EDITORIAL: For Both Activists & Party, Best if Warren Stays Put…
UPDATED 6/9/16 9:23AM: To correct a typo in a quote from Warren. Editor’s Note: Due to technical difficulties, WMassP&I has not been performing optimally. We have updated this post to reflect events since Monday.
LOWELL—The Democratic presidential primary is in its twilight. Whether Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wants to accept it or not, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination Tuesday night.
Clinton’s campaign has already begun vetting running mates and the list of potential vice-presidential candidates runs a wide gamut. Massachusetts’s senior US Senator Elizabeth Warren is among those under consideration. Progressive activists delight in the idea of Warren in the White House. Party elders see Warren as a means to bring resistant Berniecrats back into the fold. Yet, both would rue selecting Warren, a mistake that would undermine the senator, her agenda, and the Democratic Party.
As of Wednesday night, Reuters reported that Warren is expected to endorse Clinton in the next two weeks.
Do not misunderstand us. This blog enthusiastically backed Warren’s 2012 election. We had high expectations for her—which she has easily exceeded, especially in the context of a gridlocked Washington. And let’s be honest, our objection to her joining Clinton’s ticket, to a degree, is our reluctance to our commonwealth sharing Warren with the nation.
“Donald Trump is a proven businessman. A proven failure,” Warren said at Saturday’s State Democratic Convention, as she listed the multitudinous business bombs of the Republican presidential nominee, real estate tycoon and provocateur Donald Trump.
What’s not to like?
But placing Warren on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ticket is no assurance the former’s voice will be amplified. Activists who want actual policy and party grandees that covet her ability to rally the base may find her powers at One Observatory Circle, the vice-presidential residence, greatly diminished.
Since she achieved fame as a vocal member of TARP’s oversight board, Warren has been a darling of the American left. Years of advocacy for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earned her even more plaudits. What made Warren effective was not her command of legal and financial jargon, but her gift of making it accessible to anyone.
The theory goes that if Warren were Clinton’s Veep, she would police any Clintonian drift toward the center. Such a naïve assumption may only compromise progress.
First of all, Warren is ill-suited to play second banana to anybody. The vice-president must tow the president’s party line. Certainly, Warren has gone along to get along with her fellow Democrats, but that is precisely the opposite of what Warren’s fans would want.
“I do not propose to be buried until I am dead and in my coffin,” Daniel Webster said when offered the vice-presidential nomination. John Nance Garner was even more, er, colorful about the vice-presidency. Such fates would be no different for Warren.
Were Warren to buck that trend whether breaking Clinton or, more dramatically, threatening to resign, it would only become fodder for the Beltway punditocracy. Meanwhile, Clinton and Warren’s agendas would whither.
As a senator, Warren is no one’s understudy. While some medieval individuals recoil at the notion of an academic writing laws and developing policy, that is where Warren is most effective.
But it is not just Warren’s scholarship and curious mind that makes the Senate a better place. We need more, not less, compassion in the Senate. Democrats need her knack for describing esoteric subjects, which nevertheless affect people’s lives, at caucus press conferences. Whether surrounded by her colleagues or merely a phalanx of C-SPAN cameras, this country is best served by keeping her voice in the Senate chamber.
Put another way, if one values progressive policy, social justice and combatting inequality—and this blog does—Warren belongs in the Senate, not in any president’s shadow.
Nor are party elders’ reasons to make her Clinton’s running mate right.
The apparent desire to put her on the ticket has been amplified by Sanders’s continued attacks on Clinton. Democratic Party grandees fear Sanders’s flock will abstain, or worse, follow a Trump in wolf’s clothing come November.
These are not irrational fears, but the Obama coalition Clinton has sought to reconstitute has largely stuck with Clinton. Trump is a helpful motivator.
But even if this were not the case, Warren on the ticket would be a gamble for the party establishment. Much as some of them may wish Warren kept quiet from time to time, the power of her voice has more positives than negatives.
“Every day there’s another piece of evidence that exposes this little money grubber,” Warren said of Trump here. “He whines about the press, he whimpers about the students [at Trump University] and he complains that the judge doesn’t like him.”
That rallies the base, fortifies the Democratic vote and wins elections, something both grassroots and grandees alike seek. Moreover, it is backed by facts and in a language that doesn’t turn off most people (unless already predisposed to disliking Warren).
Many may wish she could remain as vocal as vice-president, but many a great rhetorician finds themselves parsing words once in the executive branch. Vice-President Joe Biden made an art of pushing that line with “malarkey” and his grinning dismissal of Paul Ryan during the 2012 vice-presidential debate, but it is far from Warren’s prowess.
Other questions must be asked. Could Warren still be the same prodigious fundraiser outside the Senate? Would her legions of fans still contribute at the same rate, especially if she faded behind her boss, Clinton. When the White House’s numbers are down, would Congressional Democrats want her to? The risk is great to the Democratic party as a whole and to its leadership.
“I’m in this fight all the way to stop Donald Trump,” Warren told reporters.
In our estimate, her remarks here in Lowell and on Twitter are proof she can be an effective advocate without joining Clinton’s ticket. Freed of the delicate ballet Clinton’s presidential campaign must perform, Warren’s off-Broadway attacks on Trump can be refined and sharpened before they hit the Great White Way of the presidential back and forth.
There is broader point, too. Elizabeth Warren is neither a commodity with which party elders can barter nor a bright shiny object for the left to fawn over. She is a human being with unique political abilities and a big heart. Whatever happens in this presidential election, this most consequential moment in American history, she belongs in the US Senate representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Warren would seem to agree.
“I love my job,” she told reporters Saturday.