I’ve leaned toward Elizabeth Warren for most of the current primary campaign. Almost exactly a year ago, I placed her at the top of my preliminary candidate rankings. I cheered her on (and gave her a modest amount of money) as she ascended to near-front-runner status, driven not just by her famous “plans” but by her laser-like focus on political corruption and inequality. She had an infectious, “happy warrior” vibe, totally unafraid to skewer the powerful and well-connected. She seemed, to my mind, ideally poised to bring together mainstream liberals who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and left-wing fans of Bernie Sanders’ populist message.
But of course that didn’t happen.
There have been many autopsies of her candidacy’s slow descent, culminating in a series of third-, fourth-, or fifth-place finishes in the early primary contests, and I’m sure there’ll be many more. Some have argued that the “lane” for a candidate between Sanders on the left and more moderate candidates like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar on the right simply didn’t exist. She also seems to have appealed disproportionately to professional-class whites and didn’t do nearly well enough with working-class voters and African Americans, among other key groups. At times she struggled to find her footing on issues like Medicare for all. And, maybe most crucially given the mood of Democratic voters this year, she was perceived, fairly or not, as less likely to beat Donald Trump than some of her competitors.
And of course there’s the role of sexism and the question of whether Democrats were too gun-shy to nominate a woman after Clinton’s humiliating loss to Trump. Whatever mistakes Warren and her campaign made, it’s impossible not to notice that some of the men in the race have recovered from worse. Then again, nobody ever said politics is fair, and your qualifications and the merits of your policies don’t count for much if you can’t persuade people to vote for you.
Whatever the limitations of Warren as a candidate, though, she genuinely came across as a highly intelligent, committed and compassionate woman who was sincerely fighting to advance the interests of ordinary Americans ill-served by our existing political and economic systems. (Allowing for the fact that every politician is almost certainly ego-driven to some extent.) She was the most interesting thinker in the race, but her nerd-chic wonkiness and policy expertise were wedded to an appealing vision of what America could become if we took its promises of liberty and justice for all seriously. Her vision is about dismantling the structural barriers and inequities that keep people from realizing their God-given capabilities and participating as free and equal citizens in a democratic republic. The religious inspiration of this vision is indicated by her frequent invocation of Matthew 25 and its promise that our fealty to the Lord will be tested by how we treat “the least of these.”
Whether Warren ends up serving in a Sanders or Biden administration, or continuing her work in the Senate, I hope she’ll be around for years to come, fighting to make her vision a reality.