A growing chorus of progressives -- including the members of MoveOn.org and our friends at Democracy for America -- are urging Elizabeth Warren to run for president. But not everyone who loves Warren is on board. Some raise a counterargument: Warren shouldn't run for president, they say, because we need her in the Senate.
It's an understandable sentiment: She's an electrifying, awesome senator. Elizabeth Warren has done for C-SPAN what Mad Men did for AMC. Her voice, on the Senate floor and in committee hearings and speeches across the country, soars above the turgid Washington morass like Yo-Yo Ma playing a cello suite from a hang glider over a sewage plant.
What's more, she gets things done. When she sees common ground, she reaches across the aisle to pass legislation; for example, the Smart Savings Act, introduced by Warren and Rob Portman (R-OH), passed through the Senate unanimously last December. And when no common ground can be found, or the price of compromise is simply too high, Warren stands firm, takes her argument to the public -- and, on issues from student loans to Wall Street regulation to the TPP, transforms the debate.
So, yes: We do need her in the Senate! Please don't leave the Senate, Elizabeth Warren!
But here's the thing: You don't need to leave the Senate to run for president.
You don't have to choose. You can be in the Senate and the race for the White House at the same time. Just ask former Senators Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Bob Dole, Ted Kennedy or Joe Biden. Or Joe Lieberman, Chris Dodd, Sam Brownback, Elizabeth Dole, Lamar Alexander, Tom Harkin, Dick Lugar, Evan Bayh, or Orrin Hatch. Or the ghost of John F. Kennedy or Warren G. Harding. Once the campaign is over, you go right back to the Senate, likely with increased stature -- or you go to the White House, in which case you don't need C-SPAN to get your speeches on television.
Let's game this out.
Suppose Warren runs. During the race, she'll have an expanded national platform from which to advance progressive values -- whether she wins or loses the primary. Remember, the core ideas behind the Affordable Care Act came not from Obama's team but from the plans proposed by then-Senators Clinton and Edwards during the 2008 primary campaign. Campaigns shape the national agenda.
Then the voting begins. Suppose she loses the primary. That'd be a shame, but so what? She's still the senior senator from Massachusetts, and now an even more high-profile leader. So if Warren runs, it's possible that when 2017 arrives, she'll be back at Ted Kennedy's desk on the Senate floor, now with a résumé that echoes her predecessor's, ready to dig in and pursue a similarly transformative legislative career. In that scenario, she'd be needed in the Senate more than ever.
But if she runs -- and only if she runs -- she can win. In the general, she'd be a powerful candidate, with a message of fairness and opportunity that speaks to voters across party lines. And maybe, in January 2017, Elizabeth Warren stands on the steps of the Capitol, puts her hand on the Bible -- and then delivers an inaugural address that brings the nation to its feet.
No matter how the race unfolds, a presidential run strengthens Elizabeth Warren's hand -- and empowers the so-called Warren Wing of the Democratic Party.
In other words, it's not "either/or." It's "both/and." The fight for fairness in America is best served if Warren is in the Senate and in the presidential arena.
For most Warren fans, thinking through these scenarios is enough to dispel the "We need her in the Senate," objection. But for some, a deeper concern remains unaddressed. For some observers, the benefits to Warren and the nation afforded by a presidential campaign are overwhelmed by a greater cost: The inevitable loss of her unapologetic, authentic, unfiltered purity.
Politics, they argue, is a dirty business. And presidential politics is the dirtiest of the dirty. If she runs for president, they worry, she'll have to make nice with special interests. She'll have to dial it down. She'll have to rein in exactly what we all love about her. And for some folks, the worst part of all comes if she wins: A President Warren, they say, would have to make exactly the kinds of compromises that Senator Warren so wonderfully refuses to accept.
That's an understandable sentiment, too. But it doesn't give Warren enough credit.
What makes Warren such a singular figure isn't just her way with words. It isn't a refusal to compromise -- in fact, she frequently compromises, when doing so advances the best interests of working families and the middle class.
And it certainly isn't some kind of saintly remove from the earthly realities of politics.
No, what draws people to Warren is her unusual combination of guts, brains and heart--her willingness to fight, and fight smart, for what's right. To make a difference in people's lives.
That's her superpower. And the opportunity to make a difference is what pulled her into politics in the first place. She dreamed up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and led the fight to make it real, long before her name was on any ballot. It took a grassroots "draft Warren" campaign, with regular people urging her to fight on their behalf in Washington, to convince her to run for Senate in 2012. And if she does choose to run in 2016, it won't be because she craves higher office, or likes seeing herself on TV (by all accounts, she very much doesn't). If she runs, it will be because she's decided that running is the surest path to building a better future for everyone.
It won't be easy. As she writes in her memoir, A Fighting Chance: "Change -- real change -- is hard. Uphill, grind-grind-grind, sweat-it-out hard."
"Yes," she writes, "Change is hard, but it is possible -- and that's the part that fires me up."
That's what fires us up, too.
Senator Warren, if you're reading this: We're ready to go.
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