Editor’s Note: this is Part III of GTFUP.org’s breakdown of the 2020 Democratic candidates.
If you’re new to this blog, I’m wordy. Deal with it.
Also, my outlook on this American Crisis is less than rosy. Deal with it. And if you feel similarly, vote Liz.
It was always my goal to get this piece published before Iowa. But woe is the existence of a part-part-part-time blogger: life intervened, more than once, and then the madness and inanity of the past week took hold, and the wise and salient ideas I had last Sunday seemed outdated by Wednesday.
But the delay has given me the chance to ruminate just a little more on why I am so proud to support Elizabeth Warren, and why I am so convinced that – even though no one knows jack shit about what the coming year might hold – she is unequivocally the right choice for Democrats, and for America, in this extraordinary and fraught moment.
I’ve written thousands of words on the other candidates, trying to be clear-eyed about what I see as very real concerns about some, but also working hard to adhere to my advice that – even for the folks who I don’t like (or the folks you don’t like) – there is a lot of good to latch on to, if that person becomes the nominee.
But as I’ve delayed hitting publish on this piece, a helluva lot has happened.
Iowa will be largely forgotten in a few days, but in the short term, it was not a good moment for the Dems. And watching the Media melt down over a minor snafu – and butcher the primary coverage in a rush to create drama – was a reminder that they have not learned any lessons from 2016, or from the past three years of Trumpism.
All of this was magnified, of course, by its split-screen with the past week in Trumpism: a next-level-disturbing SOTU, the gutless GOP acquittal in the Senate, and the President repeatedly flaunting his lawlessness, to devastating ends, on his Impeachment Revenge Tour.
All told, the past week was as stark and deflating a harbinger of things to come in our budding American autocracy as I can remember.
And in thinking about the Democratic primary, the past week made it laughingly clear how truly silly we’ve been to fixate on abstract ideas of “electability,” on tenuous notions that winning in 2020 is as simple as nominating a candidate who “checks the right boxes.” We’re carrying on like the 2020 Election will be fought on a field of battle that looks something like America, circa 2015. That is, frankly, absurd.
The real field of battle is going to involve a lawless President, a fully-complicit Republican Party, and the darkest imaginable forces – foreign and domestic – doing everything they can to break America as we know it. Donald Trump is going to shatter America’s political norms, our most basic notions of who we are, hundreds of times in the next 10 months, and his billion dollar disinformation machine is going to be working overtime to make Americans ask themselves, every day, “what the actual hell is going on?”
In the face of all of that, I promise you, a candidate’s policy portfolio – whether they are “just right” to lure centrists and republicans, or “progressive enough” to bring the elusive white working class into the tent – is going to mean absolutely nothing.
In the face of all that, the most important question we should be asking ourselves is, in the face of the storm to come, who do we want to be our leader?
In 2016, with Barack Obama in the White House, that was a question we didn’t really have to grapple with.
But headed into 2020, there is a massive leadership vacuum when it comes to the Resistance to Trumpism. When the President does something terrible, we don’t have – and haven’t had for the entirety of his presidency – a single voice who speaks for all of us, whose job it is to respond, to provide a clear, moral contrast, and to rally the country around defeating this madness.
By choosing a Democratic nominee, we are choosing that voice, that leader.
And for my money, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the obvious choice. For my money, there is no one in this field more equipped to be our leader, to be our voice, to be the face of Resistance in the very scary months to come, than Elizabeth Warren.
I believe this because Elizabeth is, in so many ways, the anti-Donald Trump: fixated on helping the little guy, proudly open-minded and inclusive, selfless, loving, fundamentally decent – and a courageous, badass woman to boot.
I believe this because Warren has lived the American experience – a hardscrabble, heartland childhood; pulling herself up by her bootstraps as a single mom; rising, thanks to her own fierce intelligence and grit, to incredible heights – in ways that no national political candidate (other than Barack Obama) has in my lifetime.
