mature.' So I gave him a chance."

After they had been dating for a few months, Sadiqa and Ibram had dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant in Philadelphia. There was a big statue of the Buddha against a wall, and a drunk white man climbed up and began fondling the statue, to the amusement of his friends. At least he's not black, Sadiqa recalls saying of the white man. Why? Ibram asked. We don't need anyone making us look bad, Sadiqa replied.

So began an extended conversation about "uplift suasion," another racist concept Kendi realized he needed to shed - the assumption that black conduct is to blame for white racist ideas, thus legitimizing white racist ideas about black conduct. "I realized early on that if I'm going to be with Ibram, we're going to have some discussions on some stuff that is deep," Sadiqa told me.

By 2013, they were ready to make plans for a spring wedding on a beach in Jamaica, which Essence would photograph for a "Bridal Bliss" feature. There was one more detail to take care of, another case of life and work merging: During his painstaking hunt for the origin and effect of every racist idea he could find, Kendi had discovered that perhaps the first racist idea - grouping all Africans as a single, inferior people - is contained in the 1453 biography of arguably the first racist, Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal, who was the first European to orchestrate a slave-trade that exclusively targeted Africans. The moment is also significant because, Kendi would argue later, it marked the original case of a racist policy, created out of economic self-interest, being justified by a racist idea: that captive Africans were being civilized and saved by slavery.

The budding historian and evolving anti-racist - still known then as Ibram H. Rogers - became uncomfortable with his middle name: Henry, after his enslaved great-great-great-grandfather. He reasoned that the fate of his ancestor Henry had been set in motion by the original racist, Prince Henry. So as part of the wedding ceremony, with Carol and Larry Rogers officiating, Ibram adopted the middle name Xolani, meaning "peace" in Zulu. At the same time, he and Sadiqa took the last name Kendi, which means "loved one" in the Meru language eastern Africa.

On a Tuesday evening in mid-August, Kendi brought his ideas to a packed crowd of 575 people invited by a local bookstore to Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. It was the first stop on his marathon tour for "How to Be an Antiracist," with dates scheduled through March. It also happened to be his 37th birthday, and his parents, wife and 3-year-old daughter, Imani, were in the audience. Activist and writer Shaun King was seated beside Kendi at the front of the sanctuary to lead the conversation. "Who needs this book?" King began. "Who is this book for?"

Anti-racism, Kendi said, "is recognizing how we've been trained, nurtured and educated in ways to be racists. How hard it is to grow up in a racist society, where racist ideas are constantly being rained on your head, and never get wet." That's why, he concluded, the book is "for people who think somebody else could use it instead of them. Because I know I needed this book when I was 30, when I was 25 ... and I could even still use this book today."

He started his answers to King's questions low and slow. As he got swept up in his argument, his voice picked up speed and gained about an octave in outrage. At one point, Imani emerged from the audience and climbed into his lap. She listened quietly until Kendi wheeled into a riff about how there are only two explanations for a racial inequity such as black unemployment being significantly higher than white unemployment: "Either there's something wrong with black workers - [which is a] racist idea - or there's something happening to black workers as they move into the job market" - i.e., racist policies. "Relax, Daddy!" Imani said.

The audience on this night was predominantly white, as it was on the other two occasions I watched Kendi discuss his work and sign hundreds of books: at a church in Lower Manhattan and at Sidwell Friends School in Washington. Kendi has a lot to say to the types of white people who flock to book events about racism.

