Another Post Mortem

When she opened Saturday Night Live last night, Elizabeth Warren pointed out that she’s not dead, she’s merely in the Senate.

Still, Moira Donegan says the Democrats would be more viable for the presidency if:

… if the media and the electorate were less blinded by cynicism, sexism and fear and more willing to see Warren for who she was – the most capable, competent and kindest candidate in the race.

As a woman, the Massachusetts senator always faced an uphill battle of double standards and misogynist resentment. She had to be competent but not condescending, cheery but not pandering, maternal but not frumpy, smart but not haughty. As she rose in the polls last summer and fall, she came under the kind of scrutiny that male frontrunners are not subjected to, and faced skepticism about her claims and character that male candidates do not face.

As she rose in the polls last summer and fall, she came under the kind of scrutiny that male frontrunners are not subjected to.

This is the fate of a lot of women who come close to attaining power, and empirical data backs up the phenomenon: writing in the Washington Post, the Cornell philosopher Kate Manne cited a 2010 Harvard study that found that women are viewed more negatively simply by seeking office. “Voters view male and female politicians as equally power-seeking, but respond to them quite differently,” Manne writes. “Men who seek power were viewed as stronger and tougher, while power-seeking women provoked feelings of disgust and contempt.”

As a result, all of Warren’s virtues were recast as vices in the public eye. Her impressive credentials and superlative intellect became out-of-touch elitism. Her joyousness and enthusiasm were cast as somehow both insincerely pandering and cringingly over-earnest. This kind of transformation of neutral or positive character traits into negative ones is not something that happens to men in similar positions. Sanders can aestheticize his practiced cantankerousness for laughs and sympathy without anyone asking if its a put-on. Biden can use slang from the 1930s without anyone ever questioning whether the ostentatious folksiness of his “no malarkey” messaging might be just a tad affected. But for Warren, every smile was interpreted as a sign of concealed hatred, of secret, nefarious motives.

Her policy efforts, too, were cast as a repudiation of her principles rather than as steps toward realizing them. Her attempt to transform Medicare for All from a symbolic rallying cry into a substantive, workable and affordable policy change that can be made in our time brought, paradoxically, accusations that she was less serious about the policy for trying to make it a reality. Her plans to break up tech monopolies, repair the damage to black wealth done by historic redlining policies and reshape massive federal spending projects to make them environmentally sustainable were all cast as signs of duplicity and lack of commitment to her stated values. Meanwhile, male candidates who did not have substantive plans to implement such policies were believed, largely uncritically, when they told the public that they would put them in place.

In this race, men’s statements – about who they are, what they value, what they would do as president – have largely been taken at face value, even when male candidates have made false or exaggerated claims or contradicted themselves. But Elizabeth Warren was never given the benefit of the doubt. Her flaws and missteps were magnified, and interpreted in ways disproportionate to their significance, while comparatively greater mistakes by male rivals were all but ignored. When she referred to her father as having worked as a janitor, a days–long news cycle asked why, if he was really a janitor, her brother had once referred to him as a “maintenance man”. That these are effectively the same did not matter: the irrelevant non-story was interpreted as a sign of her constitutional untrustworthiness.

Warren was said to be not really running for president, but running as a spoiler; not really happy to meet voters, but shamelessly pretending with her long selfie lines; not really committed to economic inequality, but merely devoting her life to it as some sort of long con. None of these accusations made much logical sense, but that didn’t matter, because they were backed up by the force of feeling – a very strong feeling, held by many men and women alike, that a woman seeking power and status just can’t be trusted.

