The Happy Warrior

As you may recall, very few people were excited about the presidential candidacies of Michael Dukakis (1988), Al Gore (2000) and John Kerry (2004). That partially explains why Presidents Dukakis, Gore and Kerry only exist in alternate (and probably better) timelines. The Clinton campaigns (1992, 1996 and 2016) got many people excited. Without the intervention of Russia and the FBI, there would have been two Presidents Clinton by now. Then there is Barack Obama (2008 and 2012). Even more people were excited about him.

One of the presidential candidates getting people excited this time is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Here’s Charles Pierce of Esquire writing about her appearance at the Iowa State Fair on August 10th:

“Elizabeth Warren Is the Teacher All the Students Hope to Get in the Fall”

DES MOINES, IOWA—It is the little moments, the 40-second videos that pop up on the electric Twitter machine accounts of activists and campaign reporters, that give you a sense of the large, humming machine with which Senator Professor Warren thoroughly has wired her campaign into the state of Iowa, at least in the high summer of 2019.

Here she is at the state fair, talking to a crowd along one of the wide boulevards, the people who couldn’t find spots in the huge crowd that waited in stifling heat to hear her at the Des Moines Register‘s candidate soapbox out front, the way Bruce Springsteen turns around to play to the crowd sitting behind the stage. Here she is backstage at some event or another, greeting Senator Kamala Harris like an old college pal, a signifying moment between two powerful women who already share one of the iconic pictures of this campaign. She spends as much time talking to kids as she does to their parents, and she works the crowd like someone born to work the crowds at state fairs.

These are the outward manifestations of what her campaign has put together out here…. She draws enormous crowds and enormous ovations from those crowds. People see her and holler, unbidden, “Big Structural Change!”—the tagline for all her now-famous syllabus of plans. They chant, “Two cents!”, the amount of each dollar over $50 million she proposes to tax to finance the implementation of those plans. (This is reminiscent of the night at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, when the crowd chanted, “Consumer Finance Protection Bureau,” at her, which was not an easy thing to chant.) And, in the polls, she can’t be said to have had a “moment” yet, but her rise has been steady, easing fears that she might be peaking too soon. She is now a solid second to Joe Biden, and it is still only August of 2019.

But the thing that’s sold Elizabeth Warren to Iowa is primarily Elizabeth Warren. None of the candidates seems to be having as much fun as she is. The endless selfies after speeches. The pinky-swears with young girls about how what girls do is run for president. Her willingness to hold town halls anywhere. That loose-limbed, almost goofy wave with which she steps onto every stage. In a gloomy political time, with a humorless sociopathic bully in the White House, and with all the worst impulses of the national Id come out to play, Senator Professor Warren is the campaign’s happy warrior, the teacher everybody hopes they get when school starts up again in the fall. People respond to the good feeling around her campaign as much as they respond to the blizzard of policy proposals that campaign has loosed upon the electorate.

She is a liberal academic who lives in Massachusetts, but she is not a Massachusetts Liberal in the easy caricature that has been so useful to the Republicans over the last 40 years. She is neither a quiet technocrat like Michael Dukakis nor a chilly WASPish icon like John Kerry. She is Oklahoma, born and bred, and it shows in the easy way she connects with audiences here. She is not Harvard. She is someone who went to two public universities before she ever got there. There is none of the distance, none of the archness, common to Ivy League academics.

And the people who come expecting a Dukakis or a Kerry come away happily surprised. And the people who come away expecting an ivory-tower Harvard lecturer leave feeling smarter, and experiencing the conquest of learning in a way they haven’t felt it since elementary school. None of this is to say what may happen when the guns really open up on her, but it is to say, for now, that Elizabeth Warren is running a campaign of hope and optimism and enthusiasm as surely as did Ronald Reagan, that ol’ Iowa radio guy, in 1980, and as surely as Barack Obama did in 2008.

Just on Saturday, she rolled out a plan to address gun violence that included an excise tax on ammunition, an idea the time for which clearly has come, as a number of the candidates have signed onto it. (Thus did a policy proposed by Chris Rock in 1999 become a mainstream Democratic position a decade later.) She talked it up during a forum on gun violence and then went to the fair, where she leaned off the back porch and asked people what they liked best about the fair.

“The food!” someone hollered.

“You!” someone else replied.

She hand-waved both of these until someone mentioned the pigs in competition across the grounds. She spent five minutes talking about them and then walked into the crowd. It took her the better part of an hour to get out of the place.

[End Quote]

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The C-SPAN video below includes 10 minutes of her stump speech, 5 minutes of her answering reporters’ questions (that are hard to hear) and then another 5 minutes of her being mobbed by the crowd. Watching and listening to her, I’m convinced she will do very well in November 2020, even among millions of voters who mistakenly believed You Know Who would work for them instead of the “economic royalists”. But that’s only if we Democrats are smart enough to nominate her.

Elizabeth Warren at the Iowa State Fair