Elizabeth Warren, in so many ways, is catnip for progressives as fed up with the status quo as I am.
“How did we get here?” she asked in a New Republic interview. “Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie, and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice. They crippled unions so no one could stop them, dismantled the financial rules meant to keep us safe after the Great Depression, and cut their own taxes so they paid less than their secretaries and janitors.”
I love Sen. Warren’s policy recommendations, such as requiring major corporate boards to include some representatives of workers. Her philosophy is the same as mine. Let’s keep capitalism alive by making it fairer.
Sen. Warren’s character appears sterling. She went overboard in playing up her tiny speck of Native American blood, but in the larger context of her life, this is simply an unfortunate aberration. Here is a self-made woman who came out of Oklahoma City to become a Harvard law professor in time, then a U.S. senator—after undergoing the same travails that millions of cash-strapped Americans still suffer. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, her major legacy, is a work of policymaking and legislative art.
Why, then, do I fear for the Democrats and even the country as a whole if the party runs her for president? Because, unfairly, so many voters in blue states will see Elizabeth Warren as Hillary Clinton II and perhaps open the way for the reelection of Donald Trump if our aspiring dictator is able to seek a second term. Just 30 percent of participants in one national poll regarded her favorably, while 37 percent were unfavorable. Another poll shows her far behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in Iowa.
No mystery here. Sen. Warren’s very positives, especially her passion and intelligence, could be the biggest political negatives for a woman in states more conservative than her own Massachusetts. She could win a popular majority just as Clinton did. But unless Democrats can miraculously will away the existence of the Electoral College, which tilts in favor of heavily rural states full of misogynists and too many women who defer to them, the barriers most likely could be insurmountable in a general election.
Unfair! I’m a huge believer in Senator Warren not only as a high-level thinker but also as a populist orator. Her economic message will resonate with so many voters in economically besieged places like Appalachia and rusty factory towns. But she likely will still lose out to the misogynists and their trusting wives and girlfriends. Almost three-fifths of Republicans everywhere—forget just the conservatives states—don’t want a female president even though most Americans are open to the idea. What’s more, the Atlantic tells of a disturbing study where the subjects reacted to made-up biographies of male and female state senators described as “ambitious” and having a “strong will to power.” Both sexes regarded those traits as positives for the men, negatives for the women.
Remember, this apparently wasn’t a geographically specific study. Now add in the traditional Southern and rural attitudes toward gender, and factor in the evangelical influences in conservative states. Evangelicals aren’t all alike. But more than a few believe that men, not women, are biblically destined to be the leaders. In fairness to the South and rural states, I also need to add that woman-haters are everywhere, Manhattan included. But in conservative red states, the misogynists are much larger in number and carry far more influence.
One counter argument might be that most of the misogynists wouldn’t vote anyway for Bernie Sanders or other male alternatives to Sen. Warren. But remember, there are degrees of misogyny. And this could matter in battleground states where just a few votes could tip the scales.
Paradoxically, then, with the stakes so high for foes of sexism and with the Electoral College counting so much, women would be better off with a male Democratic candidate in 2020.
Forever? Of course not. We just need to wait for enough of the old-fashioned misogynists to die off.
Alas, the same concerns may apply to two other impressive female Senators from coastal states, California’s Kamala Harris and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, if they run. Sen. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota may be an easier sell to heartland voters, but even she would face tough headwinds—her state is still far more progressive than, say, Kansas.
Next consider the math of the Electoral College.
A voter in predominantly rural Wyoming counts several times more than one in heavily urban California. That’s why Donald Trump won the election. He received 61,336,159 votes compared to 62,568,373 for Hillary Clinton, but 306 members of the Electoral College chose him and only 206 favored Clinton. A huge gap. Even a female candidate more likeable than Clinton could be in trouble.
I endlessly admire Elizabeth Warren and think her campaign will be useful in popularizing a much-need vision for America. I just don’t want her to win the nomination. Better that she use leverage from her campaigning—assuming she does better than she is now in Iowa—to convince a more viable candidate to appoint her to a cabinet post where she can work toward her admirable policy goals. Please, Sen. Warren. Cherish your ideas more than any political office, however high.
Image: Creative Commons licensed. From ElizabethForMA.