The epistemic philosopher Miranda Fricker calls this tendency to disbelieve women, and to believe powerful men, “testimonial injustice”: the harm done to speakers when prejudiced listeners discount their credibility. Women face testimonial injustice in particular when they challenge or contradict men, as cultural tropes that depict women as conniving, scheming, and selfish can be mustered to make her seem less credible, him more believable. Fricker doesn’t apply her concept of testimonial injustice to gender conflict exclusively, but it is an obstacle that many women recount in their own experiences of gendered injustice: the sense that they cannot be believed, that they cannot achieve equal credibility and moral footing with men in the minds of their peers, that they will always be assumed to be either stupid or dishonest. Branded as dishonest even as she told the truth, duplicitous even as she kept her promises, Warren faced testimonial injustice on a huge scale, and it ultimately doomed her campaign.

Unquote.

Persist

From Brian Beutler’s “Big Tent” newsletter:

If you could construct a perfectly life-like, bionic Democratic president optimized to make headway in our dysfunctional system, and to cleanse the country’s political economy so that future presidents could make further progress, it would look more like Elizabeth Warren than any other candidate who has ever run for president. I’m talking less about the specifics of any of her policy plans than her understanding of what’s gone wrong in America.

If Democrats win the House, Senate, and presidency, the filibuster will hobble their ability to govern; if they get rid of the filibuster, right-wing courts will remain rigged against them; fix the courts, and money and corruption in politics will still limit what’s possible. She knew all that and was prepared to sink her teeth into each of those choke points like Bailey into a stolen burrito. Existing laws give presidents tons of power that could be put to use making people’s lives better, and overwhelming the court’s capacity to sabotage a liberal administration. She was willing to try. Corporate and financial elites exercise power in fine print. She is the country’s leading expert in how to read the fine print, and strip it down, so that those elites stop fleecing the country.

For these reasons and others, it’s sad that she didn’t make it farther along in this race than she did. But it will be an absolute tragedy if Democrats ignore her insights and duck the fights she was willing to pick out of some misbegotten sense that shaking things up is wrong or risky. Neither of the two remaining candidates have shown much appetite for Warrenism, as loosely defined here, and it places their potential presidencies in grave risk. We have to put a lot of work into changing that. Basically everything depends on the winner coming around to her way of thinking.

Unquote.

An Open Letter to the Times on That Same Subject

After reading about whom Warren’s supporters will now favor:

Speaking as an over-65, over-educated, previously over-compensated white man who strongly believes in the progressive goals she and Senator Sanders espouse, Senator Warren was the most exciting, best-qualified presidential candidate of my lifetime. I was convinced early on that she would be our next president and supported her campaign. How could such a warm, talented woman with an anti-corruption message fail to attract a majority? Now we know.

Now that she’s dropped out, she’s on the front page everywhere with lots of positive coverage. It’s funny how that works (compare Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State vs. presidential candidate).

I can’t generate any enthusiasm for Biden or Sanders. I don’t see Sanders as a successful president, even if he were elected. He lacks the political skills. I don’t see Biden as successful either. He’s from another political era.

If Biden is the nominee, Sanders needs to strongly encourage his supporters to fight for Democrats everywhere on the ballot. My hope is that Mr. Biden will pick a talented, progressive running mate (a senator from Massachusetts, for example) and, if he’s lost too much of his energy and mental edge by 2021, he will graciously retire. He can always point out that a presidential campaign takes a lot out of a person.

In Conclusion: On Corruption

From “The Golden Age of White Collar Crime by Michael Hobbes:

Over the last two years, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.

And why wouldn’t they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. In January 2019, white-collar prosecutions fell to their lowest level since researchers started tracking them in 1998. Even within the dwindling number of prosecutions, most are cases against low-level con artists and small-fry financial schemes. Since 2015, criminal penalties levied by the Justice Department have fallen from $3.6 billion to roughly $110 million. Illicit profits seized by the Securities and Exchange Commission have reportedly dropped by more than half. In 2018, a year when nearly 19,000 people were sentenced in federal court for drug crimes alone, prosecutors convicted just 37 corporate criminals who worked at firms with more than 50 employees.

Unquote.

But we had a presidential candidate focused on corruption.

