November 14, 2012
The Carmen Warschaw way
My most telling Carmen Warschaw memory is this: I greeted her at a fancy, crowded event at The Beverly Hills Hotel celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. Soon, a group of her VIPs gathered around Carmen, talking politics and pleasantries. An elegantly dressed man approached. “Well, hello, Carmen,” he said, and extended his hand to her.
Carmen kept her hands at her side.
“Carmen, aren’t you going to greet me?” the man said.
The moment stretched on. The color drained from his face. We were all quiet, and uncomfortable.
“Pardon me,” Carmen said, fixing him in her gaze, her voice direct and clear. “I don’t shake hands with welchers.”
The man stammered an apology. He said it was all a mix-up; that his large pledge to her favorite charity was on its way.
“When I get the check,” Carmen said, “I’ll shake your hand.” She turned back to another conversation.
It’s one thing to say someone calls ’em as she sees them. But when you’re in the presence of someone who really does that, hang on. Carmen Warschaw’s life was a no-spin zone. She had money and beauty and a relentless work ethic, but her greatest power was she knew the difference between reality and fantasy, between the ideal and the real. In Carmen’s world, you pay up or shut up.
Carmen, a woman who spent much of her life at the center of Democratic Party politics — died on Election Day, just three hours before President Barack Obama was declared the winner, but as the predictions were already coming in. I don’t know if that made saying goodbye easier or harder — but I hope it gave her one last, comforting sense of vindication.
Not vindication for her guy over the other guy, but for reality over make-believe.
In her long, rich 95 years, Carmen supported, advised, chastised and strategized with every Democratic pol. As Tom Tugend points out in his obituary of Carmen on page 43, she pioneered women’s political involvement on the state and national level.
What motivated Carmen were her ideals: equality of opportunity, caring for those less fortunate, the power of Israel as a force for good in the world. But what guided her was a very concrete sense of how to manifest those ideals in a world of people that is messy, fallible, self-interested, limited.
She was interested in political fact, not theory. The chair she established at USC focused on the practice of politics in the real world — horse-trading, deal-making, compromise, fundraising and, I imagine, how to collect on pledges.
The last election Carmen witnessed will stand as a monument to her emphasis on reality-based politics.
While the Republicans chose to believe gut feelings, hunches, discredited pollsters and the echo chamber of Fox News, Democrats turned to an army of social scientists and analysts like Nate Silver, the boy genius behind The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog.
Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan confirmed earlier this week that on election night he was genuinely shocked by the results. He had come to believe he and Gov. Mitt Romney would win.
For Silver, belief didn’t enter into it.
“The numbers are the numbers,” Silver said on “The Daily Show.”
If you want to understand why Jews voted in large numbers for the Democrat in this election, it helps to understand why they also turned with such fervor to Nate Silver.
Jews saw Obama as the more reality-based candidate, and the Democrats as the more reality-based party.
As more Republicans spoke out against evolution, against climate change, as if it’s a matter of belief not of fact, against stem cell research and reproductive rights, many Jews who would otherwise be attracted to the conservative movement’s approach to economic and foreign policy issues stayed away.
Jews like science. It’s reality.
You could even say the Republican take on marriage equality and gay rights, on immigration, didn’t match the Jewish view of reality: that however much you might wish people were one way or another, they are who they are. You might wish millions of people didn’t sneak across the border, but they’re here, many of them children who had no choice in the matter.
I’m not saying the Democrats had all the answers to these problems or others, or that Obama was the perfect candidate or that he adhered wholly to the facts. I’m saying that, on balance, the perception grew that this Republican Party, at this time, had veered farther away from science, from common sense, from reality.
It didn’t surprise me at all to wake up the day after the election and read David Brooks, the conservative Jewish columnist for The New York Times, who wrote: “This might be a good time for Republicans to redouble their commitment to the reality-based community.”
The answer for the Republicans is to return to the reality of science and economics. Their future success lies less in Karl Rove, and more in Carmen Warschaw.
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