I believe this because Warren has built her campaign around attacking corruption head on, and offering a positive, compelling new deal to the Americans who have borne the brunt of that corruption.
I believe this because Warren has, over and over again, been the candidate who best understands, and fearlessly takes on – regardless if it will help her politically – our American Crisis.
I believe this because Warren has run a campaign of joy, of hopefulness and courage; because she’s been a happy warrior who refuses to succumb to fear, and because that courage, and outward joy, is going to be essential in the months to come.
And perhaps most importantly, I believe that Elizabeth Warren is the best choice to be our leader in the coming storm, because – in an Election where the Trumpists’ strategy relies on burying Americans in lies, on causing us to lose our grasp on what the hell is going on – she is an extraordinary teacher.
The President of the United States is going to spend a billion dollars to bury Americans in lies. He’s going to cheat. He’s going to bully the Media, social media outlets, our allies. He’s going to weaponize the U.S. government against Democrats. He may well start a war.
In 2020, the President of the United States is going to do everything in his immense power to shatter our democracy. And if history is any guide, Americans at large are going to be so overwhelmed, so inundated with lies, that many are going to shrug, and just give up trying to understand.
In that environment, respectfully, I don’t think Pete Buttigieg’s bland, poll-tested platitudes are enough to cut through the shitstorm. In that environment, I fear that Bernie doesn’t have many clubs in his bag beyond the standard “billionaih-class” grocery list we’ve been hearing for four years. And while Joe Biden is at his best when he’s speaking plainly and directly about the threat we face, in the face of the daily shitstorm we are careening into, I fear that he is far too prone to muddling that message.
In the environment we’re going to face in 2020 – when Americans can’t say with any certainty what the hell is going on – give me the teacher.
Give me the person who’s been consistently ahead of the curve in understanding the reality of Trump’s corruption, and who has the ability to teach the American people in real time, to help us all understand that: THIS is what he’s doing; this is why it’s BAD for America; this is why it should matter to YOU.
Elizabeth Warren is a skilled politician, a genuinely decent human being, and the toughest political fighter this country has seen since Ted Kennedy. But more than anything, she’s a teacher.
And in a world where the sitting President is doing everything he can to hack our brains, to fracture America’s psyche, I’m looking for a leader who will do everything she can to build us back up again.
How Liz Might Fare in 2020
Downside: In assessing the 2020 Democratic candidates, I’ve tried to be open-minded, counter-balancing the negatives I see in certain candidates with positives, and doing the reverse with the folks who I am most enthusiastic about.
With Elizabeth Warren, my outlook is overwhelmingly positive, but I want to be frank – with myself, more than anything – about the reality that no one knows anything, and that there certainly are reasons to be skeptical about her candidacy.
First, as has been discussed quite a bit these past few months, I understand the concern about whether Liz (or Amy) would face the same types of structural misogyny that Hillary Clinton faced. As I said with regards to Amy Klobuchar, I think that’s wrong-headed, and there is no question in my mind that the two prominent, brilliant, women in this race are the best equipped to both win in 2020, and to serve as President in this dangerous national moment.
But I do think that electing a woman as President is going to require us to rethink our notions of what a compelling politician looks like.
Elizabeth Warren speaks and connects with voters in a way that – while she is tougher and shrewder, in my humble opinion, than any man in this race – is decidedly not masculine. Liz is at her best when she’s campaigning as a teacher – open-minded, probing, eager to pull us towards the light – mixed with a maternal lovingness that’s all about hopeful reassurance (“we can do this!”).
This works; it connects with voters on a powerful, visceral level; it is very good politics. It just doesn’t look like any of the politicians (including most prominent female politicians) we’ve seen on the national stage before.
And if we’re going to elect the best person for the immense job ahead (i.e. Amy or Liz), we’re going to have to push back on the lazy predispositions that tend to attach themselves to powerful women leaders.