"I can talk all day about how endemic racism is within American conservatism," he said in Brooklyn. "But when you look at radical thought, when you look at progressive thought, when you look at liberal thought, there are prevailing racist ideas that people are not confronting. Liberals have long made the case there's something behaviorally or culturally wrong with black people - progressives and radicals have long made the case there's something behaviorally wrong with black people - but that those inferior behaviors come about as a result of their oppression, their poverty, slavery. 'Yes, they are inferior, but [it's] because of what they're experiencing, the racism they're experiencing, so that's why you need to fight racism!' "

Kendi calls this the "oppression-inferiority thesis" - the often well-meaning but always destructive idea that mass oppression must manifest itself somehow in defective group behavior, hence the pitiable group must be championed. In "Antiracist," Kendi quotes abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison's preface to Frederick Douglass' slave narrative of 1845: Slavery degraded black people "in the scale of humanity. ... Nothing has been left undone to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind."

Then there is Barack Obama's campaign speech on race in 2008: "For all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future."

On the contrary, Kendi told any progressives in Brooklyn who might think that way, "you assume that since the system is dehumanizing, that it is literally making the people subhuman. No. The beauty of humanity is we have the capacity and the ability to strive and thrive in the most horrible, oppressive and dehumanizing conditions. And certainly black people did that during slavery, and they've been doing that ever since."

The white audience members I spoke with after the events were looking for a way to describe what they were seeing in the America of 2019. "There's a lot of categories of awfulness going on," said Miles Seligman, a medical coder in Brooklyn. "There's nothing - from the message and the language and the vocabulary of this kind of book - that can't help me understand that better."

Moreover, the example of a black man going first in a prospective communal racial confessional - and this black man's conception of racism as a curable condition rather than a damnation for all time - seemed to encourage white listeners to look inward.

"Racism doesn't necessarily make you a bad person," said Jimmy Dabrowski, who took three trains from New Jersey to hear Kendi at the church in Lower Manhattan. "You have to be willing to accept it and then face the reality that anti-racism is the only way forward." Dabrowski is a health and phys-ed teacher at an elementary school in Perth Amboy. "I'm not an activist," he said, "but I would hope that maybe by initiating a policy change where we have anti-racism in schools - that's the kind of activism in my field I want to push for."

The black audience members I met were already familiar with Kendi's work. They came clutching well-thumbed copies of "Stamped From the Beginning." In other words, they did not need to be taught the language. Rather, they were here to heed Kendi's call for everyone to aspire to more-perfect anti-racism.

"What led me to his work was the belief that what I offered to my students had to be more than what I was giving them now," said Tamika Golden, a high school English teacher in Brooklyn who uses "Stamped From the Beginning" in her classes. "I needed to figure out what it meant for me to be an anti-racist and to truly work against the socialization and the feelings and thoughts I had about my own people as a group. ... I think a lot of times we think about this as the work for other people, specifically white people, and I recognize that this work is for all people."

Anwar Abdul-Rahman, principal at a charter middle school in Brooklyn where the majority of students are black or Latino, told me Kendi's work offered "a framework for looking at racist ideas in America. You have your segregationists, you have assimilationists, and then you have your racist ideas and then counteracting that with anti-racism and what does that look like - I thought that was just a real profound idea that even as a black man was something that I could use in my life." He, too, finds ways to work Kendi into the curriculum.

To his publics of all races, Kendi offers the same redemptive promise. In Brooklyn, King had asked him to read a couple of pages aloud. Kendi's voice, now sonorous and incantatory, transformed the passages into a prose poem, ending with this paragraph: "But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power."

Kendi received his cancer diagnosis just as he was focusing his writing on the role of denial in the persistence of racism - all those folks who say they are "not racist." At the time, he was a seemingly healthy, relatively young man with no apparent risk factors. Denial was an option for him, too.

"If I would have denied that I had cancer, then the cancer would have just continued to spread and eventually would have killed me," he told me. "I had also been thinking about, even before the diagnosis, about how important it is for Americans to stop denying the existence of racism itself. ... The fact that in order for America to survive racism, they had to stop denying racism. Then, in that moment - in that same week - I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer."

