The Magazine

Indian Spring

Another Massachusetts miracle for Scott Brown?

Jun 4, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 36 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

From the moment it became clear that Scott Brown would win “the Kennedy seat,” Massachusetts Democrats began thinking of a rematch. And this time, Brown would not have the luxury of running against some political pug. They would send out a real candidate and raise plenty of money for that candidate’s campaign.

The Democrats’ handpicked champion appears to be Elizabeth Warren. There is still the party convention on June 2, which looks a little less like the mere formality it was a few weeks ago, back when Warren seemed the perfect candidate and an odds-on favorite to restore the proper political order in the state of Massachusetts. But the long odds are still for a Brown-Warren race.

Elizabeth Warren was one of the Obama administration’s more compelling figures in its early days. A law professor who had achieved prominence for her work on consumer issues—especially bankruptcy—she served as chair of a panel overseeing the TARP financial bailout and was later an assistant to the president and special adviser to the secretary of the Treasury. She pushed for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was thought to be in line to be its head.

Warren had credibility as an expert whose big issue could not have been better aligned with the times. She had written books about the economic storms that were, increasingly, swamping the middle class. While she was a professor of law at Harvard, her Oklahoma roots are blue collar. Her empathy for the middle class and its economic struggles is plainly genuine and passionate. Her books on the subject are compelling enough that Christopher Caldwell wrote of them (and her) in these pages: “Her understanding of the financial crisis is best described as populist, conservative, even right-wing. It arises from what has happened to the American middle class in the past four decades.”

A Harvard law professor who empathized with average Americans and a woman, Warren seemed cut out to run against Brown, and once she announced, the money began rolling in. In the first quarter of 2012, she raised almost $7 million. Brown raised less than half that.

And, of course, Warren’s nascent campaign was covered lavishly (if not slavishly) by the media. This included a firm, schoolmarmish, fingerpointing lecture which she delivered on the matter of class warfare:

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

One almost expected her to conclude by saying, “So sit up straight, keep quiet, and pay your taxes.” This peroration was a kind of war cry for the left and established Warren as a candidate of tough ideas, a fresh face, and some kind of inevitable political force. The phrase Warren for President began to appear on the Internet. She reacted the way most people would and began, evidently, to believe the extravagant things that were written and said about her. When the Occupy Wall Street movement burst onto the scene, she did not merely endorse it but went so far as to claim that she had “created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do.”

By the spring of 2012, Warren had emerged as a political heavyweight, and Democrats were counting on her to take back their Senate seat in Massachusetts, one they badly needed. Still, it would be a tough, expensive race. Brown would run as a centrist, work-across-the-aisle kind of guy, while he painted her as an elitist Harvard leftist. Warren, meanwhile, would accuse Brown of being . . . well, a Republican. One who took campaign contributions from Wall Street, among other sins.

Her line of attack seemed, on the face of it, cleaner and more likely to draw blood. Brown, after all, is a Republican and he does take contributions from Wall Street. That Elizabeth Warren is an elitist seems a slightly harder case to make. There are those Oklahoma roots and the undeniable (and appealing) efforts on behalf of the middle class, which Caldwell wrote about. She might be teaching at Harvard, but she got there, it seemed, through hard work and not by virtue of birth.

And, then, in April came the story that one blogging wit captured perfectly with the headline: “Funny, She Doesn’t Look Siouxish.”

Recent Blog Posts