NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

Meet the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls: Elizabeth Warren

Wel­come to Meet the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, a recur­ring Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate fea­ture we’ve cre­at­ed to help you get to know the peo­ple seek­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

In this install­ment, we’ll get to know Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren, the first Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date to launch a 2020 cam­paign.

War­ren – who was the tar­get of a “Draft War­ren” effort four years ago – announced the for­ma­tion of an explorato­ry com­mit­tee on New Year’s Eve 2018, and offi­cial­ly declared her can­di­da­cy on Feb­ru­ary 9th, 2019.

War­ren is one of the Senate’s most pro­gres­sive mem­bers, and as a for­mer Har­vard law pro­fes­sor, she is one of the smartest too.

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation 2019

Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren par­tic­i­pates in the Net­roots Nation 2019 pres­i­den­tial forum (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute)

She has ded­i­cat­ed her career to help­ing America’s low and mid­dle income fam­i­lies, a pas­sion which emerged ear­ly on in her life. Eliz­a­beth Her­ring was born in Okla­homa City in 1949, the fourth child of a mid­dle income fam­i­ly. When Eliz­a­beth was only eleven, her father Don­ald suf­fered a heart attack that beset the fam­i­ly with med­ical bills and reduced the family’s income sig­nif­i­cant­ly. War­ren would lat­er describe this expe­ri­ence as liv­ing on “the ragged edge of the mid­dle class.”

Her­ring escaped her family’s hard­ships through her high school debate team. She flour­ished on a diet of ideas from out­side her small, inward-look­ing Okla­homa com­mu­ni­ty. At the age of six­teen, Eliz­a­beth left home to attend George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty on a debate schol­ar­ship. Two years lat­er, Eliz­a­beth mar­ried her high school boyfriend, Jim War­ren, and moved to live with Jim in Texas.

Despite being a mar­ried teenag­er in the 1960s, Eliz­a­beth decid­ed to con­tin­ue her edu­ca­tion and grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hous­ton in 1970.

The War­rens moved to New Jer­sey, where they had their first child in 1971. Eliz­a­beth worked as a teacher, then enrolled in law school at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, where she gained a doc­tor­ate in law and passed the bar in 1976. A year lat­er she began her decades-long career as a lec­tur­er, start­ing at Rut­gers law school.

In 1978, Jim and Eliz­a­beth War­ren divorced (Eliz­a­beth kept her mar­ried sur­name). Two years lat­er, she mar­ried law pro­fes­sor Bruce Mann.

Since begin­ning her lec­tur­ing career in 1977, War­ren has taught law at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, and Har­vard. War­ren has spent most of her career research­ing bank­rupt­cy and mid­dle-class finan­cial issues.

At first, she approached the issue skep­ti­cal­ly, believ­ing that the increase in bank­rupt­cies in the 1980s was a result of oppor­tunists gam­ing the legal sys­tem.

What she and two research col­leagues dis­cov­ered shocked her pro­found­ly; most bank­rupts were ordi­nary mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans beset by ill­ness, fam­i­ly breakup, or job loss. War­ren also dis­cov­ered how the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the New Deal finan­cial reg­u­la­to­ry sys­tem in the 1980s allowed big banks to prey on their cus­tomers with increas­ing­ly cru­el and dis­hon­est tac­tics.

In 1995, Pro­fes­sor War­ren was hired by the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion to head the Nation­al Bank­rupt­cy Review Com­mis­sion. Under her lead­er­ship, the Com­mis­sion fought for fair­er rules in the finan­cial sys­tem, argu­ing that big banks had too much pow­er over con­sumers and that he sys­tem made it too hard for ordi­nary peo­ple to sort out their finan­cial affairs. How­ev­er, War­ren was tak­ing on the entrenched pow­er of Wall Street, and the Commission’s mis­sion ulti­mate­ly fell apart in 2005.

This might have brought an igno­min­ious end to Warren’s polit­i­cal career, were it not for the fact that glob­al finan­cial melt­down erupt­ed just three years lat­er.

As the cor­rup­tion and incom­pe­tence of America’s finan­cial sec­tor brought the entire econ­o­my crash­ing down, War­ren – who had spent decades warn­ing about just these issues – sud­den­ly became à la mode.

In Novem­ber 2008, War­ren was picked by the out­go­ing Bush admin­is­tra­tion to over­see the Emer­gency Eco­nom­ic Sta­bi­liza­tion Act (EESA, com­mon­ly known as the bank bailout bill) and over $700 bil­lion in fed­er­al fund­ing. She used her posi­tion to grill top bankers and Trea­sury offi­cials in tele­vised hear­ings, gain­ing nation­al pop­u­lar­i­ty overnight when she “evis­cer­at­ed” Tim Gei­th­n­er, a cen­tral banker, and the video became pop­u­lar on YouTube. It was around this time that many top bankers report­ed­ly began refer­ring to her as “The Dev­il Incar­nate.”