From “Elizabeth Warren Was More of a Threat to the Money Power Than Bernie Sanders” by Charles Pierce:

… I’m not going to dwell on the sexism that so regularly cropped up during Elizabeth Warren’s now-suspended presidential campaign. Proud, accomplished women, writing about what happened to this proud and accomplished woman, already have done so thoroughly enough that what little I could add would have to walk a tightrope between repetition and presumption that I am not able to navigate. This one hurts them in ways I can’t even imagine….

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.

If I were Jeff Bezos, and I heard Elizabeth Warren talk about how monopoly can distort an economy, I’d have been worried. If I were Mark Zuckerberg, and I heard Elizabeth Warren talk about how the concentration of social media perverts our public ideals, I’d have been worried. If I were the folks at Comcast, and I heard Elizabeth Warren talk about how media concentration damages the national dialogue, I’d have been worried. I’d have been worried not simply because a presidential candidate was saying this, but because she was able to make people understand it, and because she was able to show people how she would do it. That would keep me up nights.

There always has been a touch of Cassandra to her career. As she said on Thursday, “Ten years ago, I was teaching a few blocks from here, and talking about what was broken in America and how to fix it, and pretty much nobody wanted to hear it.” Along with several other proud and accomplished women, whose advice was ignored by the likes of Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, Warren sounded the alarm on the mortgage crisis years before it crashed the economy. She was then brought in to help clean up the damage. There’s an obvious life lesson in there that I hope I need not explain. However, if she says something is breaking in the economy, listen to her next time, OK? This was most obvious in the campaign’s most curious episode—how she was “disappeared” from news coverage after finishing third in Iowa. This was the period in which an NBC poll refused to even include her because, basically, the pollster didn’t want to. Amy Klobuchar was included, but Amy Klobuchar wasn’t going around explaining how media monopolies gouge their consumers and marginalize certain issues and the people fighting for them.

However, this is not a country that is ready for what she called … “big, structural change”. This is a country fearful of any kind of change at all, a country longing for a simpler time—which, these days, does not mean the flush 1950s or the pastoral 1850s, but 2015. The election of D— T—- has lodged in so many minds a longing for the status quo ante that there’s no room for intelligent experimentation….

The problem is that the damage done by this administration* is so deep and lasting that the last thing we need to follow this president* is a humble president with a humble agenda. For example, Joe Biden has no desire to break the monopoly power, and Bernie Sanders doesn’t have the first idea how to do it. But it’s still going to be there, distorting the economy and perverting the public discourse, no matter who gets elected in the fall. You might be frightened by the idea of Big, Structural Change but, without it, the deterioration of the republic will continue apace. We have been rendered such a timorous people that even someone as open and lively and welcoming as Elizabeth Warren was considered too much of a risk.

Oh, and she wasn’t “likable” either. Remember? God, what a load of bollocks that is.

As if to prove that Fate is the ultimate troll, this story broke in The New York Times on the morning that Elizabeth Warren suspended her campaign.

House Democrats say the bank found an ally in Eric Blankenstein, a political appointee high up in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency created to guard against the abuse of mom-and-pop customers. Mr. Blankenstein, an enforcement official at the agency, privately offered reassurances to Wells Fargo’s chief executive at the time that there would be “political oversight” of its enforcement actions, according to a report issued Wednesday by the House Financial Services Committee. The report said the agency had promised that the unresolved regulatory matters, such as an inquiry into the bank’s aggressive practice of closing customers’ accounts, would be settled in private, without further fines.

For those of you who may be joining politics late, the CFPB is the agency created by Elizabeth Warren and Wells Fargo is her personal bete noire. (Here she is, telling its CEO that he ought to be clapped in irons.) My guess? She already knows about this bit of news and she’s gearing up—one might even say “planning”—to chew someone out over it. Stay buckled up, America. Senator Professor Warren is not through with you yet.

Unquote.

