I have been reflecting on the outpouring of grief over Elizabeth Warren’s withdrawal, and I think I have some measure of understanding about it. To be sure, a great deal of the sadness is because she is a wonderful candidate and a woman who did not get a fair chance due to a combination of sexism and media bias and a few other factors.
But there is something else, as well. It has to do with sudden awareness and the scales falling from voters’ eyes.
Consider when the Biden consolidation occurred. It was after Bernie took a commanding lead and appeared to benefit from the fragmentation of his moderate Democratic opposition. At that moment a lot of people who truly feel that Bernie, right and righteous though he is, is unelectable and would cause the Democrats to lose the election, ran to Joe Biden as the logical port in the storm.
You Bernie folks may fume and pull out your hair, and it is understandable that you would do so, because you believe so fervently in what he says. God bless you for that. He is the first real Democratic visionary to come down the pike in years. But grant that the cooler heads were not without a certain justification. As always, young voters did not vote (sorry, the numbers don’t lie), the African American community that is the backbone of the party gravitated to Biden, and Joe found his footing just a little bit.
Many of us, schooled and wounded in the world of realpolitik, came to the sad conclusion that the faith in the Great Bernie Wave very likely is magical thinking, and that our fear of Trump had to guide our choice. We were no lovers of Biden – still aren’t – but we hadn’t had to look at the reality of what that meant. There still was Elizabeth and some unexamined hope that the political concrete was not yet setting. When Elizabeth withdrew we suddenly realized not only what we had lost, but what that meant.
You may rest assured that the grief at Elizabeth’s withdrawal is not from the Bernie followers. To them, she was just a sidebar to the Bernie story –“Bernie Lite” as I called it.
Some of the grief is from the Elizabeth true believers — and their sense of loss is palpable — who saw in her a woman of substance and character who had all the necessary presidential tools in her toolbox and never got the chance she should have had.
But a great part of the grief is due to the scales falling from the eyes of the rest of us Democrats who now, if we don’t believe Bernie can save us from Trump and a down ballot cataclysm, are staring into the stark face of a retrograde Biden candidacy.
Yes, we know he’s a nice guy. Yes, we know he has more honest empathy for working folks in his little finger than the supposedly great empath, Bill Clinton, had in his entire body. But we also remember how he treated Anita Hill and how he lined up with the banks against Elizabeth. And if ever there was somebody who is part of the old boy network, he is it.
And suddenly all our dreams of a new political age – the dream that never quite got realized with Obama – are being subsumed into the morass of political expediency that Biden represents.
And just as suddenly, the astonishing presence that Elizabeth was – a bridge, not a compromise – is hitting our awareness like a political two by four. More than that, we see that when this kabuki dance is all over, it’s ending right where it started – with three old white men who don’t understand that they should be mentors, not modern leaders, duking it out in their world of comb overs, hair plugs, and heart attacks.
Hey, I’m among them. And I know the truth. All of us folks of this generation know the truth. THEY DON’T BELONG THERE. None of them, I don’t care what your political stripe is. They should be the mentors, the guides, the political elders. They truly do have a role, but it’s not the one to which they aspire. And Joe might be the most retrograde, which makes him the most comforting. But the hard truth is, the marching band should get off the stage.
It’s time for the women. It’s time for the next generation. It’s time for new voices. Look at the wreckage. Kamala, Pete, Beto, Julian, Cory, Andrew, and so many others. Road kill from your father’s Oldsmobile.
Somehow Elizabeth was the magical middle. But no one likes the middle. And we didn’t know how beautiful and perfectly situated that middle was until it was gone.
So now we grieve as we face the fact that all we have are three old white guys, all of whom fail to “get it” in varying degrees.
Here’s the hard truth. Bernie lectures and doesn’t listen, Joe listens but uses what he hears to buttress old, tired policies, and Trump has never heard anything other than the sound of his own voice.
And she had a plan.
And people laughed at her for it.
But most of all, she made us feel like we were heard.
The trouble is, we didn’t listen. And now we are all paying the price.