By D. Allan Kerr
Okay, I wasn’t prepared for this.
Liz Warren, it turns out, is a pretty good candidate. I’m just not sure yet if that’s a good thing.
A year ago I was of the opinion Warren was the worst possible contender Democrats could offer as their champion. She seemed to me to embody everything working class Middle America distrusts – an elitist liberal East Coast Ivy League intellectual snob.
Warren sharing a debate stage with Donald Trump would be a nightmare scenario for Democrats, I thought – the class nerd facing off with the schoolyard bully.
But funny thing about Liz Warren. Like the post-nuclear cockroach or, apparently, Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars,” she would not go away. As the months passed she hung steady in the polls and even began to rise.
So I became somewhat curious about Warren over the past month or two. Then this past week she happened to appear at a town hall meeting at the University of New Hampshire, my alma mater, and I took the opportunity to check her out.
There were no earth-shaking, news-making announcements, no iconic lines uttered – just what appeared to be the standard stump speech presented to introduce herself to voters.
In other words, the very thing I was looking for. And it was an enlightening experience.
The Liz Warren I saw at the university’s Memorial Union Building is folksy, feisty, and unexpectedly funny.
What I always considered a curious pattern of speech turns out to be a curious blend of Oklahoma twang stirred in with a couple decades at Harvard Yard.
She took the stage to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” which was the last walk-up song I would have expected from her. But it made sense when she proceeded to discuss her years growing up middle-class in Oklahoma as a “surprise baby” with three older brothers. All three of those brothers later served in the military, one a career Air Force member who flew combat missions in Vietnam.
She talked about her father suffering a serious heart attack when she was 12, and the medical bills which followed. Her mother had to get a job answering phones at Sears, and Warren hammered home the point that in those days a minimum-wage job was sufficient to save their house from foreclosure.
Warren, surprisingly, has a lot more in common with working-class America than most people think.
She actually knows what it’s like to endure the humiliation of having the family station wagon repossessed after failing to make payments. Her father wound working as a janitor to support the household.
And Warren, who grew up dreaming of becoming a schoolteacher, later found a Texas commuter college with tuition fees she could afford – $50 a semester.
She got married at 19, had babies, taught special ed, eventually went to law school and set out on the path which brought her to New Hampshire seeking the nomination for President of the United States.
I’m not saying I’m ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet.
I’m still intrigued by the prospect of ex-prosecutor Kamala Harris ripping Trump apart on the debate stage. In terms of national defense, at this point I think Biden or Afghanistan War veteran Buttigieg or Harris – who just seems like a pretty tough lady – appear better-suited to the commander-in-chief role than Warren.
I’m a little wary of her Medicare-for-all plan and the funding for it, but even then I respect her bold approach. As she says in her stump speeches, at various times in history people thought abolitionists, suffragists and LBTQ advocates were dreaming impossible dreams as well.
If she were to ask – and for some reason, no one ever asks – there are things I would recommend she do differently. But I do see Warren as far more relatable to Middle America than I would have predicted just a couple months ago.
One hurdle Hillary Clinton has never been able to overcome is how she just seems unlikable to a lot of people. I personally think she could have worked this to her advantage in 2016, but that’s a whole other story. The point is, when she tries to appear like a regular gal it often seems phony.
The Liz Warren I saw in Durham is genuinely likable, like your best friend’s ultra-hip, Red Bull-charged granny. I can see her sitting at a farmer’s kitchen table without coming across as condescending or pompous. And I can see that farmer connecting with her the way he never might have with Hillary.
See, opponents can try to portray Warren as an elitist, but the truth is she first came into public awareness fighting against the elites. She’s the champ who led the charge against big banks screwing over working-class people, long before she got involved in politics. She basically created the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. She understands firsthand how vulnerable most of us are to the financial thunderclap of an unexpected health crisis.
On the campaign trail she speaks not of handouts but of expanded opportunities, which currently seem tilted in favor of those with fat inheritances.
I was surprised to learn recently Warren is 70 years old. On stage her kinetic energy practically gives off carpet sparks, and after the close of her remarks she even danced a little as the loudspeakers blared “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” If I had a hundred bucks I’d put it on her to beat Bernie, Biden and Trump in a septuagenarian 100-yard dash.
I’ve been among those who think the Democratic nominee needs to be someone who can figuratively punch Trump in the nose, but maybe that’s not necessary.
Maybe a better counterpuncher would be someone who can peek over her granny glasses and say, “You know, I just feel bad for Donald. He always seems like such a bitter, angry little man.”
(Nov. 5, 2019)
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