I bought an ‘Elizabeth Warren for President 2016’ bumper sticker back in 2013. A professor at Harvard, her speeches on economic populism and a rigged political system were viral sensations (Obama’s “you didn’t build that” blunder in 2012 was an awkward reprisal of her “roads & bridges” speech). In the wake of the Great Recession, and at the behest of President Obama, she created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans blocked her nomination to direct the CFPB, so she defeated conservative darling Scott Brown (along with his prop pickup truck) to replace the deceased Ted Kennedy and become the junior senator from Massachusetts. Senator Warren used hearings and the senate floor to call to task the Wall Street banksters – and bureaucrats supposedly regulating them – for their actions and reactions surrounding the crash.
It wasn’t long before the term ‘Warren Wing of the Democratic Party’ was embraced by progressives sick of establishment liberals with their triangulation and neoliberalism. She was destined to fulfill the promise in which Barack Obama seemed uninterested (and that Howard Dean had arrghed away before). Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Professor, had become a political rock star. And I bought a bumper sticker.
Then, in a secret December ’14 meeting, Elizabeth Warren reportedly agreed not to run for president on the promise that Hillary Clinton would… pretend. To be more liberal? To give voice to progressive concerns during the primary? To name Warren veep, perhaps? I certainly hope Hillary didn’t promise to break up the Big Banks or reinstate Glass-Steagal…
It was a shrewd move by the Secretary, to remove the biggest perceived threat from the competition – with the added bonus of whittling down the (real or perceived) backbone of progressives’ foremost political crush.
Bernie Sanders never intended to run for President of the United States. He held out, waiting for someone, anyone to step forward and challenge Hillary from the left. Al Gore, maybe; perhaps Brian Sandoval; especially Elizabeth Warren. Instead, were conservative Jim Webb, goofy Lincoln Chaffey, blow-dried Martin O’Malley, and shunned Lawrence Lessig.
Hillary Clinton was the front-runner of front-runners. A shoe-in for the nomination. And yet, a septuagenarian socialist Jew who wears Men’s Warehouse suits and doesn’t seem to own a comb managed to pull even in national polls and win 22 states. Of those states, Massachusetts was not one. Had an extremely popular and progressive senator from the state endorsed the extremely popular and progressive senator running for president…
To be fair, Hillary Clinton has long been known to keep an intraparty enemies list, replete with a rating system and payback rendered. No one – including Senator Sanders – expected Bernie to seriously challenge the Clinton machine. He was simply supposed to drag Hillary a bit to the left while giving a voice to progressive values on a national stage. Fellow progressives had to make the political calculus whether supporting the progressive candidate, in what they assumed to be a losing effort, was worth inducing sure Clintonian wrath. Few had the courage.
A year ago, this was a fairly valid justification. After Iowa and New Hampshire, when it had become clear that Bernie was a serious and viable candidate, that calculation should’ve changed. Perhaps Elizabeth Warren had already promised not to challenge Hillary’s breaking of America’s highest glass ceiling. Maybe her hands were tied and she couldn’t endorse Bernie (or agree to be his running mate). But then, by endorsing the physical embodiment of the establishment in Hillary Clinton, before the convention in Philly, and after standing on the sidelines early on when it seemed to matter most…
For progressives like me – people who never identified as democrats, yet embraced the ‘Warren Wing’ – the worry is Howard Dean (who had said that the stale politics of old was driving away young voters – before morphing into a highly paid influence peddler and super-delegate). The worry is Barney Frank & Barack Obama – folks who sounded as if they were genuine progressives, but wound up disappointing, either for monetary interests or for political expediency.
Another huge concern for Elizabeth Warren faithful should be Mario Cuomo & Chris Christie – folks who likely would’ve become president had they seized their respective moments. Elizabeth Warren has been seen as Bernie Sanders minus the schlubbery and the label of socialist. The people – both conservatives and liberals – are sick of the establishment. Hillary Clinton is a weak and flawed candidate. Donald Trump is a fascist nightmare. Elizabeth Warren would’ve run away with the election.
Since it became obvious she wasn’t running in 2016, she’s been the presumptive running-mate to the would-be nominee. She is a strong and obvious choice. Though little more than a platitude to Sanders’ supporters when paired with Hillary. That’s assuming Hillary even wants to pick a progressive (who would outshine her by leaps and bounds) – when in the general election, Hillary likely believes that she only needs to be slightly to the left of an authoritarian racist. And besides, there are tangible down-sides for both progressives and the democratic party establishment.
Republicans swept into power on the red wave that was the Tea Party revolution in 2010. As such, more senate Republicans are up for reelection in 2016, giving Democrats a good chance at flipping the senatory power dynamic. Elizabeth Warren is essentially assured her seat in perpetuity, but her replacement could easily be another Scott Brown-style Republican, leaving Chuck Schumer with worse odds of becoming majority leader in 2017.
Vice presidents don’t generally do anything. They technically break ties in the senate. But mostly they just sit around hoping that the economy is doing well enough when they finally get their turn at running for president. Dick Cheney was an outlier. Joe Biden is mostly known for saying stupid stuff and being touchy-feely (he “got out over his skis” on gay marriage, and played patty-cakes to placate Mitch McConnell on occasion – that’s about all Uncle Joe has done as veep).
If Elizabeth Warren becomes vice president, her progressive voice – the best progressive voice this side of Bernie Sanders – would be neutered, forced to saddle up with the establishment and to defend compromises Hillary Clinton will inevitably make with like-minded Republicans.
After four-to-eight years of soiling herself while carrying water for the establishment, if Elizabeth Warren still wanted to run for president, she would be running as the successor to Hillary. Who is running as the successor to Obama. Three successive presidents from the one political party represents a big ask of the American people – unprecedented.
It hurt to take down my Elizabeth Warren bumper sticker, and replace it with a Feel the Bern 2016 model. It hurt when she failed to endorse the progressive candidate when it mattered most. It hurt when she eventually endorsed the establishment. (It hurt to see her tell Rachel Maddow – during the endorsement interview – how good Hillary is on Social Security, yet curiously omit benefit expansion, which Warren had just called for.)
I hope Trump is humiliated. I hope Hillary can be steered to the left. I hope not to vomit if/when Elizabeth Warren is forced to defend the Clinton administration for slaps on the wrist for Wall Street fat cats & continuation of trickle-down tax policy & interventionist foreign policy & fracking & the TPP and…