When I was a child there was a particular athlete whom I looked up to, a ‘hero’ I suppose in my childish mind. One day it was announced that this athlete would be appearing in my town. My father and I traveled to the venue early and stood outside in the cold hoping that we might see my man. Sure enough, about an hour before the event, a limo pulled up and out he stepped. I approached him nervously, a pen and paper in my shaking hands, and asked for his autograph. He stared down at me as he strode past from what seemed like 100 feet above and replied, “I’ll get you next time kid”.
Yesterday, I watched with disgust while Bill Clinton stood at a Massachusetts campaign rally and thundered his support for his wife through a bullhorn. Of course, the problem was that he was not at a campaign rally at all, but rather a Super Tuesday polling station. As this self-styled monarch preached, the crowd, or perhaps peasants is a more appropriate word in Bill Clinton’s world, stood wedged behind barricades and beefy looking security waiting to exercise their democratic rights for upwards of three hours. To watch a man break the law (campaigning within 150 feet of a polling station is illegal in Massachusetts) in the light of day and on camera and understand that he knows he is going to get away with it is relatively grotesque. I admit that watching caused anger and disappointment to percolate inside of me. What was strange however is that much of this internal strife did not revolve around Bill Clinton at all. By this point in the campaign, another establishment ‘kitchen sink’ bombardment was neither intimidating nor unexpected. Rather as I watched one thought continued to replay over and over in my mind – Where the #%@$ is Elizabeth Warren?
When I was a young man there were few modern figures who had a greater influence on the development of my political identification as a progressive than Elizabeth Warren. From the moment in 2004 when I saw her verbally rip Hillary Clinton to shreds for being influenced by campaign donors, something even my youthful brain perceived as an overarching problem in a professed ‘democracy’, I was hooked. Her 2009 appearance in Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story was for me more like ‘Elizabeth Warren: A Love Story’.
(On the 2008 financial crash) “You lost how much money? You lost how many pensions? You wiped out how many jobs? I want to know who did what! I want to hold somebody responsible!”
“I grew up poor in Oklahoma and I’ve got a family who really worked hard, they played by the rules, they did their best. The only reason I’m here in Washington is to try to let these people have a seat at the table. My job is to be here for the people who just don’t get a voice in this game. The rules have not been written for families. We have to rewrite the rules.”
This is how I imagine those who have been chosen to lead us speaking. Secretly I dreamed of the day when somebody like this would run seriously for President.
And then it happened.
When those who know me came to me and said ‘you have to hear this guy Bernie Sanders, you would LOVE him’ I treated it much in the same way as when they say ‘you have to meet this woman, you would LOVE her’ — cautious pessimism with an expectation for near immediate disappointment. But when the first line of the first clip of Bernie Sanders I watched was “the system is rigged” my jaw dropped so forcefully that I still have trouble chewing food. As I heard more and more of his message I realized that not only did Bernie personify my progressive value system almost comprehensively, but he was saying things which had been essentially non-existent at that level of politics. I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I quite literally started having dreams at night of a Sanders/Warren ticket. Every day I woke up and excitedly turned on my computer expecting to see shots of Bernie and Elizabeth standing side by side, fighting the oligarchy together. But despite Warren giving speeches which seemed to be an indictment of Hillary Clinton, the much longed-for endorsement never came.
In honesty, I understand the arguments as to why she has not endorsed Bernie. As the leader of the so-called ‘progressive wing’ of the Democratic Party, she walks a fine line. With the horror of the Trans-Pacific Partnership recently becoming known and the job of regulating Wall Street nowhere near complete, I understand that Warren will need all of her political leverage in the Senate to lead the fights over these issues. To endorse a candidate who is “swimming against the tide of the entire party establishment”, as Maurice Cunningham so eloquently put it, especially when said candidate may lose, it would greatly impact any leverage she may have. I also understand that to oppose the mighty Clinton machine can, especially for a woman, result in a ‘special place in hell’ politically. Both Nina Turner and Tulsi Gabbard have been threatened with political ostracism for their support of Bernie Sanders. It is also possible, I suppose, that Warren believes Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination is inevitable, and that by withholding her endorsement she can use it as an eventual bargaining chip in order to push Clinton towards her own agenda, though why anyone would believe a ‘President Hillary Clinton’ would keep the word of ‘candidate Hillary Clinton’ is beyond me.
Regardless of the political gymnastics taking place, the silence of Elizabeth Warren through a one point Bernie Sanders loss in her home state of Massachusetts on Super Tuesday has, for progressives, been heartbreaking. You see, progressives have for years been sort of the black sheep of the American political family. I have gotten used to being treated as some kind of amalgamation of an eccentric, a communist, and a conspiracy theorist. It is telling that the ideas of Bernie Sanders are so far removed from the spectrum of typical political thought that they are seen as ‘revolutionary’. But that is the thing. After years of scratching and clawing through something between obscurity and antagonism, we progressives are finally gaining some traction. As tens of thousands spontaneously march in the streets for Bernie and his ideas there is a legitimate belief that we may very well be able to fundamentally alter the structure of what America has become. And that is what makes Elizabeth Warren’s disappearance so dispiriting. Watching Bill Clinton stomp on the ‘peasants’ and flaunt his status as above the law only reminds me of just how difficult it will be to overthrow a tyranny and the necessity of all like-minded people pulling together. Whatever her reasoning, the arc of Elizabeth Warren’s career led her to a moment in which she had the opportunity to be bold, and she chose to play it safe. And for me, a ‘hero’ said, “I’ll get you next time kid”.