When I started writing for the Bayou Brief, Lamar told me I could write about whatever struck my fancy. The implicit understanding was that it should have something to do with the Gret Stet of Louisiana, which is a somewhat elastic concept. I’m about to stretch that concept to the breaking point by writing about what’s really on my mind: the departure of Senator Elizabeth Warren from the presidential race. I suppose one could even call me the Rubberband Man…
I have a lifelong affinity for strong and clever women, which is why I begin with a few words about my late mother, Edna Benson Athas. I wrote about her in another context in my holiday column, Now Be Thankful. I’m biased but she was a remarkable woman. She taught me that women could do anything. Among other things, her father was a contractor. As a child. mom would go with him to job sites and learned how to build and fix things, which was unusual for a woman of the “Greatest Generation.” Unfortunately, I take after my father in that regard: I’m so hopelessly unhandy that a drill is a dangerous weapon in my hands. On the other hand, my mom insisted that I become self-reliant by encouraging me to cook, do my own laundry and other household chores. She called it “people’s work, not women’s work.”
My father was a first-generation Greek American raised to believe that a woman’s place was in the home, not fixing it. I recall some clashes when my mom entered the work force; first as a welcome wagon lady, then as a real estate agent. She was good at whatever she did, so there were years where she made more money than my dad. That was a blow to his ego, but he came to accept it and was eventually proud of her success albeit somewhat grudgingly.
That was a long-winded way of saying that, even if I’m a semi-old white dude, I was raised not to have traditional views about women’s role in society. I’ve always been proud of my smart, accomplished, and strong mother. She made me the person I am today, which is why I’m vexed by our country’s ongoing animosity to strong women, especially in the political arena.
That brings me to Senator Professor Elizabeth Warren. I had high hopes when she entered the race. I thought she had the potential to move the country to the left much as Ronald Reagan moved it in the opposite direction in the 1980’s. Here’s what I said while endorsing her candidacy at First Draft:
“Warren checks all the boxes for me. She’s smart, tough, experienced, an excellent speaker, a good retail politician, and, most importantly, she knows *why* she wants to be president and *what* she’ll do if elected. The ability to govern should be higher on the list of things Democrats want from our next nominee.
The Democratic nominee in 2020 must be tough and a fighter. Elizabeth Warren has those qualities as well as an unique ability to explain complex issues in terms that people understand. She’s a Senator who does not speak Senatorese.”
I stand by everything I wrote last June. Warren ran one of the most energetic and inspirational campaigns of my lifetime. She was briefly the frontrunner in the Democratic primary contest until she ran into a wall of sexism and fear. She was also a victim of her own intellectual honesty and academic rigor. While I just used the word victim, Elizabeth Warren never would. She’s a pioneer and pioneers need to be tough and stoical, as she put it after her withdrawal:
“If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ If you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”
Senator Professor Warren is not a whiner, but the sexism was obvious. There were a series of scurrilous pieces in the MSM about Warren’s “likeability” which read like they were cut and pasted from 2016 stories about Hillary Clinton. This media laziness is appalling since Warren has always struck me as a warm person with a disarmingly folksy style for a Harvard Law professor. “Nasty women” don’t make pinky promises to little girls, take thousands of selfies, and hug strangers on the campaign trail. Elizabeth Warren did all that and more.
As a man, I’m reluctant to say that I experienced the same pain that so many women felt when Warren ended her campaign. It was described as a gut punch by a friend of mine who now despairs that we’ll ever have a woman president. I understand such dark feelings, but I’m inclined to agree with the former candidate herself who believes it will happen when it happens. Warren is both an optimist and a realist about sexism. We all thought that we’d never have a black president until we did. Timing is everything in life and politics.
Part of Warren’s appeal is that she’s the woman with a plan. Team Warren churned out dozens of policy proposals as the campaign progressed. The MSM has no interest in policy, they’re all about the horse race and gotcha questions. One gotcha question damaged her campaign. When asked how she’d pay for Medicare For All, Warren replied honestly instead of dodging the question; spending weeks trying to explain a complex policy matter to a press corps only interested in snappy soundbites. None of the other candidates who endorsed the concept of Medicare For All was held to such a rigorous standard. Warren believed she owed the public an explanation. While I wish she had finessed the question, I respect her honesty and intellectual rigor.
Fear played an important role in the failure of the Warren campaign. Some Democrats seem to believe that Donald Trump’s victory was almost supernatural instead of a fluke produced by Russian interference and the vagaries of the electoral college. They’ve convinced themselves that a woman cannot defeat President* Pennywise in 2020. I vehemently disagree but I only have one vote, which I will still cast for Elizabeth Warren in the Louisiana primary on April 4th even if it I have to write it in. [The primary has been delayed until June, 20th because of the COVID-19 crisis.]
Some were afraid of Warren’s ideas. Charlie Pierce summed it up quite well:
“Instead, and accepting that sexism and misogyny were marbled throughout everything about the campaign, I think what did her in was her ideas. She committed herself to a campaign specifically to fight political corruption, both the legal and illegal kind. As an adjunct to that, she marshaled her long fight against the power of money in our politics and monopoly in our economy. And, opposed to Bernie Sanders, whose answer to how to wage the fight is always the power of his “movement,” which so far hasn’t been able to break through against Joe Biden, she put out detailed plans on how to do it. That made her much more of a threat to the money power than Sanders, who is easily dismissed as a fringe socialist by the people who buy elections and own the country.”
Democratic voters seem to have opted for the comfort food served up by the former Veep instead of Warren’s detailed policy prescriptions. I get it: people are tired of waking up to the latest idiocy, outrage, and scandal perpetrated by the Impeached Insult Comedian and his henchmen. They want to be proud of their president again. I share that sentiment, but I wish Elizabeth Warren could be that president. As the old saying goes, “wishin’ ain’t gettin’.”
It’s hard out there for smart, strong, and accomplished women. In politics, they’re expected to be perfect. We experienced that in Louisiana in 2014 with Senator Mary Landrieu’s failed attempt to win a fourth term. She wasn’t perfect so many on the left sat on their hands or damned her with faint praise instead of helping to keep her in office. It *was* a Republican year but we wound up stuck with non-entity Double Bill Cassidy as our senator instead of an independent voice. Better a Blue Dog than an empty suit.
As I sat down to write about Senator Professor Warren, I thought of my former Congresswoman, Lindy Boggs. She succeeded her husband Hale in Congress but carved out a unique role for herself in 9 terms in the House. Despite their stylistic differences, Lindy Boggs and Elizabeth Warren had something important in common: they both fought for women’s economic rights. In 1974, Boggs was instrumental in banning gender and marital status discrimination in lending and credit; work that has been cited by Elizabeth Warren.
Lamar can heave a sigh of relief since I was finally able to work Gret Stet politics into this column. I know he shares my affection for and admiration of Elizabeth Warren so it would have been okay in any event.
Whither Warren after leaving the race. Some have suggested that she become Senate Majority Leader, which presupposes a Democratic takeover. I’m uncertain if she’s interested in that job, which is powerful but heavily procedural in nature. Senator Professor Warren is all about substance, not procedure. I think the country would be better served with her as chairperson either of the Banking or HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee. The latter gavel was once wielded by Ted Kennedy whose Senate seat Warren occupies. Kennedy leveraged his failed 1980 presidential candidacy to expand his power in the Senate; becoming known as the Lion of the Senate.
Elizabeth Warren: Lioness of the Senate. I like the sound of that.