When he felt better, he began to write new sentences - hopeful sentences - that found their way into the last chapter of the new book: "We can survive metastatic racism. Forgive me. I cannot separate the two, and no longer try. ... What if we treated racism in the way we treat cancer? ... Saturate the body politic with the chemotherapy or immunotherapy of antiracist policies that shrink the tumors of racial inequities, that kill undetectable cancer cells."

Sadiqa told me she and Ibram had a deal during his treatment regimen. He could continue to write, lecture, run the Antiracist Center, as long as he would listen to her on the occasions she detected he was pushing himself too hard. "People heal differently, and for him, he needed to have some semblance of his life, of his work, in order to mentally have the fight that I knew he would need for healing," she said. "Pushing and making that will-to-live larger than giving up and succumbing to something that, if you just look at the numbers, was likely to take his life."

At least once, when he had a bad fever during chemo, she ordered him to cancel a speaking trip. "He was upset, but he listened," she said.

After six months of chemotherapy, at the end of summer 2018, surgeons removed tissue in which pathologists found no cancer cells. This past summer, his body was scanned and all looked clear. "I can't necessarily call myself a survivor as much as I'm surviving it," Kendi told me. "But I think I'm headed in a good direction."

And the rest of us? What direction are we headed in? The popularity of his books and the size of his lecture crowds are signs that more and more people are willing to look inside themselves to consider their own racism. At the talk in Brooklyn, King asked Kendi where he finds hope. Kendi went through the history of anti-racist progress, then added, "In order to bring about change, you literally have to believe in the possibility of change" - just as you have to believe in the possibility of a cure. "Here I am," he told the audience, "cancer-free."

But for America, it's touch and go. Racist ideas continue to kill - that's no metaphor - as the El Paso, Texas, shooter recently demonstrated. At times, Kendi sounds like an oncologist who has seen the worst. "It's the same case with racism," he told me. "You have people who do not want to take America, or even themselves, through the pain of healing because they're convinced that it's not going to work. Which makes sense if they're convinced it's not going to work. But once we convince ourselves that America can never heal itself from racism, then racism will persist and, I suspect, eventually destroy this country."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Warren's plan worked. Now she needs another one.

By e.j. dionne jr.
Warren's plan worked. Now she needs another one.


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally would advance for Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Dionne clients only)

2ND WRITETHRU: 3rd graf, 3rd sentence: "The tax on wealth goes" sted "The wealth on tax goes" 1ST WRITETHRU: 5th graf, 2nd sentence: "sense it's now-or-never" sted "since it's now-or-never"


WASHINGTON -- For Elizabeth Warren, the hard part begins now.

The Massachusetts senator is unquestionably the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, which made her the focal point of attacks from her rivals in Tuesday's Democratic debate. Former Vice President Joe Biden had an easier time of it, but this was not good news for him. At various points in the three-hour marathon, he faded away. His rivals no longer see him as the person to beat.

Beneath the jostling for position lay an important policy subtext. Warren was plainly far more comfortable defending her broader economic positions, particularly her proposed wealth tax, than she was in standing up for Medicare for All. The wealth on tax goes to the heart of her candidacy's purposes. Medicare for All appears to be a position she adopted -- somewhat belatedly -- to fend off Sen. Bernie Sanders and attacks from her left. Her continued success depends on how she handles this tension.

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., underscored the ongoing significance of the battle for the party's progressive wing by endorsing Sanders, who strengthened his hand with a solid performance. Their decisions defined the difficult political terrain Warren faces. Her rise depended on her ability, simultaneously, to pull left-wing Democrats away from Sanders while also gaining new support from more moderate progressives. She made it look effortless. It will be effortless no longer.

The debate also marked a reconfiguration at the other end of the party. While Biden remains near (and, in some polls, still at) the top of the field, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., sense it's now-or-never for them to replace Biden as the moderate alternative to Warren.

Biden had his moments on Tuesday, and he was especially passionate when the conversation turned to foreign policy and President Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, abandoning the United States' Kurdish allies. "This is shameful, shameful what this man has done," Biden declared.

