I’m not going to feign impartiality here: I am heartbroken that Elizabeth Warren has dropped out of the U.S. Democratic primary race. Once again, a highly intelligent, qualified, organized, thoughtful, empathetic candidate couldn’t get traction with American voters – in large part because she is a woman. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
Democrats – I am one, a U.S. citizen who votes in Pennsylvania – insist they want the opposite of Donald Trump. No one is more opposite to an ill-informed, lazy, petulant, divisive, underqualified liar than Ms. Warren. So what stopped voters from embracing her? They call it caution: “Yes,” goes the conversation I’ve had dozens of times with dozens of people in the past dozen months, “it would be great to vote for my ideal candidate, but Trump is so dangerous, we must elect the practical candidate, the person who can beat him, and I just don’t think Warren can.”
Pressed on why that is, they mumble. She’s too schoolmarmish, too lecture-y. Those voters on the fence, they won’t tip for her. A woman candidate is “just too risky right now,” for this make-or-break election.
Meanwhile, the two men who defeated her are the embodiment of shouty, and of risky. To impersonate Joe Biden, Stephen Colbert puts on a pair of aviator sunglasses, tips his head back and YELLS. To do Bernie Sanders, Larry David hunches over, waves his arms, and YELLS. To do Ms. Warren, Kate McKinnon bounds around energetically and whispers. But somehow Ms. Warren is the one who’s too strident.
As for risky, the people I’ve been talking to admit their fears: that Biden is too bland, too middle-of-the-road to appeal to young voters; that Sanders is too divisive, too polarizing to attract the former Trumpers suffering from buyers’ remorse. But they consider those acceptable risks. We must be honest about why that is.
Full confession: I considered not voting for Ms. Warren, too. For a moment there, I thought I would have to go for Michael Bloomberg. I didn’t like it, I’d hold my nose. But I had to think about those nervous white men in the middle, the disillusioned Republicans, the swayable Independents. What would reassure them? What would make them feel comfortable?
Then in the most recent debate, Ms. Warren assailed Mr. Bloomberg, and shook me out of my fugue state. She called him out on his specific practices, his specific ethos. She critiqued things he had done and explained clearly why they were not acceptable. I actually blushed with chagrin. The ways I’ve been conditioned to put men’s needs first! The things I am willing to forgive powerful men for! And if I’ve internalized the patriarchy to that degree, everyone has.
The spaces of power – the boardrooms and government offices – were not designed for women or queer people, or people of colour. They’re not set up for our needs. Some of us get in there by accommodating, by contorting ourselves, by lying low or going high, by pretending we don’t notice that we’re being looked through or talked over.
Ms. Warren didn’t pretend to be less than she is. She is smart. She is organized. She does know what she’s talking about. She believes we should listen to her. She knows she’s right about a lot of things, and she doesn’t apologize for it. That threatens, consciously or unconsciously, the public’s comfort level. People love Mr. Sanders’s authenticity, and Mr. Biden’s. Ms. Warren’s authenticity, however – it’s just a bit too much.
In the days just before Super Tuesday, as Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigeig dropped out and endorsed Mr. Biden, my Twitter feed filled with last-ditch pleas, including an exceptional, long thread by American activist Charlotte Clymer that laid out Ms. Warren’s history of being smart, qualified and correct. These pleas made a strong case that Ms. Warren was the candidate most able to create a coalition; the one with a clear platform and plans; the one who could push through the kind of changes the Democrats keep saying the United States desperately needs. Now she’s the one who was pushed aside. Again.
If we keep cutting and running from female candidates at the last minute, we’ll never get the leaders we want. We’ll just keep getting the ones we deserve.