In the first years of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, War­ren set her sights on estab­lish­ing a fed­er­al agency to guard con­sumers against the rapac­i­ty of finan­cial insti­tu­tions. The Con­sumer Finan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau (CFPB) was final­ly estab­lished in Sep­tem­ber 2010 after a long polit­i­cal bat­tle as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act – a fight where many Democ­rats sided with the Repub­li­cans and the worst ele­ments of the finan­cial sec­tor.

Despite her tri­umph, War­ren was denied the prize of lead­ing the insti­tu­tion that was essen­tial­ly her baby. The White House had no appetite for anoth­er drawn-out bat­tle with the Repub­li­cans and right-wing Democ­rats (War­ren had already writ­ten that she was will­ing to fight for the agency until there was “plen­ty of blood and teeth left on the floor”), and appoint­ed Richard Cor­dray of Ohio in an attempt to mol­li­fy the CFPB’s oppo­nents (who were not mol­li­fied).

At this point, War­ren had been fight­ing for a clear vision of con­sumer rights and finan­cial reg­u­la­tion for fif­teen years, and yet she had been repeat­ed­ly ignored, over­looked and dis­missed by the polit­i­cal sys­tem she had been try­ing to help. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, she began look­ing for a way that she could influ­ence pol­i­tics with­out being pushed aside. She decid­ed to run for the U.S. Sen­ate.

In Novem­ber of 2012, after an incred­i­bly fierce cam­paign, War­ren beat Scott Brown, a favorite of the bank­ing lob­by, becom­ing the first ever woman to rep­re­sent Mass­a­chu­setts in the U.S. Sen­ate. By defeat­ing Brown, War­ren reclaimed the seat Ted Kennedy had held for decades for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

Sen­a­tor War­ren was assigned a seat on the Sen­ate bank­ing com­mit­tee, and used it to revis­it her EESA days, fero­cious­ly inter­ro­gat­ing the finan­cial reg­u­la­tors who had failed to pre­dict or pre­vent the 2008 Crash.

She also upbraid­ed cor­rupt bankers, famous­ly demand­ing that Wells Fargo’s CEO resign to his face, after ques­tion­ing him for his role in the bank’s wide­spread ille­gal prac­tices. John Stumpf resigned a month after the hear­ing.

Despite being one of the Senate’s most pro­gres­sive mem­bers, she has proven to be adept at reach­ing across the aisle. In 2015, she worked with Repub­li­can stal­wart John McCain and Maine inde­pen­dent Angus King in a bid to rein­tro­duce the Glass-Stea­gall Act (one of the mea­sures adopt­ed by Con­gress and signed by FDR after the Great Crash of 1929 and the ensu­ing Great Depres­sion).

In 2016, many pro­gres­sive Democ­rats hoped that War­ren would run for Pres­i­dent. How­ev­er, War­ren stayed well out of the fray. She decid­ed against run­ning, leav­ing only Bernie Sanders, Mar­tin O’Malley, and a smat­ter­ing of rel­a­tive unknowns to chal­lenge the polit­i­cal behe­moth that was the Clin­ton cam­paign.

Since Don­ald Trump’s Elec­toral Col­lege vic­to­ry, War­ren has been one of his fore­most oppo­nents in the Sen­ate. She has the third most anti-Trump record of any­body in the upper house, hav­ing only sided with Trump 13% of the time.

War­ren turned heads when Mitch McConnell was work­ing to con­firm Jeff Ses­sions as the nation’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al. In Sen­ate hear­ings, War­ren read aloud from a let­ter con­demn­ing Ses­sions’ racism, writ­ten in 1986 by the civ­il rights activist Coret­ta Scott-King (the wid­ow of Mar­tin Luther King Jr).

Warren’s ques­tions were inter­rupt­ed by top Repub­li­can Mitch McConnell, who used Sen­ate Rule 19 to silence War­ren for “impugn­ing” his good friend Ses­sions. McConnell patron­iz­ing­ly and infa­mous­ly stat­ed: “She was warned. She was giv­en an expla­na­tion. Nev­er­the­less, she per­sist­ed.”

Rather than cow­ing War­ren, McConnell’s words were turned into a fem­i­nist slo­gan. Warren’s own cam­paign cre­at­ed signs with the slo­gan “Per­sist”.

War­ren won reelec­tion in 2018 eas­i­ly, win­ning over 60% of the vote. In Decem­ber, as men­tioned, she announced that she had formed an explorato­ry com­mit­tee into a pres­i­den­tial run, which she con­firmed this Feb­ru­ary. She was the first major Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date to announce her cam­paign to become Pres­i­dent.

Warren’s cam­paign faced trou­ble at the out­set.

