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Working-Class Women and Warren

In response to:

Warren in the Trap from the March 12, 2020 issue

To the Editors:

Caroline Fraser was unduly harsh in her assessment of Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy [“Warren in the Trap,” NYR, March 12]. Invoking the pathos of her working-class upbringing and gender struggles is no different than Bernie Sanders invoking his forebear’s immigrant status (a Pole who knew no English and who arrived penniless) as a way to relate (successfully, one might add) to the Latino experience. She may seem mawkish but her personal stories resonate with working-class women. Fraser accuses Warren of only talking about gender inequity while failing to take action; but talk is action, on occasion, as evidenced by her eviscerating Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, in tones which may have gone over the line, affirming alarmingly Bret Stephens’s negative view of her style. Warren’s detailed presentation of her Medicare for All plan offered brutal honesty, in comparison to Sanders’s sloppy vagueness, and in a manner that affirmed her promise, in contrast to his, that ordinary citizens would not be taxed to pay for it. Her rollout was a tour de force of political action incarnate.

Warren’s problem, like Clinton’s before her, is actually one of perceived authenticity. The claim of Native American heritage, coupled with the belief that she used it to advance her academic career (however much disputed) rancors with the general public. So too does her claimed support for public education when she has sent her children to exclusive private schools. She may have been a janitor’s daughter, but today she is a millionaire. Amy Klobuchar’s working-class roots give the appearance of still clinging to her person. A Wall Street Journal opinion writer offered the view that Klobuchar is a Hillary Clinton without the “snark” or the “baggage,” suggesting a comparison with Warren as well, and the view that in the next presidential round (after serving first as VP) she would indeed become the first female president.

Albion M. Urdank
Emeritus Professor
University of California at Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California

Caroline Fraser replies:

I agree with Professor Urdank’s point about Warren’s problem with “perceived authenticity,” but the assertion that her “personal stories resonate[d] with working-class women” is simply wrong. According to The Washington Post’s exit polling on Super Tuesday, only 7 percent of those without a college degree voted for Warren. Sanders, who has invoked his father’s immigrant status only briefly, won 33 percent of that vote; Biden, 38.

The subtext of this letter is that Warren needs to be protected from criticism, itself a gendered position, as is the use here of the term “harsh.” Its synonyms include “grating,” “rasping,” “screeching,” “strident,” and, yes, “shrill.”