This is exactly the right time for Elizabeth Warren to run for president. There’s a lot of “missed her moment” chatter out there about the Massachusetts senator. But however she fares in the months ahead, her voice, her message and her tenacity are an essential counterweight to the Trump family values of material wealth, callous self-interest and winning.
Four years ago, I wrote that Warren wouldn’t and shouldn’t run, and I wasn't wrong. We were coming off the eight-year Obama presidency and his underappreciated progress in un-rigging the system, to use Warren’s phrase, against low- and middle-income Americans. Any Democratic successor would have continued on that trajectory — certainly Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, who were acutely aware of inequities and had multiple health, education and job proposals meant to address them.
Either of them would have been subjected to Warren’s Senate role as scold, conscience and watchdog. She would have held a President Clinton to her campaign promises and spoken up if the former New York senator with Wall Street ties got too cozy with “fat cats,” “sleazy lobbyists” and corporate America at the expense of the millions running in place or losing ground.
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Furthermore, back then Warren was focused on her signature issues and little else. She had served on three Senate committees that fit her personal background (her parents lost their car and almost lost their house when her father fell ill) and her professional expertise (as a law professor and pioneering researcher on why families go bankrupt). When she was elected in 2012, she was best known for overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program and dreaming up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
President Barack Obama raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans, expanded Medicaid coverage to millions, committed hundreds of millions of dollars for health insurance subsidies, presided over a robust CFPB that took on unethical banks and payday lenders, and had recovered nearly $12 billion for consumers by the time he left office. And he was well on the way to giving raises to 4 million people by updating an overtime rule.
Warren is perfect foil for Trump and GOP
Clinton would have built on that progress toward economic fairness. President Donald Trump, his appointees and his congressional allies have taken a wrecking ball to it via laws, lawsuits, regulations and executive actions. The playing field has been decisively re-tilted in favor of the players Warren has had in her sights for decades, and against those she has championed and protected.
As President Ronald Reagan put it, in a quote Warren included in her announcement video, “We’re going to turn the bulls loose.” Now is a perfect time for her to serve as a foil to Trump and GOP ideas in a high-profile national contest.
It is true that Warren is 69 and female. But age has been no obstacle for Trump, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. And because of her age and gender, Warren has an increasingly unique perspective: She quit college to marry at 19, then somehow managed (calling on her trademark superpower of persistence) to attend law school and carve out a teaching career amid two pregnancies, her husband’s resistance, a divorce and recurring child care crises — all in an era of rampant, blatant sex discrimination.
Warren is such a strong personality and such a, well, woman that people will inevitably obsess over her likability and compare her to Hillary Clinton. There is no alternative but for her to simply be herself, power through the "Pocahontas" idiocy, get better at “spontaneous” beer-drinking Instagram videos or stop doing them, and keep talking about what's important.
Warren will make sure 2020 is about inequality
The 2020 presidential race already holds some echoes of Warren’s 2012 political debut. Would she be more like the highly likable Sen. Scott Brown or more like Martha Coakley, the gaffe-prone, lackluster Democrat he defeated in a 2010 special election after Sen. Ted Kennedy died? That devastating loss cost Democrats their filibuster-proof Senate majority and sent the party into a depression unmatched until Clinton lost in 2016.
Yet it turned out in 2012 that Warren, unlike Coakley, was a natural on the campaign trail: warm and touchy-feely, with that Clintonesque touch (Bill’s) of making each person feel special. As for her supposed Hillaryesque qualities, Democrats and America — particularly people who went for Trump because they feared for their futures — should withhold judgment and see how Warren does as the race unfolds.
One thing in her favor is self-knowledge. She wrote in her autobiography that she was a terrible tennis student who kept hitting balls "over fences, over hedges, over buildings. Once I had a weapon in my hand, I gave it everything I had.”
Now she says with characteristic ferocity that “America’s middle class is under attack” by greedy “billionaires and corporations,” and pledges to “confront the broken system head-on” in that most intense of undertakings, a White House campaign.
Some voters will no doubt want a more calming next president. Others may welcome Warren’s fighting spirit (Bruce Mann, her tennis instructor, didn’t mind it; they've been married since 1980). But win or lose the nomination, Warren will make sure the 2020 election spotlight falls on income inequality and stunted opportunity, the great threats to capitalism itself.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Elizabeth Warren didn't miss her presidential moment. Win or lose, 2020 is her time.