Here it is — the book America has been waiting for: Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance. What will it be? A guide to solving America’s deepest problems? The memoir of a middle-class champion? A presidential-campaign book?
The folks at the airport didn’t seem to care. On its opening day, they didn’t even sell it in our terminal book store. A 300-yard dash back through security uncovered three copies on the bottom shelf of the store at the entrance. Hardcover, 30 dollars.
“You must really want to read this book,” a young cashier remarked. I smiled, nodded, and scurried back for another date with the TSA, which did not consider the book a danger to my fellow passengers.
A Fighting Chance is a presidential-campaign book, no doubt — though Warren may not have initially intended it as such. The book was originally set to be titled “Rigged,” and turning the pages one can just see the aides rolling through sheet after sheet of regulatory-agency high drama, inserting human personality: “Don’t you have any personal stories from the campaign against Scott Brown? How about a dog? Great. Did you ever drink a beer? Alright, make sure to mention every time you did. And we need more Red Sox references. Did you ever eat fried clams?”
True, a local will know that a pricey platter of Chef Jasper White’s Cambridge fried clams (four mentions) isn’t exactly a populist dream, but Warren has already won their support, and maybe that’s what voters in South Carolina think a good Bostonian does.
There are a few surprises in this book, sure. Like how it takes Ms. Warren a mere nine pages to tell us how hard it was being an Indian in Oklahoma. One would think she would have dropped that bit. But unsurprisingly, the theme of victimhood runs loudly through her 277 pages. The young Massachusetts woman with two (unnamed) master’s degrees and no job (because Republicans); the woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s (because Republicans); and of course the victims of the banks (because Republicans).
The banks, the banks. Has such a villain ever cursed our fruited plains before? From start to finish, the banks plague our protagonist. Through the nearly 300-page story of a political rise in the midst of a housing bubble and financial meltdown, the bankers lurk constantly. (Meanwhile, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac earn not a mention in the copy, and only two each in the extensive notes section.)
A Fighting Chance is split into three sections. Part One tells the story of a hardscrabble Oklahoma upbringing where dad struggles to work, mom is forced to take a job, and young Ms. Warren joins a debate club to earn a college scholarship. And Warren really does need to emphasize these years, because once childhood is over, she (or her helpful staffers) have to stretch to find those human stories, devoting graph after graph to the happy (and sad) tales of the dogs she’s owned over the years. (Voters love dogs, Senator!)
We’re also treated to a glimpse of just how much Warren has accomplished, studying at George Washington University, then the University of Houston, then Rutgers University, before she and her second husband bounce around in academia at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Houston, and a little place called Harvard University. And all of that life experience qualified her for a job in government. Which qualified her for a job in the Senate, we learn.
Part Two is a necessary struggle for Warren, and it arouses the suspicion that she and her supporters are eager to show there’s more to her than just being a Democrat who managed to win in a deeply blue state while President Barack Obama was on the ticket. The center of the book tells the story of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – the soon-to-be-sprawling government agency she created to protect us all. And here things get a little interesting, as she guides us through the ins and outs of forming a new agency. The political warfare is detailed, and Ms. Warren is honest, leaving the reader few doubts that she cares little for her sometimes-ally Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner. She even includes tense exchanges with Obama (one can picture the aide dropping in that compliment to his smile, if just to ease off the commander-in-chief a little).
But she also leaves little doubt as to who she thinks “the good guys” are. One sentence went a little something like this:
“Politics so often felt dirty to me – all the lobbyists and cozy dealings and the special favors for those who could buy access. But as I stood in the lobby [after meeting Senator Ted Kennedy], I felt as if I’d been washed clean.”
Other “good guys” honored with a shoutout include Emily’s List, the League of Conservation Voters, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn.org, the Daily Kos, Democracy for America, Progressives United, and union after union after union, from the Teamsters to the AFL-CIO.
And Ms. Warren is clear who the enemies are as well. She breaks clean with the feel-good campaign books and names sitting congressmen to her enemies list, which includes Republican senator Richard Shelby and Republican House members Jeb Hensarling, Patrick McHenry, and even the recently arrested Michael Grimm, who aroused Warren’s ire by being a Marine Corps veteran and former FBI agent who said he doesn’t believe in big-government solutions.
Not enough of us want to be government bureaucrats, she laments: “Just ask a bunch of the brightest college kids: ‘How many of you dream of working for the federal government someday?’ Not enough hands go up.”
Ms. Warren’s potential campaign for president is laid out in the third part, on her 2010 Senate race against Senator Scott Brown, a man whose cardinal sin seems to be that he’s a Republican who pulled off the improbable feat of getting Bay State voters to vote him into Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat.
It’s hard to otherwise explain how she could tell the poor souls she met on the trail in deeply Democratic Massachusetts, under a Democratic Senate with a progressive president, that things will be better if only they elect her.
But then, Warren’s faith in government is informed by decades in the university and years in regulation, and she is an outspoken defender of the state, lamenting that “over the past generation or two, many Americans had come to believe that government service was synonymous with bureaucracy and complacency. . . . Every dismissive comment . . . had left a small cut.”
We don’t know if Ms. Warren will run for president yet. But she is the Democrat who won Massachusetts — the sky’s the limit.