It’s Great to See Democrats Falling in Love With Elizabeth Warren—and Terrible to See Them Hating on Joe Biden

Michael Tomasky
Robyn Beck/Getty

I like and admire Elizabeth Warren. I don’t agree with every one of her positions—starting with her most notable one, to which we’ll return shortly. But I’m behind her 1,000 percent when it comes to her anger on behalf of the shafted middle and working classes in this country. And some of her ideas that get less attention are nothing short of thrilling to me, like how she would attack monopoly power. Impressively, her raft of proposals includes a strong agenda on behalf of people who probably aren’t going to give a liberal Massachusetts Democrat more than 20 percent of their votes, like farmers

She has also, of course, turned out to be a much better campaigner than people thought she was going to be. She’s dynamic. She loves crowds, and the crowds love her. For somebody who had to be talked into running for the Senate in the first place, she’s really taken to this, and she’s great at it.

Conversely, I’ve never been much of a Joe Biden fan. When he first flashed into my consciousness, probably in the late 1970s or early 1980s, I admit to having had a favorable shallow first impression: Oh, look, a young senator! That was really unusual back then. But then I watched him withdraw from the 1988 presidential race after an embarrassing plagiarism scandal (why plagiarize… Neil Kinnock?!). And then I watched him rough up Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas hearings, questioning her more skeptically than sympathetically. And then I watched him buddy up to monsters like Bibi during his years as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

When Barack Obama chose him to be his vice president, I thought: well…uninspiring, not interesting, but from Obama’s point of view, totally understandable. Obama needed, arguably, exactly what Biden was and is: Someone whose career has been devoted to maintaining and defending the Washington institutions in which he circulated. He was a reliable liberal vote on most matters—don’t misunderstand that. He did much laudable work as a senator on things like voting rights (people who know Biden’s civil rights record only because of Kamala Harris’ attack in that first debate have a grossly distorted picture of his overall history on these matters). But Joe Biden was never going to blaze any major trails. The one time he did it, on gay marriage, he did it by accident.

So in my heart, I’d rather see Warren be president than Biden.

Then why am I feeling a little sorry for Biden lately?

I’ll tell you why. The hatred of him among the liberal-left intelligentsia—the Twitterati, some people who show up regularly on MSNBC, and so on—is way over the top. I mean, people despise him. They talk about him as if he’s a right-wing Republican. I know that all these people desperately want to see Donald Trump lose the election, but they sometimes talk as if Biden being president would be nearly as distasteful to them. It’s staggering to me.

And the adulation of Warren is excessive, too. Some people write and talk about her as if she’s some kind of demigod. I think I get why. She is sociologically tailor-made for the liberal-left intelligentia (of which I suppose I am a certified member, no denying that, but I do try to be able to examine my own species as I examine others’). She’s super-smart. She’s wonky. She’s passionate about the central facts of American life that people like me care about most, economic inequality and the concentration of wealth. She’s just, you know, like us, culturally; if life hadn’t made her a superstar, she’d be the kind of person we’d have to dinner parties, or run into at Whole Foods surveying the sustainable fish options. For these and perhaps other reasons, she clobbers Biden among college-educated Democrats.

As I said above, I love all those things about her, too. But I think a lot of people in the circles I travel in are blind to her electoral weaknesses—or they ignore them, or they just don’t want to think about them because they complicate the story people want to tell themselves.

But they are real. One, of course, is a question that is wrong and sexist and effed up, but a real concern nonetheless for many voters: Can a liberal woman beat Trump? I don’t know. I was shocked at the degree of the sexism in the 2016 vote. Yes, Warren isn’t Hillary, who had her own particular baggage. But while some of the anti-Clinton vote was anti-Clinton per se, some of it was also just anti-woman. And Trump and Fox and right-wing dark money hit groups will activate the latent sexism part of men’s brains in ways we can’t even comprehend right now. It’s not a reason to be against someone, but it’s something to acknowledge.

Democrats Say They’ll Support a Woman for President. Here’s How We Know They’re Lying.

But more important are some of the positions she’s taken, notably Medicare for All, and raising her hand to affirm she’d eliminate private insurance, which is captured on video. That figures to be a huge general election problem. You see that she dodges the tax question, and she dodges it because the truth is really complicated—some people’s overall health-care outlays will go down as promised, but others’ will go up, and not just rich people. And that’s just the most obvious of many complications. You probably haven’t noticed this, but the Warren campaign has yet to release its official health-care policy. I can guarantee you that they haven’t done so because they’re trying to figure out how they can inch themselves away from the whole-hog position she’s adopted on the trail without the left screaming betrayal.

Now. I’m certainly not saying Biden is without flaws. His sharpness, or lack of it, is at times alarming and is a real issue. Trump and Fox and dark money groups will go to town on that, too. Not that Trump’s in any position to talk, but that’s never stopped him. Biden seems as of now more likely to get the votes of disaffected Republicans and independents, and those famous Obama-to-Trump voters. But maybe Warren would prove that she can get enough of them, too. Warren, whose rhetoric on middle-class economics is stronger than Biden’s, might even prove more capable of getting some  of these voters. We don’t know. 

But I do know this: Biden might be the Democratic nominee. In fact, he’s the favorite to be the nominee. Remember how I said above that Warren clobbers Biden among college-educated Democrats? Well, he clobbers her among non-college-educated Democrats. If you’re a Warren partisan, you might give some thought as to why that is, actually, and remember while you’re doing it that non-college-educated Democrats outnumber college-educated ones two-to-one. Remember also that Biden has far greater strength among African-American voters than does Warren (or any of the rest of them), and black turnout might be the single most important factor next November. By the way, Biden also leads Warren in Massachusetts. The most recent poll from there was within the margin of error, but still, Biden led.

So come next April or May, Biden may well have clinched the nomination. And people are going to need to be for him. Not grudgingly. Not “well, I’ll vote for him, but I won’t go knock on any doors for him.” Not just against Trump. For Biden. And if influential liberals spend the next seven or eight months savaging the guy, their followers and readers will get the message loud and clear that Biden isn’t really worth supporting. 

Just remember—there are a lot of rank-and-file Democrats, folks whose interests people like me purport to be defending, who like Biden fine; even some who love him. They don’t know as much as we do about policy, but they just might know some other things that we don’t. So let’s try to be self-aware enough to know that our little bubble is just that.

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