In my mind I have always envisioned why Elizabeth Warren decided to not run for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Weighing all of the options, she probably figured that the chance to be the Democratic Senate leader after Harry Reid left office would ensure her longer more significant influence on policy than going head to head with Hillary Clinton for the 2016 baton.
Plus I’m sure Hillary pulled some sort of Jedi Mind Trick on Warren when they met privately last December, just to make sure the Massachusetts Senator didn’t get any funny ideas about an insurgent campaign. However, when you actually get the chance to see Senator Warren in action, and you consider the paucity of talent and enthusiasm elicited by the current Democratic field, it really makes you wonder why she’s choosing to sit this one out.
This hypothetical political scenario is due to seeing Senator Elizabeth Warren lay out an articulate, passionate, witty and ultimately memorable speech at the Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix Arizona. Netroots (think ‘grassroots’ plus ‘internet’) is a conference for progressive activists and online activists to meet up, network, share ideas and get inspired to do the often thankless job of community activism.
Senator Warren attends the event almost every year, and gives a speech that encourages the audience by reminding them that elected officials of power and influence don’t just come around when there’s a vote to be cast. That being said, her particular speech this year seemed to resonate with the audience in a way that makes you wonder.
The Netroots Nation attendees are the progressive voters in the United States. It would be almost an insult to refer to them as Democrats because many of the political preferences of the audience, be that in areas of immigration, criminal justice reform, environmental justice or minimum wage, their belief systems are not adequately represented by the mainstream centrist Democratic party.
As a whole, the group is full of Bernie Sanders supporters, so when Warren got on stage I expected enthusiasm but not reverence. She delivered a rousing speech with the theme of “America is more Progressive” than Washington insiders. She pointed out that on many issues, from gun control, to Wall Street reform to campaign finance, polls show that the desires of the American public are far left of the political median in Congress.
It was, if anything a reverse of the old “silent majority" argument. While for years Republicans claimed that there was a vast silent majority that agreed with conservative principles but were just to busy being good Americans to vocalize their beliefs Warren argues that the majority are articulating a much more progressive opinion of policy but Congress just won’t listen.
It’s an argument that has legs when you consider four red states voted to raise the minimum wage, and privately many Republicans are happy the Supreme Court didn’t do away with Obamacare.
Warren is a better speaker than Hillary Clinton, she comes off as more energetic than Bernie Sanders, and has better name recognition and intellectual gravitas than Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb. Furthermore, in a crowd like Netroots, where much of the activism is born of the experience of failing to get any real representation out of elected officials, when Warren slams the Obama administration for hiring a revolving door of bankers to regular Wall Street by exclaiming “Personnel is Policy”, people who once believed the system is broken see a fighter who might actually have the chops and the resume to knock down some walls.
Unfortunately as Senator Warren left the stage that fleeting moment was gone. The Progressive audience has to go back to convincing themselves that Bernie Sanders has a chance if they want liberal issues to be addressed.
Senator Warren will join the pantheon of great ‘coulda, shoulda’ run candidates like Governor Cuomo in 1992 or Colin Powell in 2000. Maybe she realizes that she can only be that candid with the Netroots audience. Maybe she just wants to stay in the Senate. Or maybe Hillary Clinton’s mind games are that good. Regardless of the reason, America seems to be missing out on a special kind of message this election season, one that only the packed room at Netroots Nation got to experience.