The Mighty Underdog

Elizabeth Warren Should Jump In The Race

Warning: I wouldn’t trust much of what Jonah Goldberg says, but in this case it happens to line up a little bit with my reasoning, so I have no qualms co-opting it for my purposes.

The question I’m asking myself lately is about whether Elizabeth Warren should run in 2016, and it seems many Democrats are asking also. Is the sense of inevitability to Hillary’s 2016 bid destined to unravel just as in 2008 in the face of a populist candidate who better captures the zeitgeist? For that was certainly Obama. When the race began, the establishment was heartily endorsing Hillary seemingly without so much as a look over their shoulder. Obama isn’t even mentioned much; John Edwards seems to be the main threat to Hillary, which seems laughable mostly in hindsight as we now know how scandal-wracked and morally destitute his 2008 campaign (and he in general) was.

I mean, haven’t we seen this before?

“I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness in this — a certain audacity — to this announcement.”

If you could pick between being favored, or being an underdog, you’d take the favor every time, right? Logic certainly says you should. The Vegas oddsmakers aren’t just making up numbers; the house wins for a reason.

Logic has never ruled the human race, and it never will; casinos are still packed with people trying to beat what they know are low mathematical odds, we breathlessly share David and Goliath stories whenever we hear them, because there’s something so romantic about the triumph of the little guy. The great irony often is, simply being the favorite dooms you to bad press and hopes of your failure.
It is with this cruel irony in mind that I say this: were she to run, I think Elizabeth Warren would present a huge challenge for Hillary Clinton – and one that just might sink her. Indeed, prescient voices were saying roughly the same thing back in 2007.

On some level, you have to feel bad for HRC. She’s done everything to be president, checked off every establishment list accomplishment. She has the experience, the cache, the cash (two very different things), the national stature, and the towering assumption that she WILL be the Democratic nominee in 2016. She was first lady, spent time in Congress, and oversaw four years at the State Department, one of the hardest working and more unheralded jobs in government. She’s written books and endured waves of hysteric partisan attacks and thinly veiled sexism (the media reaction to her “crocodile tears” in New Hampshire in ’08 was particularly vile – it seems when seeking political office, women are expected to behave like men).
She’s taken her lumps, survived the controversies. She’s paid her dues. Without a doubt, she is next in line. The problem is, that was also the case in 2008, and politics is an unpredictable business. The same weaknesses that made it so plausible for voters to abandon her for Obama apply if she were to face a strong challenger – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders strike me as the two strongest off the top of my head. But it’s the nature of their strength that makes them, and Warren in particular, well positioned to steal Hillary’s thunder.

Arguably, there are no savvier politicians than the Clintons, and perhaps Hillary shouldn’t be worried about Warren after all. She and Bill have spent over 20 years in the public eye, making big decisions that are both popular and unpopular, facing fierce Republican criticism – basically becoming a by-term to the GOP for everything they hated. Not just about Democrats – this hatred was not only political, it was, and still is, personal. First, Bill stole the election that George H.W. was supposed to waltz to with ease. Then, the economy had the wherewithall to actually prosper under Clinton – unthinkable! Of course, the explosion of growth had deeper roots – the foolish, massive financial deregulation of the Reagan years would yield a boom economy under Clinton that felt and seemed nice at the time, but which we now know was simply a balloon in retrospect. Rising housing prices, second, third mortgages, laws to make it harder for individuals and families to declare bankruptcy (Senator Warren is an expert in this regard, just one of her many advantages in the current sociopolitical climate), all these things had roots in the very early 80’s, when Reagan and the rising neoconservatives decided that an unfettered and free market was a good idea, nevermind that the restricted banking laws put into place post-World War II had yielded a remarkably steady boom in the American middle class. I could easily go into a tangent about how in 1980 we switched from enriching the middle class to enriching the elites at the EXPENSE of the poor and middle class, but that’s another can of worms entirely.

So what could doom Hillary twice, when both times she was (and is) considered a juggernaut frontrunner? Some of it is fair, some of it is not. The Clintons have been enemy #1 for the Republican party since 1991. The sheer amount of overblown and sometimes fabricated scandals and calculated outrage, the gallons of mud slung at her over the years, means that the American public knows her, imagined warts and all. Those attacks, whether right or wrong or somewhere in between, eventually stick to voter’s minds in some degree. They consider her the front runner, but are always eager for David – especially ironic because in 1991-92, the Clintons were the very epitome of David facing off aganist the GOP Goliath.

So, Warren has advantages simply because she’s less known. Her image is untarnished by scandal; by Washington standards, she’s as pure as driven snow. A presidential campaign would obviously open her up to attacks; things from her past would be brought to the public for judgement. But what in her past can really be used against her? She was married young and had a child. She taught at Harvard, pioneered the Consumer Protection Bureau, and won the most expensive Senate race in US history with glowing approval ratings and a rabid fanbase of mostly young people – something that should never be underestimated after what we saw in ’08 and 2012. Without the youth vote, we were staring down the barrel of McCain-Palin and a 100 year war in Iraq (that last one may still come true). So for Warren to generate such passion in the most important part of the base, and the hardest to energize and mobilize, is an enormous advantage. I know I get 12 political fundraising emails a day. I delete them without looking, but if her name is on it, I’m going to read, and if it’s directly related to something she’s doing, I’m much more likely to donate, something the Democratic Party is not unaware of (which is why they are sending more fundraising emails with her name attached).
So, despite Hilary’s huge lead, and actually because of it, she’s uniquely open to a surging, populist candidate occupying the vacuum to her left.

Then again, this could all be a false dichotomy. Are the choices really stark enough for these two to carve out an appreciable niche of differences, and do they even want to? Hillary, sure. Warren, I don’t know. Her latest book, while excellent, doesn’t give the sense of being a primer for a presidential run; quite the contrary.

Still, let’s assume for a moment that this is a choice…otherwise I wrote all this for nothing.

It is a misnomer to label either of the Clintons as strictly liberal, and entirely a mistake to label them progressive. Don’t get me wrong – I like a lot of what they’ve done, and should Hillary be the nominee, I’ll have no real problem voting for her. But the problem I will have, and the problem the Clintons have amongst voters in general, is that they have tried to be everything to everyone. They are moderate in every sense of the word, with Bill passing toothless banking reform that actually hurt the middle class considerably in the long run and wielding executive power in such a way as to pave the way for endless drone warfare. Right or wrong, the next flank or attack on Hillary Clinton – hell, on both of them – is, are they progressive enough? Liberal enough? Are they just survivors of a bygone political age, very much complicit in the Recession?

Warren? She’s a fighter for the middle class, a holder of positions that make people cheer. She wants to help families struggling through the deliberately clumsy rules of bankruptcy that so heavily favor banks, reinstate mandates for lower credit card fees and banking reform from the ground up, re-incentivize the way Wall Street conducts business in the wake of the massive deregulated fun-house of free other-people’s-money they’ve gotten to play with for the past 30+ years. She wants to raise the minimum wage; she’s acutely aware of the problems facing young mothers, and also very distressed by how cripplingly expensive it has become to simply put oneself through college. She’s seen the experience of kids who will, factually, live lesser lives than their parents. Where other people have hardened hearts, she has always wanted to help. She can rightfully cast herself as a Washington outsider, very leery of corporate interests in government, unwilling to bend to lobbyists of any kind, attempting always to take the fight directly to the enemy.

She has freedom that Hillary doesn’t, just as Obama did in 2007, when he could point to Hillary’s vote for the Iraq war and his against it, calling it a “dumb war” – and boy, was he right.

Is Hillary Clinton like, so 1998?

It’s unfair as hell, but the basic problem Hillary has is Clinton fatigue. She’s the big dog, front runner, the Miami Heat, and while everyone praises her game and wouldn’t say it until after the fact, many of them are weirdly desperate for an underdog to come from somewhere to defeat her. Elizabeth Warren’s genuine concern for the poor and middle class, her relatable story, refusal to stick to canned lines and incredible work ethic present perhaps the perfect storm of qualities to convert millions of Clinton supporters to her camp. She’s more in line with today’s political will and desire, she speaks for a vast but quiet majority, she has none of the iciness that plagues Hillary’s media coverage…she’s more, well, millennial.

Should she choose to run, and run the positive and middle class driven campaign I know she would, I think Elizabeth Warren could beat the stuffing out of Hillary Clinton, and I think that, to varying degrees, they are both somewhat aware of that.

It’s going to be an interesting two and a half years.




One thought on “The Mighty Underdog

  1. Kip says:

    The war on women can only be defeated by the war between women. Surely both of these women know that. If they’re as smart as I think they are, they’ll work this out.

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