An Argument for Vice President Warren

Joe Biden has promised to announce his pick for Vice President in a few weeks. A poll last month suggested that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the first choice among Democratic voters. It’s interesting to note that she was also the first choice (by a slimmer margin) among Black Democrats. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, a Black man who prefers Sen. Kamala Harris for the job, has written about one Black voter, his Aunt Gloria, who wants Biden to choose Warren.


Now two Black activists, Angela Peoples and Phillip Agnew, make an argument for Warren in the same paper:

America is on fire, and Joe Biden faces a choice. The spark may have been the brutal killing of George Floyd, but the current awakening is about more than police violence. Black communities around the country are responding to decades of policies and practices that constrain and destroy black lives: wealth-stripping, redlining, school closures, poverty-wage jobs, voter suppression and gentrification. The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the ways in which racialized capitalism leaves black and brown Americans disproportionately exposed to dangers, from hazardous working conditions to crowded housing to underfunded and overburdened health-care facilities.

The former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee already has committed to picking a woman as his running mate. Against the backdrop of the growing movement for black liberation, he’s been encouraged to select a potential governing partner from a list of qualified black women . . .

But if Biden is committed to choosing a running mate who consistently challenges the status quo on behalf of working people, particularly in the black community, who offers detailed policy prescriptions to remake our economy and strengthen our democracy, and who has clearly articulated the centrality of race, gender and class in the persistence of structural inequality, his choice doesn’t automatically have to be black. And the potential candidate who obviously meets that standard isn’t black. It’s Elizabeth Warren.

In September 2015 — nearly five years before Floyd was killed — Sen. Warren (Mass.) spoke passionately: “None of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets,” she said. “This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter.”

Today, she marches with protesters. “Being anti-racist means fighting for anti-racist public policy,” she has continued to insist. “Being race neutral just won’t work.”

Before she was an elected official, Warren had established a track record of speaking inconvenient truths about racism and taking on the fights that matter. She identified the factors that keep working families in cycles of economic insecurity and the specific role that racism plays in trapping black and brown communities. In a 2004 law review article on the economics of race, she explained: “The economic security that comes with arrival in the middle class is divided by race, leaving Hispanic and black families at far more risk than their white counterparts.” In the popular book she authored with her daughter, “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke,” Warren laid out her view that “subprime lending, payday loans, and the host of predatory, high-interest loan products that target minority neighborhoods should be called by their true names: legally sanctioned corporate plans to steal from minorities.”

She had a lead role in founding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which in its relatively short tenure has pursued a series of enforcement actions against institutions that have discriminated against black and brown borrowers.

As a presidential candidate, Warren’s “Working Agenda for Black America” outlined a student loan debt cancellation plan with a goal of reducing the black-white racial wealth gap by 25 percent. She called for tackling the deplorable black maternal mortality rate by rewarding health systems that keep black mothers healthier. And she proposed the creation of a small-business equity fund with $7 billion to provide grants to entrepreneurs of color.

Along with several of her Senate and House colleagues, Warren introduced a bill calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publish data on covid-19 testing, treatment and outcomes that is disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, primary language, socioeconomic status and other demographic characteristics. On Tuesday, Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting HHS reporting on the administration’s efforts to address health disparities, including those affected by covid-19. The Trump administration’s lack of planning for the pandemic and its economic consequences has been catastrophic for black America.

No politician is perfect; we haven’t always agreed with Warren’s positions or politics. . . But she has demonstrated what is possible when politicians commit to working with social movements to achieve our shared goals. When Black Womxn For challenged the language she used to describe people serving life sentences, she responded by meeting with black women activists, apologizing and updating her policy plans. One lesser-known example: Warren listened to black farmers and amended her agriculture policy to address their concerns.

Warren’s willingness and ability to listen and respond have earned her the respect of many black leaders and thinkers. After Ta-Nehisi Coates penned his acclaimed essay, “The Case for Reparations,” Warren reached out to Coates to discuss his work. In an interview last year, Coates expressed his view that of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Warren was the most serious about reparations. Throughout her campaign, she prioritized building relationships with black women leaders by incorporating their demands into her platform . . .

In the midst of this historic uprising that has many calling for a complete overhaul of the criminal legal system, it speaks volumes that Warren’s political career isn’t tied to the Jim Crow system of mass incarceration, and her plan to reform it was one of the strongest in the Democratic primary. Her latest legislative victory — getting Senate Republicans to stand up to President Trump by approving her measure requiring the military to rid bases of Confederate names — is another example of her commitment to challenging racism and her ability to get things done.

. . . [We are part] of the movement for black liberation that is shaping the consciousness of a generation, and we are convinced that only elected servants with a people-centered vision will compel our movement to fight at the polls the way we have in the streets.

Not only will Warren’s commitment to racial equity and challenging oppressive systems register with a rising generation of voters; her record shows that if she becomes vice president, she will remain committed to an agenda that lifts the experiences and leadership of the most marginalized.

Representation is important. When generations of white supremacy have kept black folks from proportional representation in the highest offices at all levels of government, undoubtedly it means something when one of us shatters the glass ceiling, clearing space for others to follow. However, the fires that burn in the streets of cities across the country will not be put out simply by putting a black name on the ticket. Without transformative policy, representation alone is insufficient.

If Democrats’ response to the reckoning against systemic racism is simply to nominate a black woman for vice president, no matter her politics, they will affirm the skepticism of young and progressive voters and rob this country of another opportunity to enact the sweeping changes needed for our communities to thrive. Voters want, and America needs, someone who has shown the courage to take on the corrupting forces of racism and greed. Warren has.


By the way, Post columnist Paul Waldman says that “if you aren’t filled with rage at [our president], you aren’t paying attention”. So many reasons make it crucial to support Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in November and severely damage the Republican Party for years to come.

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.



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.


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.