Nonetheless, it was Buttigieg especially, but also Klobuchar, who dominated the discussion on the party's center-left. Up to now, Buttigieg has prospered as a refreshing new voice in the party, but struggled to break out of single digits. He was earning more acclaim than support. On Tuesday, he played to win.

He was scalding in challenging Warren's refusal to say whether she would have to raise middle-class taxes to pay for Medicare for All. "Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this," Buttigieg said. "No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for all plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in."

Buttigieg shrewdly defined his space: bolder than Biden ("bold" was one of his favorite words), but with more practical, do-able ideas than Warren, and more of an "outsider" than the Congressional veterans on the stage. Klobuchar was also forceful -- particularly in discussing the opioid crisis -- blending moderation with family anecdotes that brought home her Minnesota roots. Still, both Midwesterners need Biden to weaken substantially and rather quickly, and the former vice president may be doing well enough to keep that from happening.

But will Klobuchar and Buttigieg slow Warren's rise? Perhaps surprisingly, the moderates and Sanders share an interest in pointing out that Warren has not always been as enthusiastic about Medicare for All as she is now. She was careful in a New York Times interview earlier this year to endorse it, but she stressed the goal of "moving us to a place where everybody is covered at the lowest possible cost" and stressed "there are a lot of different ways to get there. 'Medicare for All' has a lot of different paths for how we get there." One can imagine her returning to this more circumspect position in a general election campaign, made easier by her choice to avoid issuing a comprehensive health care proposal of her own.

On the other hand, Warren was unabashed and effective defending her wealth tax -- "Taxing income is not going to get you where you need to be the way taxing wealth does" -- and she can already fairly claim that she has fundamentally altered the national conversation on taxing large fortunes.

"I have a plan for that" has been Warren's iconic soundbite. To this point, her strategy has worked brilliantly. Going forward, she will need to confront challenges from both her left and her right. She needs a plan for that, too.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Democrats flip the script on a cut-and-run president

By dana milbank
Democrats flip the script on a cut-and-run president



(For Milbank clients only)


WASHINGTON -- At Tuesday night's presidential debate, Democrats flipped the script on national security.

For several decades -- since the early Cold War, really -- Republicans have usually been able to convince the country that they were the ones to be trusted to keep Americans safe. But, as with so much else, President Trump has squandered that durable advantage.

In Ohio on Tuesday, Democrats sounded very much like Republicans of yore in denouncing Trump for jeopardizing national security.

"When I was deployed, I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the flag on my shoulder represented a country that kept its word," said South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a veteran. "You take away the honor of our soldiers, you might as well go after their body armor next. This president has betrayed American values."

Former vice president Joe Biden shouted: "This is shameful! Shameful what this man has done!"

Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) said Trump "is basically giving 10,000 ISIS fighters a get-out-of-jail free card."

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) declared that "Russia and Putin understand strength, and this president time and time again is showing moral weakness."

Even. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), no hawk, said that "when you begin to betray people" as Trump had done to Kurdish allies, "tell me what country in the world will trust the word of the president?"

A dozen years ago, President George W. Bush memorably attacked Democrats who wanted to pull out of Iraq: "The party of FDR, the party of Harry Truman, has become the party of cut and run."

Now, a Republican president has recklessly pulled U.S. troops out of northern Syria, to calamitous effect, and it can truly be said: The party of Ronald Reagan has become the party of cut and run.

Trump's Syria debacle has, above all, been a tragedy -- for our faithful Kurdish allies, for NATO, for the pride of the U.S. military, for national security and for American leadership. But, combined with Trump placing his political self-dealing above U.S. security concerns in Ukraine, the blunder has left an enormous opening for Democrats to establish themselves as the champions of national security.

Polling shows that Trump, and Republicans, have lost some of their traditional advantage on matters of security. A Gallup poll released a couple of weeks ago showed the GOP with a six-percentage-point advantage on protecting the country from terrorism and military threats, compared with a 23-point advantage in 2014, before Trump took over the party.

Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that a plurality believe Trump has worsened the nation's security. And the poll was conducted mostly before Trump gave a green light to Turkey's invasion of northern Syria -- exposing a loyal ally to a massacre, dividing NATO, expanding Russian and Iranian influence, reviving the Islamic State's prospects, strengthening Syria's criminal regime and forcing a humiliating retreat by U.S. forces. It had all the dignity of the evacuation of Saigon.

Even those who favored a pullout were stunned by Trump's clumsiness. But then, this is a man who skipped Vietnam because of bone spurs, raided the Pentagon's funds for his pet project, and sided with the Kremlin over his own advisers.

And what did Trump do Monday as the outcry built over his Syrian blunder? He tweeted out a plea to "Vote for good guy @seanspicer tonight on Dancing With The Stars." What patriotic sentiments from a man who, after his Kiev Hustle ended badly and his Turkish Tango forced U.S. troops into a Kurdish Quickstep, is Dancing with the Strongmen, performing the Assad Samba, the Khamenei Can Can and the Putin Polka.

Democrats couldn't agree on much at Tuesday night's debate, which because of its format (a ludicrous 12 candidates onstage) was disjointed and desultory. If it established anything, it's that the titular front-runner, Biden, is a spent force: He seemed halting and a beat behind ("secondly, I mean thirdly …"). Though the polls don't yet reflect it, the candidates treated Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) as the front-runner, directing most of their challenges at her.

But for 25 minutes during the second of three tedious hours, Democrats asserted themselves as the defenders of the American military and American security. Though a couple of them (Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Tom Steyer) went their own ways, the others claimed the moral high ground once ceded to Republicans.

"Soldiers in the field," the veteran Buttigieg said, "are reporting that for the first time they feel ashamed -- ashamed of what their country has done. We saw the spectacle, the horrifying sight of a woman with a lifeless body of her child in her arms asking what the hell happened to American leadership."

What happened? Trump happened.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

It's Democratic voters, not candidates, who might want to reassess

By megan mcardle
It's Democratic voters, not candidates, who might want to reassess



(For McArdle clients only)


EDITORS -- Effective Nov. 1, columns by Megan McArdle will be available for print publication only.

WASHINGTON -- Looking at the results of the latest Battleground Poll from the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, voters are not overly fond of President Trump. A comfortable majority of those polled, 56%, said that they view him unfavorably; half expressed their intention to vote for a Democrat come November 2020. And 51% want to see him impeached.

Of course, judging by the results, voters aren't overly fond of the Democratic candidates either. Half of polled voters rated both former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unfavorably. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with 43% favorable and 44% unfavorable split, appeared to do a bit better, but it's also possible that she, and the rest of the Democratic field, is being saved from similarly high unfavorables by the substantial number of voters who say they've never heard of them.

As pollster Celinda Lake said during a Tuesday briefing, if you had to choose, you'd much rather be a Democrat than a Republican this cycle. But Republicans and Trump both have strong advantages over their Democratic rivals in a few areas: jobs, taxes, the economy, national security. Unfortunately for Democrats, those areas are rather key.

Simple presidential election models that look mostly at economic fundamentals can explain almost half of the variation in election results, without looking at any details of the candidates or their performance in office. Those are obviously fundamentals you'd like to have with you -- as Trump mostly does, for the moment. Indeed, in many ways it's a testimony to how bad Trump is in other ways that with record-low unemployment, solid GDP growth and low inflation, he has nonetheless managed to pull only a 42% favorable overall rating.

Still, if you're a Democrat, you have to recognize that while Trump's favorables are low, they were also low in 2016, and he nonetheless eked out a victory by the simple expedient of running against a candidate just as unlikable as he was. Too, you'll remember that it's quite difficult to unseat an incumbent president who has presided over a strong economy -- even if his administration has otherwise seemed less than glorious. And you presumably know that while a convenient recession would seal Trump's fate, no one can predict when a recession might occur.