So Long Twitter and Senator Warren

I’ve closed my Twitter account, because I no longer require up-to-the-minute news and commentary on these subjects (and others): 

  1. Joe Biden
  2. Bernie Sanders
  3. House Democrats
  4. Senate Republicans
  5. The Supreme Court
  6. The Department of Justice
  7. COVID-19
  8. Voter Suppression
  9. Climate Change
  10. D—- Fucking T—- and His Crime Family

Here’s the invaluable Paul Waldman of The Washington Post to sum up:

Is it enough, as a presidential candidate, to have smarts and charisma, to have a clear and concise message, to even be the best debater, and most of all to be the best prepared to do the job effectively?

No, it is not. Which is why so often during this primary campaign, we’ve heard supporters of Elizabeth Warren ask plaintively, “Hey, what if we got behind the person who’d actually be the best president? Why not do that?”

They asked because the number of voters willing to do that was not what it might have been, which is why Warren has announced that she’s ending her bid for the White House.

There is a temptation to say the presidential primary process is brutal and unsparing but ultimately fair. It tests you in the way no other campaign can. If you don’t win, it’s because you didn’t have what it takes. Lots of it may be out of your control, but if you were a once-in-a-generation talent like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, you could have overcome any obstacle cast before you. Nobody deserves the nomination; either you win it or you don’t.

Which is true as far as it goes. But we can’t consider Warren’s candidacy without seeing sexism, both in fact and in perception, for the hindrance it was for her.

To be clear, sexism isn’t the only reason Warren will not be the Democratic nominee. There are many reasons. She had a few stumbles along the way, as every campaign does. There were some decisions she could have made differently.

But her campaign and the particular way it failed tell us a lot about how gender operates in presidential politics.

Let’s consider that Joe Biden is the likeliest candidate to be the Democratic nominee, despite the fact that he has run an absolutely abysmal campaign and is so erratic that sympathetic Democrats regularly tell one another, “I saw Biden give an interview, and he was completely coherent!” as though they were praising a toddler. Biden won a sweeping victory on Super Tuesday even in states where he did not campaign for a single day or have an organization. There has never in my lifetime been a winning presidential campaign that was so weak on so many dimensions.

And yet Biden is cruising toward the nomination. Why?

Because of a collective decision among a significant portion of the Democratic electorate that he is “electable,” i.e., that other people will find him inoffensive enough to vote for. As Michelle Cottle noted, one poll last year asked Democrats who they were supporting, and Biden was in the lead; when they asked who they’d rather see as president if they could wave a magic wand, Warren was in front.

You’ve probably heard that again and again: Voters saying Warren is the one they liked the best, but because they didn’t think she was electable, they were supporting someone else, most often Biden.

That perception didn’t just come of nowhere. Yes, people might be thinking of their sexist uncle or their “traditional” parents, but they also heard it again and again from the media, creating a self-reinforcing loop. Sure, Warren can put policy issues into terms people can understand like no other candidate; sure, she has thought more seriously about the powers of the government than anyone else; sure, her anti-corruption message resonates with all kinds of voters. But she just can’t win.

Then there are all the people who said they didn’t like Warren but couldn’t quite put their finger on why. Maybe it was her voice, or that she seemed too aggressive, or that she wasn’t “authentic” enough. Not because she’s a woman, though! I’d support a woman, I would! Just not her.

Throughout the campaign, Warren tried to find subtle ways to deal with a problem she couldn’t have been more aware of (just as Obama carefully crafted a strategy to deal with voters’ reaction to a black candidate). But nothing seemed to work in the face of the relentless obsession with electability.

Late in the campaign, she reacted to the question of whether sexism was hampering her by noting that just answering the question put her in an inescapable double bind:

“And, you know, there are only two answers and they’re both bad. The first one is, ‘Uh, yeah,’ in which case everybody says, ‘Oh, whiner.’”

“The second is to say, ‘Oh, no,’ in which case, at least every other woman looks at you and thinks, ‘What planet is she living on?’”

