Why I’m for Elizabeth Warren
It’s hard for me to say exactly when, or how, I first became aware of Elizabeth Warren. I was living in Belgium at the time of her first Senate run. The West Wing had birthed in me an interest in — an obsession for — American politics. I found ways to watch MSNBC; I listened to The Rachel Maddow Show as a podcast, not just religiously but with the fervour of a zealot.
So it’s safe to say that it’s probably in one of those places that I first heard about Elizabeth Warren. But I know I was paying attention when a video of her speaking in Andover 2011 went viral. It seemed, suddenly, to be all over social media.
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. … You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
To hear someone say these kinds of things not just out loud, but firmly and with conviction, made my leftie heart sing again. Reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope had done a year or so previously. Watching The West Wing did that, too — it had awakened in me something long dormant. I’d been passionate about politics in my teens and twenties, and Aaron Sorkin’s words, characters, and idealism reignited that.
If you had to boil my politics down to one sentence, it is this: I believe fervently in a more even distribution of wealth. That comes partly from my faith, from my belief in the dignity and worth of each human life.What Elizabeth Warren was saying in this response to a voter in Andover seemed undeniable to me; it seemed like common sense. And it was something like a relief to hear her argue for it so unapologetically. It inspired me.
I made my first Get Out The Vote call ever for her from my study in a small Belgian town in autumn 2011. I found the whole thing a little odd — we campaign very differently in Europe — and also a little terrifying. (I hate phones.) But I had been well taught by Aaron Sorkin: “decisions are made by those who show up”. And I wanted to show up for this woman who was articulating something I believe in so strongly.
Later in 2011, I wrote a (terrible, unpublished) novel about a presidential primary campaign, one of whose main characters was modelled on her. In case my description of this character had been lost on anyone, I gave her the initials EW.
My West Wing obsession eventually took me all the way to Washington, DC, where I’ve lived since 2012. In 2014, after her book A Fighting Chance was published, Elizabeth Warren spoke at Sixth and I, a synagogue that hosts many great book and politics events. I went to as many of those kinds of events as I could back then, but I was especially excited about that one because I already knew that I loved her.
She told her story, the story that many of us are familiar with by now — that her mother’s minimum wage job saved the family from losing their house, because back in the 1960s a minimum wage job could do that. How she, Elizabeth, went to a college that cost $50 per semester, and she worked hard, but the reason she made it was that America invested in kids like her.
Calmly and logically, she explained the recent trajectory of America: that where the country once invested in research and infrastructure and education, it chose to change direction, around 35 years ago now, and instead to spend money on tax breaks for the rich and loopholes for corporations. It chose, instead, the deregulation that led to the widening income gap and the crash of 2008. She explained that because of lobbying and because the rich have friends in influential places, the game is rigged against working families.
She told the story of the birth of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of how hard she had to fight for it, and that its work is part of levelling the playing field. How it had already returned to ordinary people two billion dollars that had been essentially stolen from them by corporations.
She also told of how when she met girls at her events, she would get down on their level and say “I’m running for Senate, because that’s what girls do”. I remember welling up then. I remember my heart swelling.
Marry me, Elizabeth Warren, I wrote afterwards on Facebook. Or at least employ me as your speechwriter.
I remember, that night, longing for her to be President next. I loved Barack Obama — and still do — but he frustrated me sometimes with what I saw as his pragmatic centrism. I wanted someone like Elizabeth Warren: someone who, fuelled by her own experiences, by her deep and wide-ranging thinking and study, and by dogged determination, would fight to redress what I saw, and still see, as the many injustices wrought and compounded by income inequality. Someone who not just tweak the status quo, but create entire systems to battle it: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example. But I knew that Hillary Clinton would be the next President, and that once she was done with her eight years, it would probably be too late for Elizabeth Warren.
I loved her still, and cheered inwardly whenever I saw her on MSNBC. And when, years later, Mitch McConnell voted to silence her objections to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General, he said of her the following, now-famous thing, which only made me love her more.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
My idealism had been dealt a heavy blow by the 2016 election, and I was not as politically active as I perhaps should have been in 2017. So I applied that phrase not just to politics, but to other areas of my life: to the book deal I was persevering towards, to the freelance journalism career I was trying to get off the ground. I saw my own fieriness in Elizabeth Warren’s, and her determination called out some of my own best qualities.
On that evening at Sixth and I in 2014, she told the story so many of us have heard by now: the toaster that could have burned her house down decades ago. The fact that regulations came in to make toasters safer to protect Americans from fire. That, when it came to money, regulations were withdrawn instead, allowing for the rich to grow exponentially richer, and leaving ordinary people vulnerable. Many Americans lost their homes in the 2008 crash, are saddled with crushing student debt, or have to work two jobs to make ends meet.
“The game is rigged,” she said, “and it isn’t right. That’s how I see it.”
She told the story well. It was a well-constructed, coherently narrated, cogently argued narrative. I remember a notable silence in that auditorium as we all listened, rapt.
“Now we can whine about this,” she continued. “We can whimper about this, or we can fight back. Me, I’m fighting back. That’s the best I know to do. The game is rigged, and the way I see it, it is up to us to fix it. Yes, it’s hard to win — you bet it’s hard to win — but we can win. We can win when we fight back.”
And then, in closing, she said this:
The game is rigged, the playing field is tilted, and Washington is working really well for those who’ve already made it... The question is, what have the rest of us got?
We’ve got our voices and we’ve got our votes and if we use them we can make real change.
I wrote this book out of gratitude to my mother and father… they died knowing their children had done better than they did. To my mum and dad, that was success.
I wrote this book out of gratitude to an America that once invested in a future for its kids.
I wrote this book out of determination that we will once again make sure that all our kids get a fighting chance.
Is that so radical? Maybe. But I don’t think it should be. I think we should all aspire to live in that kind of society. That vision is why I’m for Elizabeth Warren, and why I hope you’ll join me.