She always had to run.
It wasn’t enough for Elizabeth Warren to proceed at an ordinary human pace as she tried to win over Democratic primary voters: The Massachusetts senator, 70, bounded onto stages, stood for photos for hours, and bounced along parade routes. In one viral video, she raced into Penn Station to catch a train, leaving a breathless reporter in the dust.
It’s fine for male candidates to be in their seventies. At the microphone, President Trump, 73, often sounds like a person in cognitive decline. The speeches of Joe Biden, 77, are replete with senior moments. Bernie Sanders, 78, had a heart attack five months ago, for heaven’s sake.
Women? That’s a different story. So, day after day, Warren performed feats of physical endurance, to remind voters she is not just physically healthy, but a powerhouse.
That is how the whole campaign has played out, Warren having to run rings around the men just to be considered viable.
She has been the best candidate by almost every measure: She set the policy agenda for the race with detailed policy proposals; as a debater she is fleet of foot, and funny; she has a compelling backstory, and an unlikely and brilliant career aiding those this country leaves behind.
But it’s often the case that better than isn’t good enough when you’re a woman. Especially when you’re running in a primary where even the most evolved voters, including many women, are terrified a woman -- even one as spectacular as Warren -- can’t beat Trump.
Maybe it’s not surprising that this erstwhile front-runner’s campaign all but ended on Tuesday night. Warren’s departure, when she comes to that, would be the latest from a field that, not so long ago, boasted spectacular talent and diversity.
But did it have to be quite this painful? Third place in her home state. Oof.
So what are we left with, besides the nagging sense that no woman will ever be good enough?
Unease, for one thing. Though they are men, both Sanders and Biden have electability issues galore. Gaffe-y Biden has been pummeled by a president willing to abuse the power of his office to knock out the former vice president. The Burisma conspiracy machine is already crackling back to life. And Trump has sprung to Sanders’ defense so often during this primary campaign that it’s clear he sees weaknesses that the Vermont Senator’s fans do not.
Biden is a throwback, which is clearly part of his appeal as a candidate, but doesn’t augur well if you’re looking for more ambition in the next Democratic president. Still, we’re at such a desperate point that many of us would be thrilled simply to go back to the way things were before the disaster that is the Trump presidency, even if it means the next president has been on the wrong side of a distressingly wide variety of issues (paging Anita Hill).
But the children and parents suffering at the border, the poor families struggling under Draconian new rules on food assistance, the folks suffering for our inaction on climate change, don’t have the luxury of more ambitious goals right now. A return to sanity would be enough.
Maybe Sanders will be the guy to deliver it -- but he’ll never get there unless he can unify Democrats, and he’s still talking like a man at war with a giant chunk of the electorate. He and his people rail about the establishment trying to block his nomination, as if Black voters in South Carolina or poor white voters in Virginia were part of some cabal, rather than ordinary people who freely chose his opponent.
Most outside the Trump cult agree that a win by any Democrat in the general election is absolutely vital. Which is why talk has now turned to running mates, and the critical role thereof. Certain names keep coming up, most of them women: Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who endorsed Biden; California’s Kamala Harris; Stacey Abrams, the rising Georgia voter rights activist on every list. Each of them is seen as somebody who can make up for the deficits of youth, eloquence, and diversity at the top of the Democratic ticket.
In other words, it may fall to a woman to carry a man over the finish line. Is that progress? Or the world’s oldest story?
Vice president is nothing to sneeze at. But with Warren, women were entitled to dream of so much more.