Take the “elitism” charge. There have been male candidates painted as hoity toity, out-of-touch elitists before (here’s lookin’ at you, John Kerry!), but female candidates at every level enter the race having to overcome that type of stereotype.
Elizabeth Warren – a brilliant Harvard Law Professor from (gasp!) Massachusetts – has already faced plenty of that, and I’m sure the “elitist” tag will be a big part of Republican attacks in a general election.
But I can’t reconcile the “elitist” charge with the reality of Elizabeth Warren’s actual biography, which is anything but elitist. No one in this race – not Joe Biden, not Pete Buttigieg, not Bernie Sanders, not Amy Klobuchar, and certainly not Donald Trump – has a “bootstraps” story like Elizabeth Warren’s.
I’ve got a lot of worries and fears about the state of America’s national psyche, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine Americans writ large convincing themselves, in 2020,that Donald Trump is the “man of the people,” and that the “elitist” is this lady:
Second, I am under no illusions about the reality that Elizabeth Warren finds herself third in this race – after surging in the summer – because many primary voters were convinced, during the fall, that she is simply too liberal to be “electable.”
This frustrates me for about 11,003 reasons – not least of all that the two putative “frontrunners” at this moment have been woefully unexamined in terms of their serious vulnerabilities when it comes to “electability” – but I can’t deny that the attacks during the “pile on Liz” period this past fall were effective.
The test for Elizabeth Warren now is whether she can claw her way back to the big-tent, unity campaign she was successfully building in the summer of 2019, and I am the first to acknowledge that that seems, at this moment, like a tall order.
But if Elizabeth Warren does become the nominee, she will have done so by overcoming the Bernie Sanders campaign – by being, as a staunch capitalist, the less-radical alternative to socialism – and by uniting broad swaths of the Democratic Party.
Frankly, it’s not clear to me at all that the “too liberal” beef is an actual criticism from Dem voters, or simply part of the “electability” mania. Because the reality is that the most radical ideas Elizabeth Warren has – attacking rampant corruption, addressing the wealth gap and improving opportunities – are hugely popular across all political spectrums, and if America will take two beats to listen (a big “if”), she’s very good at explaining those ideas.
Her speech the night of the Iowa caucuses was characteristically overlooked, but it is a tremendous example of the way Elizabeth Warren seamlessly connects her big, bold policies with the hopes and fears of Americans across the political spectrum, and demonstrates just how anathema Donald Trump is to those “real American values”:
To that end, with regards to the “too liberal” charge, Elizabeth Warren has shown an idealogical flexibility – a willingness to entertain new ideas, and admit faults – that is unmatched in this race.
During the “pile on Warren” phase of the primary, she took an extraordinary amount of fire on Medicare-for-All, and she responded not with defensiveness or sleight-of-hand (hi, Pete); wishful thinking about an all-healing revolution (sup, Bern?); or aw-shucks obfuscating (oh, Joe!). No, Liz responded to those (mostly) legitimate concerns by re-writing her plan to address them.
The politics of all of this got messy, but the plan that emerged – immediate measures to dramatically reduce costs and expand coverage, followed by a period of building the country up, and preparing for, a smart, careful transition to single-payer – is exactly the kind of ambitious, but politically- and logistically-smart, plan all Democrats should be supporting.
I understand the concern that Elizabeth Warren is “too liberal,” but all of her ideas fall within the normal spectrum of Democratic politics, and they are custom designed to address very real concerns, of very real people. And when she hears a good idea, or is convinced there’s a better way, she has the strength and wisdom to correct course.
I think that’s a brand of liberalism we can sell – especially in contrast to Donald Trump, and especially because, Elizabeth Warren is the best communicator with regards to public policy – and how that policy impacts you and me – that this country has seen in my lifetime.
Upside: There’s an adage in politics that you “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose,” although, to my mind, both the campaign and the governing require a potent mixture of both poetry and prose.
Barack Obama, my political hero, is the best political poet I’ve ever seen, bar none. But he often struggled with the prose piece, with explaining the nitty gritty of policies, and how they impact people in the real world.
