In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to describe the political scene:
A few years ago, there was a revolution against the intelligentsia. People said, “You know, those people, particularly on the coasts, are trying to tell us what to do.” They wanted a change. That explains Donald Trump. Now, people seem to have changed. This cycle, people want stability.
Have they changed so much? Bloomberg thinks the tides are turning in his direction. I’m not so sure on either count. If people wanted the intelligentsia, if they wanted someone on the coasts telling them what to do, Elizabeth Warren would be on her way to the Democratic nomination. Instead, she is soon to be packing up her campaign. Her job will have been to knife Michael Bloomberg before he could launch a sneak attack on Sanders on Super Tuesday.
Warren was clearly the favorite candidate of academics and journalists — the intelligentsia. Why? Because she was the quintessential “front row” candidate, to borrow a term from author and photographer Chris Arnade. The image of her campaign will be her on a debate stage, hand raised, ready with an answer — but losing support roughly every minute she speaks.
After her dismal showing in South Carolina, there is no chance of Warren becoming the electoral alternative to Bernie Sanders. The first three states tried Pete Buttigieg in that role. South Carolina resoundingly chose Joe Biden. Her campaign fell between two stools: the young, somewhat nervous Left, and an older, aspirational center.
Her campaign persona had a funny way of playing to each. To the Left, she offered her ambition: her plans to end private health insurance, institute a wealth tax, make day care universal and free. Her promise was to give them security. To the center, she gave her ability to do homework. Every issue had an elaborate plan. Every plan was drawn up in dollars and cents. Sometimes the figures weren’t quite right. To them, she offered her competence and attention to detail.
Well, sort of. Her Medicare for All plan would send the federal budget into a new stratosphere, and she didn’t even include the cost of her plan to cover illegal aliens as well. Not to mention that her proposal includes tax increases that are unconstitutional and politically infeasible.
No matter, her numerous plans weren’t meant to be real. Congress doesn’t make a habit of passing a presidential candidate’s PDFs into law. The plans were meant to communicate that she was serious, that she puts in the overtime and sweats the details, just like all the other high-achieving non-billionaires have to do. Her sell to the Democratic Party was that she could pursue left-wing ideals in a responsible way. That is, she was proposing an impossible trade off: the pretense of radical action to thoroughly restructure existing power structures, while making sure that almost none of the affluent voters who support her would get hurt.
But the Left rejected her as a phony. She wouldn’t call herself a socialist, like Bernie Sanders. Also, if you looked carefully, the plans weren’t socialist in a traditional sense. They weren’t intended to destroy the social stratification of American life, but to reinforce it. In the debate preceding the South Carolina primary, Warren said that cancelling student debt was one of the ways she would help black and Latino Americans achieve equality with their white peers. But of course, this would be the equivalent of passing reparations for the doctors, lawyers, academics, and other professionals who hold the bulk of the loan debt and who would benefit the most from seeing it disappear. Working-class kids, disproportionately black and Latin, who saved their pennies, paid their freight as they went along, and chose an affordable night school would come out the biggest sucker of all.
She was also a phony in deeper ways. Elizabeth Warren vowed to stop taking the support of super PACs, which she opposed as part of her anti-corruption agenda. She had already tapped out her donor network in super Pacs before she stopped taking their money. Or so she thought. More recently, she reversed her position on super PACs once again and raised millions of the supposedly corrupt soft money in the days leading to Super Tuesday.
And on top of it all is the evidence suggesting that she deliberately lied about her own ethnic identity, claiming to be a Native American, so that Harvard Law School, which was desperate for nonwhite law professors, could hire her and quell a growing protest movement on the campus.
Elizabeth Warren was not a Native American, she was not a radical egalitarian, her homework answers were elaborate but did not add up. Neither as left-wing as she proposed to be, nor as responsible and diligent. She won’t be missed.