I have become increasingly frustrated with the media coverage (or lack thereof) of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. It seems that the media has put their finger on the scales in favor of the moderates, much to the chagrin of people like myself who believe that making a bold choice is the only way we are going to defeat Donald Trump. Warren has held steady in national polls and remains solidly in third place with 98% of delegates yet to be determined. She out-performed a former vice president who was considered the front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire. Nobody expected that to happen and, according to mainstream media outlets, it didn’t happen. Several outlets have mysteriously left her name out of headlines including one from The Washington Post which reads: “Buttigieg and Sanders take lead, Biden fades in partial results from marred Iowa caucuses,” name checking three male candidates and excluding Warren who finished closely behind Sanders and Buttigieg in third place. She performed as well in Iowa as Amy Klobuchar did in New Hampshire and got zero credit.
I am not sure why the moderate-worshipping punditry class decided to count her out before the race even started. The lesson we all should have learned in 2016 is to let the voters decide. The media should at least attempt to stay neutral, but I suppose Fox News has destroyed journalism once and for all. I am now convinced that most media outlets would collude to re-elect Donald Trump if it helped boost their ratings. They unwittingly helped him get elected in 2016 and I can already see it happening again. Once voters have made their choice, we should rally behind whichever candidate has built the strongest grassroots movement that is capable of defeating Donald Trump. I think it’s pretty clear that Warren and Sanders are the only candidates who are building movements that are broad and inclusive. Sanders has the upper-hand because he has spent the past 4 years building his movement (and because he is white and male like all but one of our previous presidents). I think Warren’s main liability is the fact that she and Hillary Clinton have similar haircuts. If Warren’s haircut conjures up bad memories of 2016, allow me to remind you of the more substantive differences between the two of them.
Hillary Clinton was a lifelong public servant and spent her career in politics. Elizabeth Warren was first elected to public office in 2012. Before that, Warren was an academic who rose to prominence after predicting the 2008 financial collapse. She is a technocrat who understands the law and economy better than anyone else. Hillary Clinton was friendly with the big banks while Warren worked to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren believed that if Wall Street deserved a bailout, so did Main Street. Clinton was a loyal Democrat who was reviled and demonized by Republicans for decades. Warren has not always been a Democrat but she has always prioritized the interests of working people over loyalty to any political party.
After witnessing the Democratic Party place their finger on the scales in 2016, I considered leaving the party. Like many other activists, I sat that election out because I was not excited about Clinton but I also could not imagine Trump winning. In November of 2016, I voted for Clinton but candidates like Warren remind me that we don’t have to settle for the most “electable” candidate. In fact, choosing the safest candidate makes us infinitely more likely to lose as Gore did in 2000, as Kerry did in 2004 and as Clinton did in 2016. We need to stop conjecturing about how we think a hypothetical working class person in a swing state may vote and just vote for the person we are most excited about.
Maybe Clinton didn’t lose because she was a woman. Maybe she lost because she was the wrong woman. Before you go calling me a bad feminist (I am one), I don’t mean to imply that gender bias was not a factor in 2016. I’m certain it was but there were so many other factors that must be considered to give us a full picture of what really happened. First, the Democratic Party and the media had a clear bias in favor of Hillary Clinton which tainted the entire nomination process and alienated the progressive wing of the party. Second, the Clinton campaign made many strategic errors and did not go after working class midwestern voters as aggressively as Obama did. The most glaring example of this was that Hillary Clinton did not step foot in the battleground state of Wisconsin after losing the Wisconsin primary to Bernie Sanders. Whoever advised her against going back to purple states that she lost to Sanders in the primary should never be allowed to work in politics again. Obama was an aggressive campaigner. As a black man in America, he knew he had to fight for every last vote. The Obama campaigns didn’t take voters for granted and the Clinton campaign did. Her campaign expected to be anointed and to win without much effort. Obama set the bar high in 2008 and 2012 and voters expected candidates to earn their votes. The voters in the swing states that Obama won twice decided that her campaign didn’t measure up. They either stayed home or defected to Trump who manipulated them by stealing some of Sanders’ best lines of attack against Clinton.
Here’s the difference in 2020. The media and the moderate wing of the Democratic Party counted Elizabeth Warren out before this race even started. They are doing to her exactly what they did to Sanders in 2016. She is an underdog in this race and she knows that she will have to fight for every last vote. She is being held to an impossible standard precisely because Clinton lost what many perceived as a winnable race. I recently spent time in Iowa volunteering for Warren and she is building an impressive campaign machine that could easily match what Obama built in 2008. They are not taking anything or anyone for granted. She has a fire in her belly that Clinton and her campaign lacked. She does not expect to be anointed and that expectation will not make her campaign complacent. She is not looking at polls because she knows that there is only one poll that actually matters: the one that voters take on Election Day. She is passionate about making government work for ordinary people. She has the best shot at uniting the party and would probably be more effective at enacting Bernie Sanders’ policies than Bernie Sanders would be. This moment in our history does not call for moderation. It does not call for vague promises of unity. It does not call for a centrist who takes working class people for granted. It calls for a bold fighter who can take on Donald Trump. It calls for Elizabeth Warren.