This was true with the messaging on the ACA: it was a very good law on a thousand fronts, but we got buried in the messaging war.
And in 2012, Barack’s big “gaffe” was when he muddled the message a bit on economic policy, and Republicans immediately printed 11 million signs saying “Yes Obama, I DID build that!” Of course, the message Barack was trying to convey with that “gaffe” was borrowed directly from his ally, Elizabeth Warren, who had expertly made the case for the reality that we’re all in this together, earlier that same year.
One of the main reasons I am so confident of Elizabeth Warren’s ability to win in 2020 is that, while she certainly has poetry in her toolbox, she is the best political prose communicator I’ve seen in my lifetime. Her ability to persuasively link big policy ideas with the everyday lives of voters, to explain why an issue matters, and what we can do about it, is a rare gift. And it’s a gift that, in the hands of a presidential candidate – not to mention a president – could be extraordinarily powerful.
We saw this with the 2 percent wealth tax, which propelled the early success of the Warren campaign: where lesser political communicators might get bogged down in a class warfare type argument, Warren presents the idea as a perfectly reasonable, even intuitive (“does anyone here own a home? There, you’re already paying a wealth tax!”).
The great political victory of the Republican far-right over the past 30 years has been convincing Americans that their political choices don’t matter. Too many Americans believe that politics is a silly, meaningless game, and their ambivalence has allowed the far-right to seize power in countless dramatic and undemocratic ways.
To counteract that, I believe we need a candidate in 2020 who can effectively make the case for how politics can impact every single American’s life, in a positive way. Given Elizabeth Warren’s skill as a communicator of policy ideas – and the fact that her vaunted “wall of plans” are built to be both good policy, and good politics – I believe she is uniquely capable of making that case.
And, as discussed at the start of this missive, I believe Elizabeth Warren’s knack for political prose will prove essential in the fight against Donald Trump, especially when the shit really starts flying.
Worried that “it’s the economy stupid,” and that the Dow Jones – and a whole raft of lies – is going to carry Donald Trump to victory? You should be. It’s going to take some real elbow grease – and some expert political prose – to explain to a nation of 300 million overwhelmed souls that the “Trump Economy” is bullshit.
But thankfully, Elizabeth Warren has exactly the chops we need there. She’s exceptionally good at making the case that, once you get past the surface-level signposts (stock market, mixed jobs numbers), there’s still a helluva lot more to be done to build opportunities for everyday Americans. Indeed, I believe she is better equipped to make that case to the American people than anyone else in this race.
Beyond her significant political skills, I believe that Elizabeth Warren is best equipped among the other candidates to both rebuild, and then build upon, the Obama coalition.
I lean in favor of the Reconfiguration theory of politics (as opposed to Moderation), and I think Liz has a message – a “here’s what Dems will do for you” approach similar to Bernie’s – that will resonate with the elusive “white working class voter,” and bring new voters into the tent.
I also believe Elizabeth can reach the old-school Democrats who were so put off by Bernie in 2016 (myself included!), and speak directly to, without scaring away, the well-educated, suddenly activated, suburbanites who have shifted dramatically in the Dems’ favor these past few years.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has impressed me, again and again, with the amount of work and intellectual vigor she puts in to understanding and prioritizing the very real needs and fears of the communities – people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women – who have the most to fear from Trumpism.
And while Liz will face the same challenge as every candidate not named Bernie in terms of winning over the angriest fringe elements of the Sanders base, I sincerely hope that, if she is the nominee, those folks will recognize a boon for progressive politics and channel their energy in a positive way.
Finally, I believe Elizabeth Warren will be an exceptional candidate in the 2020 Election because of her potent mixture of joy, and courage.
The endless “selfie line” has been mocked by some, written off as “inauthentic,” but you don’t spend that much time with voters – you don’t give yourself to voters in that way – if you don’t authentically enjoy it.
