From the Left



Warren has a strategy to take on Bernie

Susan Estrich on

What a coincidence. With less than three weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, we suddenly learn about a meeting that took place a year ago, with only two people in the room. She, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, told him, Sen. Bernie Sanders, she was running for president; he allegedly told her that a woman couldn't win, which is a weird thing to say to a woman who has told you that she is running, but even so. It's a fair question I've been trying to answer for a few decades.

Americans don't want to admit that they are uncomfortable. They tell pollsters in overwhelming numbers that, of course, they don't discriminate. That's not the question you need to look at. The killer is that in a recent poll, only 33% believed their neighbors would vote to elect a female president, and those numbers have been holding since I started following them 20 years ago.

Which, if you ask me, is why Hillary Clinton lost. Donald Trump was a much easier candidate to beat in 2016. A fast-talking billionaire with no claim to success in the public sector, a guy who boasted about how he had such an easy time seducing (or worse) women -- he should have lost. Former Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama would have cleaned his clock, but in fairness, so would former Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State John Kerry and maybe even former Vice President Joe Biden. So why not Clinton, one of the most qualified candidates ever to run, one of the smartest and most accomplished women of the baby-boom generation?

I know. It's not a lesson about women but about this particular woman. I don't buy that. I've never heard of a male candidate being attacked because he was ambitious; of course he was ambitious, or he wouldn't be running for president. I've never seen a man pilloried the way Sen. Amy Klobuchar was when she first announced her candidacy. Story after story quoted former staff members complaining that she was difficult to work for. Klobuchar has gotten more done in the Senate, with colleagues from both sides of the aisle, than almost anyone in the Senate. So maybe she is difficult to work for, and I know what that's like. But really, why should voters care, or care very much? She obviously plays well with others. Why hasn't Klobuchar taken off? Could it have something to do with her not being the right woman either? Exactly what would the right woman look like?

Warren is a very good politician. Instead of getting into an on-screen debate about what Sanders said, she took on the idea that women can't win by pointing to the success of the two women on the stage with unbroken win records.

Fair enough -- if it had anything to do with beating President Donald Trump. Warren has won -- in Massachusetts. And Amy Klobuchar has won -- in Minnesota. We're talking about states that go blue when the rest of the country is turning red.


And, sadly, there is still a big difference between being elected to a legislative position (which women have been doing very well) and being elected to govern. In fact, neither major party in Minnesota has ever nominated a woman for governor. In Massachusetts, the only woman to serve as governor was acting Gov. Jane Swift, who filled out the term of the incumbent governor when he was confirmed for an ambassadorship. California, which has sent Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris and Barbara Boxer and Maxine Waters to Washington, has never elected a woman governor. Los Angeles, where I live, has never had a woman mayor. New York City has never had a woman mayor, and New York state has never elected a woman governor, even though Hillary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand won cleanly for the Senate.

I understand why Warren took on Sanders. This is a campaign, and with them dividing the lefties, Biden can win, or not lose, with a much smaller percentage of voters. That's politics. But it was after the debate, when Sanders stuck out his hand to shake Warren's and she refused to shake back, that I felt bad for Sanders. He was trying to rise above it, and she very visibly would not, and the post-debate brush-off was much discussed by all the pundits and noticed by everyone.

Whatever he said, or didn't, a year ago, it's no reason not to shake hands. That's not very gentlemanly, and it's certainly not very ladylike. Everyone else on the stage was shaking hands. In the vise in which a woman must operate, neither wimpy nor nasty, tough but not too tough, strong but not mean, Warren's decision not to shake Sanders' hand says more about her electability than anything that was said onstage.


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