Senator Elizabeth Warren once appeared on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, TBS’s unwatchable Daily Show spinoff. This pairing had potential — for the first time, Bee had a chance to appear funny in comparison with her guest.
“I am exhausted. I am personally broken,” said Bee, referring to the political scene. “People come up to me all the time and they’re like, ‘What do I do? What do I do? Help me!’ So my question to you is: What should I tell them?”
Gesturing wildly and with an edge to her voice, Senator Warren had marching orders ready: “You get in the fight, and then you fight as hard as you can,” she responded.
“But what does that mean?” asked Bee.
“Oh, come on! You know what it means! It means when you’re told to be quiet, you don’t sit down and be quiet,” replied Warren. “You stand back up.”
If you are the type of person to get awfully inspired by this sort of thing, then I have some bad news for you: The $9.99 temporary tattoos reading “Nevertheless, she persisted” in Senator Warren’s original handwriting have already sold out.
But you need not despair. As a Politico article pointed out earlier this week, the “Warren merchandising-industrial complex” has you covered, offering everything from prayer candles to action figures and coloring books. In fact, Politico found that “a quick Web search for ‘she persisted,’” a catchphrase from the time Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell found Warren in violation of Senate rules, “yields roughly 5,400 results on Etsy and 33,000 on Amazon.” The items for sale include “bracelets, bodysuits, coffee mugs, laptop decals, signs, portraits, cross-stich patterns, phone cases, coasters and wine glasses, among other things.” Warren’s own online store “has expanded beyond traditional political fare such as buttons, bumper stickers, tote bags and T-shirts to offer a line of products” sporting the meme.
To paraphrase Bill Deresiewicz on Terry Eagleton: Warren may wish for capitalism’s demise, but as long as it’s here, she plans to do as well as she can out of it.
But it’s more than that: Elizabeth Warren is becoming a brand. “She’s the Apple of politics,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in one of the most embarrassing on-the-record quotes since Anthony Scaramucci called Ryan Lizza.
Elizabeth Warren, however, is not the Apple of politics. Not even close. In reality, she’s more like the PC guy in Apple’s old “Get a Mac” television ads.
Warren may wish for capitalism’s demise, but as long as it’s here, she plans to do as well as she can out of it.
Not actually captivating or cool, Senator Warren is perennially left struggling to pretend. As National Review’s Kevin Williamson noted in February, Warren “has tried out for many roles: writer of silly self-help books (back when she was advertising herself as ‘Dr. Phil’s financial guru’), academic, Naderite populist,” and more. It is now her turn to play a more familiar role: “First Lady of the Left.”
Notice how much of her rhetoric now relies on her womanhood. Warren used to just be a wannabe Bernie Sanders, the man of the people railing at fat cats on Wall Street. That hasn’t gone away, but “the 99 percent” has clearly taken a backseat to “She persisted.” Which is to say, the people have taken a backseat to Senator Warren herself.
Will they ever learn?
Just as the Democrats tried and failed to make Americans join the cult of Hillary Clinton, it will fail with the cult of Elizabeth Warren. Clinton trotted out every celebrity she could find, grinning maniacally as they gushed, “I’m with her,” and it still wasn’t enough. Predictably, only a lunatic fringe of pro-abortion activists and Democratic-party operatives ever deceived themselves into the make-believe lunacy of Hillary as Hermione Granger, Hillary as Wonder Woman, or Hillary as Daenerys Targaryen. The rest of us found her stiff and uninspiring, and thought the fan-fiction was better left for tweens.
Senator Warren is falling for the same trap. You could see its attraction in the eyes of her strategists: Merge the “man of the people” cult of Bernie Sanders with the “You go, girl!” cult of Hillary Clinton into one movement, embodied in the very person of Elizabeth Warren, and you could have something unstoppable in 2020. This is the master plan. Warren will be the anti-Trump champion, the feminist champion, the working-class champion, the young people’s champion, the media sensation, the pop-culture star, and — don’t you dare forget — the (totally authentic) racial minorities’ champion all in one.
It would work too, and not just in the eyes of deluded liberal hacks, if it weren’t for one thorny issue: Elizabeth Warren cannot deliver the goods.
The senior senator from Massachusetts is awkward and halting, even enervating in her relentless hectoring. Her false enthusiasm — the country, she insisted to Samantha Bee, will come out of the Trump years even better than it was before because “we don’t have any other choice” — can do nothing to conceal her dreariness. Watch in pity as she hounds President Trump on Twitter. Even when she’s right, somehow one feels she’s wrong. As a writer from Boston magazine put it: “Here’s the thing about interviewing Elizabeth Warren: It isn’t so much a conversation as a stump speech to an audience of one.”
Elizabeth Warren is the kind of politician that only a true believer could love. So get your Warren-themed prayer candles, actions figures, and coloring books before they sell out. There are a lot of true believers out there, after all, even if nobody else is buying.
— Elliot Kaufman is an editorial intern at National Review.