Elizabeth Warren is a happy warrior. Her campaign has been, from day one, committed to inclusiveness, to welcoming everyone in to the party, and I think that would be a potent counter-message to Trumpism.
And that joyfulness – that lifting up of the America that can be – will be all the more powerful when coupled with Elizabeth Warren’s message of courage, in the face of whatever Trumpism has in store for us over the next eleven months.
This past week has been a sobering reminder that there will be days and weeks ahead that will be utterly deflating, moments when the evil of the assholes in power is too overwhelming, or when it feels like Americans might just buy what the lifelong con-man is selling, or both.
Elizabeth Warren has been the one voice, through all of this, telling us that we cannot afford to be governed by fear, that we need courage in dark times like these.
That’s what I want in my Democratic candidate; that’s what I want in my President.
What “President Warren” Might Look Like
I think Elizabeth Warren would be an exceptional president, but if we learned anything from Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s that even the finest presidents face unexpected backlash and pratfalls.
If I worry that Liz might fall into the Hillary trap on the campaign trail – dogged by systemic misogyny, held to absurdly higher standards than her opponents – I fear she could face the same types of challenges Obama faced in his presidency.
Like Barack, Elizabeth Warren has a big, brilliant mind, and an honest-to-God decency, that can be a little much for the well-meaning cynics, or outright assholes, of the world.
It may be projection – my love for Barack shining through – but I believe that Obama’s obvious intelligence, his deep, abiding morality, worked against him, especially early in his presidency. Those traits, in the body of an “other,” became something that many resented, rather than admired. And I believe that helped fuel the most virulent opposition to Obama.
I could see the same deeply unfair resentments being a problem for President Warren. Any Democratic President will face insane obstruction by the fully Trumpified GOP, but it is not hard to imagine the resistance to President Warren – brilliant, decent, and a woman – being especially fevered and hostile.
But one of the things I admire most about Elizabeth Warren is her willingness to fight, ferociously and tirelessly, for what she believes in, no matter how unfair or strident the opposition is.
In the fall of 2019 – when Warren was surging in the polls and there was a concerted effort to drag her back down to earth – Politico published a story about her many battles with the Obama White House, especially in the development of the CFPB.
The clear intent of the story was to rattle Obama-loving Dems, and the headline alone might have done that. But for me, the story was what turned me irrevocably into a Liz Lad.
It describes Liz striding into the corridors of power, utterly confident and ready to fight, taking on some immensely powerful people, and winning. The central friction was between Liz and Tim Geithner, and on virtually every issue they fought about, time has proven Liz correct.
And while the article strained to play up the friction between Barack and Liz, I was struck by the fact that of all the talented people in Obama’s White House, only Elizabeth Warren seemed to have the intellect, and the backbone, to stand toe to toe with the greatest President of my lifetime. And to be honest, knowing what a smart and open-minded guy he is, I’m pretty sure Barack agrees.
So while I have no doubt that President Warren would face stunning backlash from the far-right nationalist hoards – not to mention massive business interests – I’m comforted by the fact that she has the courage to fight back.
And forgive me if I think that a joyful, brilliant, “President Aunt Betsy,” fighting like mad for the little guy, is something that Americans can actually rally around.
With regards to policy, Elizabeth Warren will be the most liberal president since FDR. And while that excites me, there are plenty of policy areas in which I either outright disagree with Liz, or favor a more incremental approach.
But what excites me most about a Warren presidency is that she combines the best qualities of the other accomplished candidates in the race. Her “wall of plans” is a mixture of the boldness and ambitions of Bernie; the scalpel-like attention to addressing real problems of Amy; and the genuine, heartfelt fealty to the working man of Joe.
In that regard, I would expect a Warren presidency to be similar to Obama’s: a focus on seeking progress wherever and however possible, without worrying about making a political splash. Indeed, I love Liz because, much like Barack, she has repeatedly shown the ability to keep an open mind, to compromise, to sacrifice her own ambitions and glory in the interest of progress.
