Everyone watching this has the same thought: Has Elizabeth Warren ever in her life unwound with a beer instead of a glass of wine? “[She] seems more like a chardonnay senator than a beer senator,” said a former Democratic operative to the Boston Herald. “It’s just sort of trying too hard … and people have pretty good radar for that sort of thing.” I’m sure a lot of Harvard profs come home after a long day in the stacks at the library and crack open a cold MGD.
What if, though, against all odds, this is part of her normal daily routine? What do you do if you’re her campaign manager and you see her pulling a stunt that does in fact reflect her authentic self but will seem to all the world as a pitiful ploy designed to pander to working-class voters?
I think you grab the beer and hand her a chardonnay. Embrace the image. She’s had enough trouble already trying on identities that don’t match her appearance. To all appearances, she’s not even 1/1024th beer-drinker.
This would have been tolerable, if unconvincing, if talking to the camera on Instagram were a novelty that Team Warren had thought of. It’s the opposite. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently livestreamed her entire congressional initiation, more or less, and Betomaniacs have been watching O’Rourke’s cooking videos as if they’re porn. Coopting a gimmick conspicuously associated with much younger, au courant politicians is the political equivalent of dyeing your hair green. Beyond a certain age, it doesn’t make you look younger. It makes you look older.
But I’m only saying that because I’m sexist.
Reporters dwell on issues such as Warren’s alleged Native American ancestry not necessarily because they think those issues matter, but because they assume that voters think they matter. If voters didn’t, why would Warren be so unpopular?
What all this ignores is the harsh truth that when women politicians—especially women politicians who embrace a feminist agenda—overtly seek power, many American men, and some American women, react with “moral outrage.” They may not express that outrage in explicitly gendered terms, just as they may not express their anxiety about a black candidate in explicitly racial terms. They may instead cite DNA testing or hidden emails or San Francisco’s cultural liberalism. Or they may simply say they find the candidate’s mannerisms off-putting.
That’s one theory. Another theory is that … Warren’s just not very likable or relatable. Many politicians have that problem, however counterintuitive it is to say that about people whose livelihoods depend on public support. Show of hands: Who finds John Kasich likable?
If I were Warren, having missed my moment in 2016, I’d try to turn that to my advantage by running as the most no-nonsense, policy-focused candidate in the race. Instead of this crap, I would have cut a video in which I introduce myself, note that this is *usually* the stage where a candidate does dopey popularity stunts like flipping pancakes in Iowa, and say that I’m not going to waste anyone’s time with it in my campaign. The country’s problems are too grave. Just hammer the economic message instead, relentlessly. Instead of “Elizabeth Warren is unlikable,” the perception would shift to “Elizabeth Warren doesn’t care about being likable because she’s too busy kicking ass and taking names.” She’s not going to win a popularity contest with Beto. She might win a contest in which she exposes him as a policy lightweight.
Exit question: Aren’t you proud of me for skipping the obvious yet hacky “firewater” joke?