So even if you can't entirely erase the more than 10-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on economic issues, you'd really like to narrow it a little.

Democrats have their own strengths, of course: education, health care, climate change. The good news for Democrats is that health care ranks right up there with the economy as a matter of voter concern. The bad news is that global warming does not -- in one 2018 poll, it registered barely above "providing relief after natural disasters" -- and the people who say that it's a very important issue for the government to address tend to already be solidly Democratic voters.

The temptation for Democrats on the debate stage Tuesday night will be to stay in that comfort zone where they already do well. The Battleground Poll suggests that this is the right approach to winning a primary; 78% of respondents said that when choosing a presidential candidate, the most important thing is picking a "candidate whose views match your own" rather than one "who beats the other side." Candidates would be crazy to ignore that reality.

But given the importance of the economy to the coming election, Democratic voters might want to reassess their priorities. To be sure of beating Trump, Democrats need to convince voters that they, too, can be able stewards of the economy. It will be difficult to do that if the base forces them to spend the next six months trying to outflank each other to the left, and risk losing moderates by ceding strategically vital economic terrain to the Republicans.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The US should double down on support for Lebanon

By david ignatius
The US should double down on support for Lebanon


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally advance for Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients only)


EDITORS -- Effective Nov. 1, columns by David Ignatius will be available for print publication only.

BEIRUT -- The aftershocks of President Trump's abandonment of the Kurds in Syria are rumbling through the region, and a string of Lebanese officials told me last week that they fear they're the next to be discarded by America.

Lebanese politicians and security officials, in a series of off-the-record conversations, expressed concern about Trump's acquiescence to Turkey's invasion of Syria, and the seeming eclipse of U.S. power. "I feel sorry for America," one prominent member of Parliament told me. "We feel pity," said a senior security official. "This America is not the America we used to know."

Several officials said that the withdrawal of American support for its allies in Syria all but guarantees an eventual victory there for the alliance that includes Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad -- perhaps working in combination with Turkey.

"The Iran-Syria-Russia axis has won," said a top Lebanese politician. "Syria will be united again" as the regime makes a deal with the weakened Kurdish militia there, the senior security official said. He explained that, for Iran, this Syria denouement is ideal: "Who could offer them a situation better than that?"

Lebanese anxiety about American reversals in Syria is largely a matter of self-interest. Lebanon survives by maintaining a balance between East and West, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Sunnis and Shiites, Christians and Muslims. What has helped keep this precarious structure alive for decades was the belief that America, in the end, wouldn't let the country be dominated entirely by enemies of the West.

But any remaining faith in American power was jolted last week. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, gloated the day after the Turkish invasion: "Americans can't be trusted at all since they break promise with anyone who depends on them." Other Lebanese found it hard to disagree.

Here's a suggestion for a Trump administration that needs to reassert its interests in the Middle East: Double down on Lebanon, a country where the U.S. already provides significant economic and military support. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who says he wants a stronger Lebanon, should condition this additional aid on specific economic reforms that can stem the corruption that's almost as serious a threat as Hezbollah.

Some administration officials argue that Beirut is already a lost cause: Hezbollah is the dominant political force here, so let Iran worry about a collapsing Lebanon, they contend. But that argument is wrong, especially now. The last thing the Middle East needs is another failed state, especially one on Israel's border. A stronger Lebanese state would hurt Hezbollah, rather than help it.

The U.S. is already providing about $200 million annually in equipment and training for the Lebanese military and security forces, U.S. officials say. And it's the largest aid donor for the estimated 1.3 million Syrian war refugees here. The U.S. should encourage Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other regional powers that oppose Iran to put more money into Lebanon, too. But the U.S. needs to convince the Gulf states that their money won't just disappear down the drain of Lebanese corruption.

