There’s a song by the Dodos, one of my favorite bands, with the lyric:
Success, success is failure
Sometimes you can’t win for losing; sometimes your success is inverted by others and touted as failure. It’s a fate particularly acute for conscientious female candidates — how about that.
Elizabeth Warren has been dumped on, not in spite of but because she has given up high-dollar fundraisers. The canny Harvard/McKinsey arbitrageur Pete Buttigieg detected an undervalued asset: Big money — lots of it, in big fistfuls! And with great enthusiasm, he has taken up ostentatious high-dollar fundraisers, hosted by prospective ambassadors to glamorous destination countries.
The big-money campaign era, punctuated by Citizens United, has short-circuited representative democracy. Given the massive amounts that the Koch networks et al will spend, it is not for nothing that mainstream Democratic politicians cite the need to post up on large donors. Buttigieg raised a strong $24.5 million in this fashion — manufacturing strength out of weakness. (On the other hand, Bernie Sanders raised a whopping $34.5 million this past quarter — outraising both Warren and Buttigieg.)
But in proudly granting special access to big donors — even counting it as a virtue! — Dem candidates separate themselves from their necessary role as defenders of the vulnerable and working class. The cleavage has not been lost on the public at large: Educated voters are trending strongly towards the Democratic Party, while white voters with less education (and presumably economic privilege) are trending strongly towards Trump. There are good reasons for educated people, who are revolted by Republican racism and proud ignorance, to flee the GOP. But if the Democrats don’t have a strong message for the working class, we’re toast — and we’ll deserve it. And high-dollar fundraisers put the language, culture, concerns, and methods of the wealthy in the minds and coffers of our candidates. There’s an unavoidable conflict of interest in campaign donations, but there’s also a class conflict, not to mention a cultural conflict.
Warren did attend similar such fundraisers in her Senate races. But in running for President, she decided to do it her way, and gave them up. She decided to build a different kind of power, which is the power of trust. When Van Jones’s perversely suggested that this represents “elitism”, Warren struck exactly the right note: In fighting a corrupt system, people at least want to know you’re trying. That’s not “hypocrisy”, the cardinal sin of the political media’s Church of Tim Russert. That’s growth and progress. If yesterday I failed, and today I succeeded; am I guilty of “hypocrisy”?
Warren has run the least cynical, most honest and forthright campaign, trying to lay everything on the table. Sometimes that helps her — “She’s got a plan for that”, a great slogan — and sometimes it was ill-formed, like with the DNA test. But she’s always trying. If this is the thanks that one gets for trying to do it right, why would anyone bother?
My unsolicited advice for Warren, or whomever wins the Democratic nomination: Stay on offense. Warren’s plans and conscientiousness give opponents — including the political media, and the Republicans — something big to shoot at. The plans are politically useful to her if they give her backup and support for her attacks on them and Trump: What’s your plan? Put up or shut up. If I have a reservation about her candidacy, it’s her ability to leverage good faith and idealism in her campaign.
It’s the fourth quarter. Time to play offense. She gave a good speech on New Year’s Eve … more on that later.