Unlike so many of her Washington colleagues, Senator Elizabeth Warren has developed a hard-won political intelligence without selling her soul.
Nothing in her new book denies that the old boys network got in her way. She doesn't accuse anyone who experiences its existence of suffering from a feminist hangover. There are no paragraphs about how most men in government have the best interests of women deep in their hearts -- no apologist claims that some of her best friends are men.
The Massachusetts senator doesn't pretend that being a woman has never been an issue for her (with its rich implication that there are no issues unless you're a troublemaker). Spooning out such happy hogwash isn't her style.
Instead, Warren shares war stories, which is something that women do far too infrequently. She toils in a snake pit, but she's learned how to wrench power from venomous opponents, buoyed by extraordinary tenacity and her conviction that she is fighting the right battles.
It has been quite a while since a woman emerged on the national political scene who hasn't felt compelled to repeatedly remind us that she is a mother, and therefore not as threatening as someone who isn't. Warren is a mother, but not yours. So if you're one of the bad guys stealing from the less fortunate, don't expect to get a pass.
While A Fighting Chance was not written to awaken women to the need for political astuteness, it does have that potential. It's a trenchant reminder that no matter how nice things may seem early in a career, moving ahead requires competing for ground on playing fields the other guys designed. It means studying your surroundings, seeing what matters and what doesn't, who gets ahead, how much of your soul you'll need to sacrifice to do things their way and, in that regard, whether where you work is where you belong.
There must be days when Warren wonders why she keeps fighting a system that is so thoroughly rigged. She could walk away. She reminds us, and herself, of the people who need someone to work on their behalf. She learns the ropes, takes risks, deals with setbacks, gets knocked down and gets back up to fight another day. She's pugnacious, unafraid of politics and of being labeled.
Read the book once for the truth about how a bunch of groupthink, greedy, power-hungry sharks nearly ruined the country. Then read it to learn how to get around, over and though nasty politics because someday you just may need the lessons.
Kathleen also blogs here.