With regards to our biggest crises, I would expect a President Warren to wear her vocal chords ragged rallying America around real climate change legislation.
And although I personally admire Liz’s incremental approach to Medicare for All, I don’t think she’ll shy away from pushing that issue. It is an issue America is ripe for, and it excites me to think about the ways Teacher-In-Chief might advance the ball.
Meanwhile, income inequality is a real crisis in America, and President Warren would make it a priority, taking real, lasting steps – through reasoned taxation on the uber-wealthy, and smart, targeted social policy – to address that crisis head on.
There has been a lot of caterwauling about the risk a Warren presidency might create for “the economy.” But I think it’s important to remember that in a functional democracy, no president wants to risk a negative economy, and President Warren will be no different.
And I take comfort in knowing both that Elizabeth Warren is a staunch capitalist, and that she would probably be the most well-versed president, when it comes to the workings of the economy, in modern history.
No, Liz is decidedly not a Wall Street bro, but she’s spent the bulk of her adult life studying the economy from the perspective of everyday American consumers. Given that everyday American consumers are propping up Wall Street at this moment, I think that’s probably a good thing?
Finally, I am confident that a President Elizabeth Warren will be best equipped to strike the balance between aggressive reconstruction, and full-hearted reconciliation, that America will so badly need in the aftermath of Trumpism.
It is impossible to overstate just how much damage Donald Trump has done, and it’s going to take a level of unprecedented political ambition from Democrats to repair the fault lines in our democracy, to address our newly-corrupted judiciary, to rebuild what’s left of the liberal world order, to fully defeat the ugliest remnants Trumpism. Elizabeth Warren has been the most clear-eyed candidate with regards to Trumpism from the start, and I have utmost confidence that she will not allow herself to be distracted from the work that needs to be done to rebuild America.
But for all of her big ambitions, Elizabeth Warren’s clear-eyes with regards to what ails America would serve her well, as President, in healing America.
To be clear, this does not involve a return to the pre-Trump status quo, a politics where Republicans broke every rule, tapped into ugly hatred, and laid the groundwork for autocracy. But God willing, there will be an opportunity, post-Trump, to restore a level of mutual respect, and mutual forbearance to American politics – to allow Republicans a chance to step back from their radical-right partisan brinkmanship that has gotten worse and worse over the past 30 years.
Elizabeth Warren is a fighter, a passionate progressive, but she’s also fundamentally decent, smart as hell, and a patriot. When those opportunities to heal America present themselves, I have no doubt she’ll always put the long-term good of the country first.
As a final note, there have been many voices on the “left” over the past four years who attack and demean anyone who says they would like to see a female President.
“You shouldn’t vote for someone, just because she’s a woman,” we’re told.
First, fuck those people. If any of the leading male candidates could come close to matching Elizabeth Warren’s immense intellect, her political chops, her selflessness, her extraordinary grit and courage, and clear-eyed understanding of what America is up against, I’d be glad to consider endorsing them too!
But it is patently insane that America has never elected a woman president, and it’s reflective of a lurching, ugly patriarchy that needs to end, if we truly believe in equality.
I am a white man; my understanding of race in America comes from a place of privilege, and is constantly evolving. And there are a thousand things about Barack Obama and his presidency that make me incredibly proud.
But somewhere near the top of that list is this:
And when I think about a President Elizabeth Warren, I have the same pride, thinking about the thousands of little girls with whom she’s done her “pinky promise.”
We live in an age where women in America are exceeding men in every metric, and where a certain sector of the patriarchy’s response to that reality (primarily in the form of Trumpism) is increasingly ugly and violent, and likely to get worse.
Just like our ongoing battle against racism, we’ve got a long way to go in the fight against sexism and misogyny, a long way to go before the absurdly unfair double-standards we set up for women are a thing of the past. And there’s going to be a whole lot of shit before that day comes.
So until then, forgive me if I can’t take a little joy in imagining a world in which our President can do this: