Senator Elizabeth Warren is running the most fearless campaign of this still-nascent presidential season.
She was the first Democratic candidate to call for impeachment hearings against the president. In this post-Mueller report era, that also puts her ahead of skittish House Democratic leaders. Warren has offered a detailed plan to cancel billions in outstanding student loan debt and make public colleges free. Her proposal also calls for at least $50 billion in funding for historically black colleges and universities, some of which are struggling to survive.
At her recent CNN town hall, Warren was clear about the anti-competitive antics of Big Tech behemoths like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and forceful about why she believes they should be broken up.
Warren’s is a campaign of substance, yet what’s most remarkable here is what isn’t remarkable at all. In a recent University of New Hampshire poll, the Massachusetts senator is stuck in single digits and is trailing the current frontrunner by 25 percentage points.
Allow me to state the obvious: if Warren were a white man, she’d likely be surging past her competition vying for the Democratic nomination.
In a recent Vox interview, author and philosopher Kate Manne said, “People always say they want substance, but when it’s a woman bringing it, it seems unexciting. My worry is electability is a smokescreen for this sadly common thing, which is not wanting to support a female candidate. It seems to me that the ‘she’s not electable’ excuse could be just that, an excuse.”
Hours after Warren shared details about her proposals during her town hall, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked one of her male opponents why his website doesn’t even have a policy section. After some hemming and hawing, he said, “I also think it’s important that we not drown people in minutiae before we’ve vindicated the values that animate our policies.” Wut?
To borrow a line from HBO’s political comedy “Veep,” that’s just “noise-shaped air.” Policy details are not minutiae, and any candidate who believes so is already in over his head. Oh, and that same contender is leading Warren by 10 points.
This reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s first presidential debate when NBC’s Chuck Todd said she was, at times, “overprepared,” and that her opening statement “must have had 15 policy proposals” in two minutes.” It also happens to people of color. President Obama spoke of being chided as “too analytical” and “Spock-like,” referring to the logical and unemotional “Star Trek” character. Only in women and people of color are intelligence and preparation judged as faults.
Of course, a campaign is a marathon, not a sprint, and Warren’s poll numbers aren’t a reliable indicator of what voters will do when the primaries finally start next year. I don’t doubt that the senator wants to win, but she’s also emphasizing that there’s more at stake here than becoming this nation’s first female president.
That’s the charged message behind her call for the first presidential impeachment hearings in two decades. It’s about more than a president who behaves like an untouchable crime boss. “There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution,” Warren said on CNN, and it sounded like she was addressing members of her own party whose reticence on impeachment feels to me more like cowardice than prudence.
“This is not about politics. This is about principle. This is about what kind of democracy we have,” she said. “In a dictatorship, everything in government revolves around protecting the one person at the center. But not in our democracy, and not under our Constitution. We have checks and balances, and we have to proceed in a way here understanding our place in history. That not only protects democracy now, but protects democracy when the next president comes in, and the next president, and the president after that. That’s our responsibility.”
It’s a responsibility her own party is hesitant to fully embrace. With an election looming, some Democrats believe acrimonious impeachment proceedings could boost the president’s re-election bid. Yet Warren is going out on a limb because she knows it is the right thing to do.
Being an underdog may give Warren an advantage; she feels no need to play it safe. She has called for “a national, full-blown conversation about reparations.” She’s been speaking very directly to African-American voters, the Democrats’ most loyal constituency, but one which has been taken for granted. Warren is not just talking about criminal justice reform, but the racist systems that built and sustain the mass incarceration of people of color. She has the potential to electrify Democrats hungry for a progressive candidate advocating transformative change.
Perhaps Warren’s early stumble, having to apologize for her overstated claim of Native American heritage, was an eye-opener. Her all-thumbs mishandling of a mess she should have cleaned up years earlier may have clarified her need to be straightforward, detailed, and politically fierce.
So ignore the polls and the sexist dog whistle of “electability,” Senator Warren. Continue agitating for accountability, racial justice, and equity. With democracy and the Constitution under attack, this ghastly moment in our nation’s history demands nothing less.