For such a thin woman, Elizabeth Warren's handshake is astonishingly strong. It matches her intense gaze, focused attention and full, clear responses to each person — a.k.a. voter — she touches. She couples her sincerity and energy to vast knowledge and analysis.There's no political or economic question you could ask that she hasn't already considered.
Last evening at Florian Hall, I saw and heard her engage about 300 as a group and then one at a time. She owned the room every second.
Disclaimer: At Left Ahead, several candidates for the U.S. Senate seat up in 2012 joined us. That includes two still in the race, Marisa Defranco and Warren. We found the former powerful and with a strong platform, and were even more impressed with the latter.
I've heard and seen Warren personally a few times since last summer, before she officially announced. Of course, she's also been on talk shows as well as in media interviews. I went last night to catch the evolution of her stump speech and how she worked a larger group. Afterward, we chatted just a minute. When I complimented her on the advances in her presentation, she gave that winning little grin and said, "Yup. I've been working on it."
She's gone far beyond the too-often-repeated phrases like growing up "on the ragged edge of the middle class." She's ready to bring values campaigning to a contest and national conscience where values has been a code word for excluding, hindering and harming other Americans.
Click the under-2-minute clip below to hear her wrap-up last evening. The previous hour had detail and background, but here she rouses the crowd with vision of both a past and future America. Her values include opportunity for all and clear steps how to make that happen. As she put it, "What kind of people are we and what kind of future are we going to build?...This is our moment in history!"
Head to head, there'd be no competition. I'd bet that she has 30 IQ points on him, carries a huge bag of knowledge, and is plain about both the problems and the solutions for what ails America.
Yet in this first real test in a post-Citizens United world, we know the mailboxes, email boxes, doorknobs, and most of all airwaves and cable will drip with political venom. It's highly likely she'll be the Dem to run in November. There's certainty that her supporters will do nasty work in revealing Brown's record, and no doubt that the other side will be far worse. I guess that the Brown side will have five to ten times as many millions to attack her. I don't have to guess from what we've seen already that his supporters won't bother with truth or anything verifiable. Theirs will be emotion, particularly fear based, lowest-common-denominator spots.
The best news for her side has two plies. She's tough, can take the attacks, and will call out the lies. Also, she has a clear platform of short-term and long-range goals, with the ways to achieve them. Brown? No, nothing. The cliché is that attack ads work, but it's also true they don't always decide the result.
Warren's also been working on presenting her personal story. Brown can stretch and fake his upbringing (absentee executive dad, Tufts's education, and very brief money troubles for his divorced mom). Warren has real experiences that most of America, far less privileged than Brown, can relate to personally.
Her mother answered phones at Sears when her maintenance-crew dad had a disabling heart attack. She worked as a baby sitter at 9, waitress at 13, and earned her way through public university for teaching and law degrees — with a kid, her own divorce, and a remarriage. She and her hubby teach at Harvard Law, but as she put it, she "scratched my way" there.
She also has compelling sibling tales of one brother who had 288 Vietnam combat missions, another who has been a serial entrepreneur (whom Republicans would call a "job creator" except he actually did that).
She has actual struggles overcome. She can even note that she literally hung out her attorney's shingle in front of her house when she passed the bar, nine months pregnant and thus unemployable. She kept the shingle to remind her of what determination can bring.
So, from the listening tours in the living rooms of MA, she's watched and heard what voters care about. As she put it last night when she started out personal, "I think you have the right to know the heart of anyone who's going to represent you."
Past and Future
Warren has the other personal advantage of being a boomer. She grew up when the positive effects of economic reforms and laws made for the commonweal were still strong. She could work her way through public college and earn out her loans by teaching, for example.
She does not gloss over that period either. She says that women, blacks, Latinos and others were not yet welcome in many places and to many jobs. She notes that nation had laid the track with white men that then led to opening up more education and employment opportunity for all...until the terrible lawmaking from the 1980s that nibbled and chomped away at the post-Depression stability.
Refreshingly, she speaks of the related values. She wants us to stop subsidizing "those who have already made it," and instead invest in education, jobs and infrastructure. She provided a list of specific investments that would support those, thus bring back the ideal of an America of opportunity for all that she grew up knowing.
I have no doubt that in debates, or those dreadful debate-like-objects known as forums, she'd skunk Brown. She has specific proposals for clear aims. She accomplished more in her appointed position that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau than Brown has in his entire MA and U.S. Senatorial career.
Yet debates won't be the only factors in this election. Attack-ad weight will surely go to Brown, but she's smarter, more credible and far more humane than he and will win the personal appearances. Fortunately for her, she had only the commonwealth and not the whole nation to cover for this one. She also has an amazing level of energy.
It's possible that MA voters will go with the incumbent, fearing change and fantasizing that the always failing GOP economics lies really will work this time. I wouldn't bet on it. She's hot stuff.