Will Warren Win?
Elizabeth Warren speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People, Las Vegas. Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Flicker (cc)
The big story of the campaign so far has been the ascent of Elizabeth Warren. A reluctant and somewhat shaky candidate in 2012 when she was persuaded to run for Senate—she became the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts—Warren has transformed herself. She’s smart and exudes energy and gets to the point. She’s fast on her feet. For me, the moment that most captures what is best about her came in the late July debate, when the moderate former congressman John Delaney chastised her: “Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises. When we run on things that are workable, not fairy tale economics.” Warren’s quick riposte: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
Her numerous plans for regulating the finance industry, breaking up tech monopolies, and other matters have won her much press attention, and they are popular with the Democratic base. But I think that what many people like about Warren is the complete absence in her self-presentation of the usual Democratic caution. For thirty-plus years, Democrats have been careful not to be too this or too that: too liberal, too aggressive, too angry at the “malefactors of great wealth,” to use Teddy Roosevelt’s famous phrase. Warren is utterly incautious about such matters, and about describing and denouncing this malignant form of capitalism we’ve been living with for forty years. Bernie Sanders does that too, of course, but while Sanders usually seems to be lecturing—basically his only emotional gear—Warren comes off more as someone who is jousting and enjoying it.
Warren has stolen much of Sanders’s thunder, but he is not to be discounted. His heart attack in early October seems, if anything, to have rallied his supporters around him. The words “heart attack” make for a scary headline, and it led some observers to write him off, but as was pointed out in news stories explaining what it means to have two stents inserted into one’s pulmonary arteries, it’s quite common for the patient to feel better almost immediately. He came out the following week and delivered what is generally regarded as his best debate performance so far, and then he held an event in Queens at which Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed him in front of a staggering 26,000 people.
Still, Sanders’s campaign does seem to be suffering from the fact that voters seeking an anti-establishment candidate have more choices this time than last.