Elizabeth Warren’s Moment

Brendan Smialowski/The New York Times/Redux
President Obama announcing the appointment of Elizabeth Warren to oversee the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Washington, D.C., September 2010

Elizabeth Warren has quite a story to tell. For many years, she was a professor at Harvard Law School. Inside the worlds of academia and Washington policymaking, she was known for her research into the causes and effects of bankruptcy, and for her ultimately futile campaign to block a Republican-driven effort to rewrite the bankruptcy law in favor of big banks and other lenders. Until the 2008 financial crisis, however, Warren was largely unknown to the American public. Then, following the subprime mortgage meltdown, she emerged as a vocal and stinging critic of Wall Street and its political enablers.

Today, at the age of sixty-four, Warren holds Ted Kennedy’s seat in the Senate. She’s perhaps the most recognizable leader of what has been called a resurgent progressive movement, and some of her supporters are urging her to jump into the 2016 presidential race. During the last few months, she has repeatedly said she’s not running. But that hasn’t put an end to the speculation about her future, and neither will the publication of her new memoir, A Fighting Chance, which reads a lot like a campaign autobiography.

The book combines a revealing account of Warren’s rise to prominence with prosaic personal details—lots of hugging babies and dogs—and ringing political declarations. Its begins: “I’m Elizabeth Warren. I’m a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.” And it goes on:

I never expected to go to Washington. Heck, for the most part I never even wanted to go. But I’m here to fight for something that I believe is worth absolutely everything: to give each one of our kids a fighting chance to build a future full of promise and discovery.

Two hundred and seventy pages later, in an epilogue, Warren returns to the pugilistic theme, although, in truth, she never really departs from it: “I believe in us. I believe in what we can do together, in what we will do together. All we need is a fighting chance.”

Does that sound like somebody who has definitively ruled out a tilt for the Oval Office? If A Fighting Chance doesn’t settle what Warren will do next, it does help answer a number of questions that her political success has brought to the fore. Who is Elizabeth Warren? What does she represent? Does she have plausible solutions to the nation’s problems?

Even if Warren doesn’t run for president, she is a significant figure, and her arguments demand to be taken seriously. When she declares, “Today the game is rigged—rigged to work for those who have money and power,” she is reflecting the beliefs of countless Americans, many of whom don’t share her progressive outlook, but do share her scathing views of the Wall Street–Washington nexus.

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