Yes, female candidates have been more and more successful at running for all levels of government; this was particularly true in the 2018 midterm elections. But the presidency is different. It’s about authority, and power, and command. And still, in 2020, millions of Americans simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea of a woman in that job.

So unlike Biden or any other male candidate, being better wasn’t good enough. Warren had to be perfect, and of course she wasn’t. As writer Jill Filipovic asked:

How many times, in how many contexts, have we seen a smart, competent, dynamic woman who is so head & shoulders above everyone else in the room get ignored or pushed out? How many times have we wondered – was I that woman?

Think back to Hillary Clinton, who after a lifetime of being bludgeoned and battered by every sexist preconception, trope and backlash, finally got within reach of the ultimate reward and opportunity only to have to face her exact opposite, an utterly unprepared buffoon and raging misogynist who was literally on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women with impunity. And even after getting 3 million more votes than him, she still lost.

Four years later, we had a presidential field full of talented and accomplished women, and surely, so many of us thought, one of them might prevail. Yet they fell, one after another, until only the most talented and accomplished among them was left. And in the end she too was judged inadequate….

Unquote.

The title of Waldman’s column is “Warren’s Wrenching Downfall Says Something Terrible About 2020”.

It’s many of us who were inadequate. Not her.

The Candidate I’d Want To Have a Drink With

David Roberts of Vox does a great job explaining why Elizabeth Warren appeals so much to a certain kind of progressive voter. The article is called “America’s Crisis of Trust and the One Candidate Who Gets It”:

Warren shares many elements of Sanders’s populist rhetoric. She, too, is focused on how the rich and powerful have rigged the system against ordinary people. But she does not propose to blow the system up or sweep it aside. She proposes to fix it. She (legendarily) has a plan for that, a clear sense of which institutions are broken, what new institutions need to be created, and what kind of people she wants running them. As Ezra Klein documents, her entire career in politics has been focused on battling for better institutions and better personnel.

Warren’s history, experience, and ideology give her progressive populism an importantly different character from Sanders’s. [Will Wilkinson] captures it well:

Because the American republic is, in fact, in the midst of a spiraling crisis of corruption, there is more than a whiff of radicalism in a reform agenda focused on rooting out graft and restoring popular sovereignty. But Warren’s program is animated by earnest devotion to sturdy procedural ideals — fair elections, the rule of law, equitable and responsive political representation, and clean public administration — not left-wing ideology. It aims to realize a homely republican vision of America in which equal democratic citizens of every gender, color, and creed can vote their way to a system that gives everybody a fair shot at a sound education and a decent wage sufficient to raise a family in a comfortable home without becoming indentured to creditors or wrecked by the vicissitudes of capitalist dislocation.

As Warren used to say frequently, she is a “capitalist to her bones.” She believes in the generative power of markets; she just believes they need to be operated transparently and fairly, with everyone protected from immiseration and offered opportunities for full participation. She wants well-regulated capitalism with a healthy welfare state — which is how the Danes themselves think of their system.

This is why, unlike Sanders, she explicitly cites her anti-corruption reform agenda as her first and top priority if she becomes president. It’s why she, unlike Sanders, supports getting rid of the filibuster. For her, procedural reforms are not an afterthought, but a vital part of the agenda in and of themselves, because they are the only reliable way to generate the trust needed to support the rest of the agenda and progress beyond it….

Warren’s appeal to a certain sort of politically engaged Democrat is that she combines bold progressive goals with extensive experience navigating US institutions and detailed plans for bureaucratic reform. It’s the best of both worlds, ambitious and pragmatic.

Unquote.

There is quite a bit more to the article than I’ve quoted. The whole thing is worth reading.

Another reason for liking Warren is that she is likable (unlike You Know Who). You can see it when Stephen Colbert spends a few minutes with her at a South Carolina restaurant:

They bleeped the joke. 

In case it went by too fast, the punchline was:

 

 

“It’s fucking close to water”.