What would a stronger Lebanese state look like? First, it would be better able to assert its sovereignty, starting with borders. To that end, the U.S. should push to resume back-channel negotiations to define a land and maritime border between Lebanon and Israel. The talks began earlier this year, under a United Nations umbrella, but then foundered. And down the road, the U.S. should help Lebanon establish a real, smuggler-proof border with Syria.

In return for deepening its support, the U.S. should demand some urgent reforms. Lebanon needs a modern telecommunications regulatory authority, as a first step toward privatization of the largely state-owned telecommunications sector that could raise $6 billion. It needs to privatize its inept state-run electricity company, too, which could save up to $2 billion.

Lebanon's sectarian political system now divvies up the spoils in these two key sectors, along with about 100 other small state-owned enterprises. Hezbollah probably gets the largest share, but all the other sects and factions take their cuts. It's a rotten system, and it's long past time for change.

The chief enemy of a strong, sovereign Lebanon is Hezbollah, which profits from chaos. It follows that a stronger Lebanon will, over time, weaken the Shiite militia. Bankrupting Lebanon to pressure Iran, as some U.S. officials suggest, would be one more act of folly for a Trump administration that has made far too many mistakes in the Middle East already.

Follow David Ignatius on Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Why the global economy remains so weak

By robert j. samuelson
Why the global economy remains so weak



(For Samuelson clients only)


EDITORS -- Effective Nov. 1, columns by Robert J. Samuelson will be available for print publication only.

WASHINGTON -- We've seen this movie before. The top economists at the International Monetary Fund -- the global agency created after World War II to promote stability and growth in the world economy -- unveil their latest forecast, which is almost always weaker than its previous forecast. The economists hold out the possibility that world growth will improve if the most important countries, including China and the United States, adopt sensible policies and cooperate with one another.

Dream on. By now, no one should be surprised by the stubborn persistence of weak growth. The IMF's conclusions are contained in its latest World Economic Outlook (WEO) report. It makes for unhappy reading. Here's how IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath summed up the present situation:

"The global economy is in a synchronized slowdown, with growth for 2019 downgraded again -- to 3% -- its slowest pace since the global financial crisis. This is a serious climbdown from 3.8% in 2017, when the world was in a synchronized upswing." Inevitably perhaps, the IMF predicts that global growth will rebound next year to 3.4%, though this is slightly lower than an earlier forecast for 2020 of 3.6%.

The causes of weak growth are no secret, the WEO makes clear. The most obvious is the protracted U.S.-China trade wars, with each country imposing stiff tariffs on the other. The growth of trade volumes in the first half of 2019 was a meager 1%, Gopinath notes, "the weakest level since 2012."

In turn, these conflicts and confusions have encouraged multinational companies to delay or cancel investment projects -- factories, warehouses, computer systems and the like. There's a vicious cycle at work. The trade wars deter investment, which further reduces trade because so-called "capital goods" (equipment and machinery) are heavily bought and sold internationally.

According to the IMF, the global economy may be weaker than the standard indicators suggest. "It is important to keep in mind that the subdued world growth of 3% is occurring at a time when monetary policy" -- the effort of government central banks like the Federal Reserve to influence interest rates and credit conditions -- "has significantly eased almost simultaneously across advanced and emerging markets."

Without this extra stimulus, global growth in 2019 would have been 0.5 percentage points lower than it is. Although this may not seem like much, it is. Global GDP is crudely estimated by varying methodologies between $85 trillion and $135 trillion. By simple arithmetic, a half of 1 percentage point would represent lost output between $425 billion and $675 billion.

In the global slowdown, manufacturing has been hardest hit, because it's most closely tied to global trade. Spending on services -- everything from eating out to health care -- has held up well and has kept unemployment low. Should this change, the lackluster global economy would take a turn for the worst.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Warren had a good zinger on gay marriage. It was bad politics.

