Totally aside from how much fun it is to see two brilliant women engaging full bore about the 2020 presidential race, I take my hat off to Rachel Maddow for getting the first interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren since Warren declared her exploratory committee for the 2020 election. The interview happened on Wednesday night on Maddow’s MSNBC show.
Warren is commonly dismissed as too left wing to be electable, and clearly her foray into gathering DNA evidence of her Native American heritage only gave Trump more fuel for mockery. But Warren is good. She is quick, articulate, passionate, fielded every hard question from Maddow — a superb interviewer — with nary a hitch. Warren talks about being the daughter of a janitor who went to commuter college for $50 a semester, became a public school teacher, a Harvard professor, and then a U.S. Senator in a way that sounds authentic. Biden talks about kitchen table conversations in Scranton PA when he was growing up in a way that sounds tired and out of date.
Warren has made income inequality her life’s work, both in academia, and then in government. She knows her stuff. She’s great at explaining it. She’s a much better candidate than Hillary Clinton — not because Warren is smarter, but because she’s more natural. I saw Hillary in small donor groups years ago when she was running for U.S. Senator from New York, and she was far more relaxed and appealing. Put her on TV, or in front of a large group, or on the stump, and she gets wooden. Warren stays natural, and she’s a very, very good explainer of complex economic topics.
Why, then, is Warren dismissed by the media as a possible winner nationwide? Peter Beinart, writing for the Atlantic, has an explanation: misogyny. We have a very hard time in this country with the ambition of powerful women.
“As I’ve noted before, women’s ambition provokes a far more negative reaction than men’s. For a 2010 article in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, two Yale professors, Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto, showed identical fictional biographies of two state senators—one male and one female—to participants in a study. When they added quotations to the biographies that characterized each as “ambitious” and possessing “a strong will to power,” the male state senator grew more popular. But the female state senator not only lost support among both women and men, but also provoked “moral outrage.”
The past decade of American politics has illustrated Brescoll and Okimoto’s findings again and again. During the 2012 campaign, Republicans attacked Nancy Pelosi in television commercials seven times as frequently as they attacked her Democratic Senate counterpart, Harry Reid. In 2016, the disparity was three to one. Pelosi’s detractors sometimes chalk up her unpopularity to her liberalism and her hometown of San Francisco. But Reid’s successor as the Democratic Senate leader, Charles Schumer, a liberal from Brooklyn, is far less unpopular than Pelosi—and far less targeted by the GOP.”
I’m glad Warren is running, and I’m completely open to the possibility that she can build momentum and become the candidate — maybe with a requisite Midwestern white guy like Sherrod Brown as her VP to quell the panic over an ambitious woman.
For people who say we can’t risk running a woman for president, remember that Hillary won the popular vote. I think, if all the evidence comes out, we’ll find that Trump’s electoral college victory is tainted beyond repair by Russian intervention and the collusion of the Trump campaign. I think Hillary actually won the whole shebang, although she’ll never sit in the Oval Office. But another strong woman in 2020 might.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting race.