In late 2018, the Sen­a­tor became embroiled in a bat­tle with the Pres­i­dent over her Native Amer­i­can ances­try. In the 1980s and 1990s, War­ren reg­is­tered her­self as a per­son with par­tial Native Amer­i­can ances­try while she worked at the Uni­ver­si­ties of Penn­syl­va­nia and Har­vard. Trump seized upon this as a chance to dis­cred­it her aca­d­e­m­ic record (despite the fact that her claimed ances­try nev­er gave her any career advan­tages) and – more impor­tant­ly for this century’s most racist pres­i­dent – stir up the vir­u­lent racism of his ardent sup­port­ers.

Dub­bing War­ren “Poc­a­hon­tas,” Trump chal­lenged her to take a DNA test to “show you’re an Indi­an.” War­ren answered these taunts and released a video dis­clos­ing results of a DNA test. Ana­lysts agreed that the mat­ter had been bad­ly han­dled, and some even wrote Warren’s cam­paign off as doomed.

How­ev­er, War­ren con­tin­ued cam­paign­ing and slow­ly, bit by bit, she has climbed in the polling. Unlike can­di­dates like Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke, who rely on their per­son­al charis­ma and rep­u­ta­tion, War­ren has adopt­ed an approach that is laser-focused on pol­i­cy issues – her mot­to has become, “I have a plan for that!

Cred­i­ble plans for gov­ern­ing are help­ing Warren’s cam­paign catch fire, but War­ren will have to earn the trust of more than just pol­i­cy-ori­ent­ed vot­ers to secure the nom­i­na­tion. She must per­suade finicky vot­ers that she has what it takes to defeat Don­ald Trump, as many Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers are focused on oust­ing Trump.

War­ren also faces the prob­lem that Hillary Clin­ton and many oth­er female politi­cians have been worn down by – the per­sis­tent sex­ism of the Amer­i­can elec­torate. The USA is one of the few advanced coun­tries that have nev­er had a female leader; even Pak­istan and Kyr­gyzs­tan have had female lead­ers.

In the Unit­ed States, women can­di­dates are often described – in the lan­guage of cod­ed misog­y­ny – as “unlike­able” or “pow­er-seek­ing” when their male coun­ter­parts rarely are. In a world where Joe Biden’s patron­iz­ing racial insen­si­tiv­i­ty get him the nick­name “Uncle Joe” and Bernie Sanders’ disheveled hair and cur­mud­geon­ly atti­tude help him to be seen as “gen­uine,” War­ren may catch flak because she fails to con­form to the inter­nal­ized stereo­types of vot­ers.

Bailey, Elizabeth Warren's dog

Bai­ley – the War­ren family’s gold­en retriev­er – is work­ing hard to help the Sen­a­tor make a pos­i­tive impres­sion with vot­ers. (Pho­to: Mark Nozell, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

That said, the Sen­a­tor has a huge num­ber of advan­tages in the 2020 race.

While politi­cians who change with the times are suf­fer­ing for it in today’s pol­i­tics (Joe Biden’s racial record has hurt him sig­nif­i­cant­ly) War­ren has a con­sis­tent record going back decades. In the same way that Bernie Sanders’ sup­port­ers in 2016 admired that his con­vic­tions went all the way back to the 1960s, 2020 Democ­rats will be attract­ed to a mes­sage that has decades of con­sis­ten­cy to it.

War­ren is also a per­fect fig­ure­head for the #MeToo moment, espe­cial­ly since Mitch McConnell pro­vid­ed her with the per­fect slo­gan, “Nev­er­the­less, she per­sist­ed.”

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty relies heav­i­ly on female vot­ers, and a woman who has stood up to sex­ism from Don­ald Trump, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans and fat-cat bankers can cred­i­bly claim that she is capa­ble of tak­ing on the tough­est of adver­saries.

War­ren also sits atop a poten­tial­ly broad nexus of sup­port. She is undoubt­ed­ly pop­u­lar amongst the pro­gres­sive wing of the par­ty, but she also enjoys bet­ter rela­tion­ships with many peo­ple than rivals Bernie Sanders.

Cru­cial­ly, War­ren didn’t gain this insid­er sup­port by back­ing down on her prin­ci­ples, but instead by vig­or­ous­ly sup­port­ing her fel­low Democ­rats. In 2018, the Sen­a­tor redi­rect­ed over $7 mil­lion of her own campaign’s funds to help out state-lev­el can­di­dates, call­ing them to encour­age them hun­dreds of times, and send­ing out dozens of emails on their behalf. While some estab­lish­ment Demo­c­ra­t­ic fig­ures may not love her pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics, she is unques­tion­ably a loy­al Demo­c­rat.

War­ren has proven her­self to be one of the strongest can­di­dates com­pet­ing in the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry. Although she has faced some tru­ly fero­cious racism and sex­ism from Trump, and although her cam­paign got off to a slow start, she has found her place in the top tier of the party’s 2020 pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls.

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