By ruth marcus
Warren had a good zinger on gay marriage. It was bad politics.



(For Marcus clients only)


EDITORS -- You are welcome to publish this Ruth Marcus column at no charge. Effective Nov. 1, columns by Marcus will be available for print publication only.

WASHINGTON -- Elizabeth Warren had a good line, a zinger, deftly delivered.

How would she respond, Warren was asked at CNN's forum on LGBTQ issues, to a voter who told her, "I'm old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman"?

The Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate couldn't resist the opportunity for a double dig. "Well, I'm going to assume it's a guy who said that," she began, giving the audience the chance to snicker along about the evident cluelessness of the male gender. "And I'm going to say, 'Then just marry one woman -- I'm cool with that.'"

Warren shrugged, as if to say, no biggie, live and let live. The audience whooped with delight. Warren shrugged again. Then she went in for the easy kill. "Assuming," she said, "you can find one." She turned, clapped along with the audience, nodded in evident satisfaction, put palms up as if to say, what is wrong with people who just don't get it?

It is tempting to ask: What is wrong with Elizabeth Warren? This was a satisfying moment, an undoubted crowd-pleaser that, as the Warren campaign exulted, had generated more than 12 million views on Twitter by the following afternoon. But it was a mistake that evoked missteps of Democratic campaigns past -- a dismissiveness that Warren and her fellow candidates would do well to avoid.

This is bad politics, which may be the strongest immediate argument for shifting course, yet it is something worse than that. It reflects an attitude of intolerance and disrespect toward people of faith. Those who reasonably expect tolerance and respect should think about the importance of practicing what they preach.

On the issue of equal rights for LGBTQ Americans, the country has been on an exhilarating journey of understanding and acceptance, one that reflects the best of the national charter and, more important, the national character. As a legal matter, we have progressed from a Supreme Court that in 1986 declared that it did not offend the Constitution to prosecute two men for having sex in private to a court that in 2015 found that the same Constitution in fact guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage. The court was correct the second time around.

More gratifying, the country has not resisted this legal transformation -- it has embraced it. Dissenting in the marriage equality case, Chief Justice John Roberts warned of a backlash. "Stealing this issue from the people," he wrote, "will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept." That was incorrect. A solid majority of Americans -- 61%, according to the Pew Research Center -- support the freedom to marry, including close to half -- 44% -- of Republicans. To the extent there is opposition, it is, literally, dying off: 74% of millennials favor same-sex marriage.

But, but, but. Major religions, including the Catholic Church, continue to teach that homosexual conduct is immoral and to oppose same-sex marriage. That is their right -- their constitutionally protected right. Thankfully, we live in a country that both guarantees the right to marry the person you love -- and protects your right to be wrong about whether that marriage should be permitted. In the years ahead, the country and the courts face the difficult task of sorting through how to balance those competing imperatives.

As that enterprise proceeds, it is important that it be conducted with the respect that Warren failed to display.

Most immediately, this dismissive attitude is politically dangerous. In the short term, Warren's seeming intolerance toward those whose faith rejects same-sex marriage could hurt her with African American voters. In the general election, her comments carried unsettling echoes of Democratic missteps past: Barack Obama on dispirited working-class voters who "cling to guns or religion"; Hillary Clinton lumping Trump supporters into a "basket of deplorables." Intolerant condescension is rarely a winning political strategy.

It's also just bad behavior. Disagree, vehemently; don't disrespect. Tell the imaginary questioner -- and the millions of Americans who share his conviction -- that you believe his view is misguided, intolerant, insulting. Explain why. Don't denigrate his faith, or suggest that following it makes him a loser.

"My faith animates all that I do," Warren, a former Sunday school teacher, said earlier this year. I believe that, which means I believe that Warren, when she thinks it over, will do a better job of respecting those whose faith animates them in a different direction. Jesus loves all the children of the world, as she sang at the CNN forum. Even the ones who are wrong.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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