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Elizabeth Warren’s loss — and ours

A yard sign for Senator Elizabeth Warren lay on the ground in a yard up the street from the senator's Cambridge home as she held a press conference to announce the end of her presidential campaign.
A yard sign for Senator Elizabeth Warren lay on the ground in a yard up the street from the senator's Cambridge home as she held a press conference to announce the end of her presidential campaign.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

It’s not just the little girls Senator Elizabeth Warren met at rallies who believed the job of a woman is to run for president. Some of us who were little long ago grew up believing it too, and, further, that women who did so might actually have a shot at making it — despite all of the alarming evidence to the contrary that has piled up over the decades, and particularly the last few years.

That optimism — or a good chunk of it — is one thing we’ve lost with Warren’s exit from the presidential race. And we’ve lost a lot more besides.

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If that wasn’t obvious before, the senator’s graceful and emotional announcement on Thursday made it painfully clear. It was every bit Elizabeth Warren — self-effacing, passionate, heartfelt, substantive, wry. Whether or not you believe she deserved better than the painful defeats of Super Tuesday, those qualities, and her contributions to this race, are extraordinary.

Surrounded by cameras in the driveway outside her Cambridge home, Warren said she had “no regrets at all,” that her run had been “the honor of a lifetime.”

She explained her losses on Tuesday, including in her home state, with a humility that is in distressingly short supply these days — especially in politics, where giant egos and blind certainty pass for campaign platforms. She was told there were only two lanes to run in, she said, a moderate one already occupied by former vice president Joe Biden, and a progressive one claimed by Senator Bernie Sanders. But she thought she could carve out another.

“Evidently, I was wrong,” she said.

How often do we hear that from a politician?

Those determined to dismiss the Senator’s every move as calculated and inauthentic will no doubt find little to admire in that concession, but Warren has been willing to admit her errors before.

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Now that she was leaving the race, it was safe for Warren to show more of the emotion that those who filled her town hall meetings across the country already knew well. She spoke of standing in the voting booth, seeing her name on the ballot, thinking, “Whoa, kiddo, you’re not in Oklahoma any more,” and of how her parents would have felt about that if they were still alive.

“For that moment,” she said, her voice thickening, “I missed my mom and dad.”

There was fire, too, of course, and pride about the issues Warren, the brainiest and most intellectually serious candidate in the field, had put on the national agenda: Fairer taxes on the rich, the importance of affordable child care, the scourge of tuition debt. It’ll be a long time before we see somebody offer as detailed a vision for the country — partly because anybody inclined to do so will see how Warren’s was picked apart and think better of it.

But here, as before, Warren was both the girl from Oklahoma and the brilliant Harvard professor: She was never going to choose between them, no matter how confounding her critics found that.

She wasn’t coming down on either side, either, on whether gender had been a factor in her defeats, at least not right now (though she offered a tantalizing promise to do so at some point).

“You know, that is the trap question for every woman,” she said. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner.’ And if you say no ... about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’ ”

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That’s the whole, confounding mess right there: Call it out, or don’t. Show emotion, or don’t. Go after your opponents, or don’t. Either way, you pay the price. It’s a hard lesson most girls learn as they grow up.

Warren was pained that she hadn’t been able to save them some of the heartache.

“One of the hardest parts of this is all those pinky promises, and all those little girls who are going to wait four more years,” she said. “That’s going to be hard."

For the former little girls, too.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.