IN ANOTHER ERA, Elizabeth Warren might be heralded — even by foes — as the “liberal lioness of the Senate.” In these tough political times, she’s called a “hyperpartisan bully.”
That’s exactly what Democrats need.
Warren earned the honor by taking on the biggest bully of all — Donald Trump, the maestro of odious insult who is now president-elect. As Trump ascends to the Oval Office and Warren seeks a second term as senator from Massachusetts, she’s pledging to carry on the fight for a progressive agenda and “stand up to the Trump administration’s racism, sexism, bigotry, and hate.”
In Massachusetts, that cause should sound familiar. It echoes the battle waged by Senator Edward M. Kennedy during his long tenure in Washington, including after Republicans won a majority in both houses of Congress in 1994. As chronicled in the book “Lion of the Senate,” by Nick Littlefield and David Nexon, Kennedy rallied demoralized Democrats to help defeat Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. That’s putting it politely. When it came to protecting programs relating to education, the environment, and abortion rights, Kennedy bellowed his outrage.
As the authors also note, Kennedy was able to reach across the aisle during those tumultuous times to increase the minimum wage, reform health insurance, and expand health care coverage. It’s hard to imagine that kind of compromise happening today, and Democrats shouldn’t plan on it. During the Gingrich-led, hyperpartisan agenda of the 1990s, there was still room to maneuver to some common ground. Kennedy had harsh critics, but he also had friends to help him get there. And he didn’t have an enemy like Trump in the White House. During the raucous 2016 presidential campaign, Trump and Warren were famous for generating a blizzard of hostile tweets. Exercising his trademark cyberbluster, the Republican presidential candidate worked to marginalize Warren by referring to her as “Pocahontas” — a reference to the controversy over her claim of Native American heritage. She didn’t back down. But the belittling label stuck with Trump supporters and no doubt inspires her commitment to challenge him.
Warren also took heat from the left after she endorsed Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t easy for her to stand up to her base. Now, after Clinton’s loss, she seems determined to lead the progressive charge against Trump, and so she should. She knows how to do it.
If former Red Sox pitching star Curt Schilling is Warren’s 2018 challenger, it’s hard to believe his noxiously expressed views present a serious challenge to her reelection — although post-Trump, anything is possible. Meanwhile, she can take the fight directly to Trump and those Republicans who now control Congress. This week, she sent a 16-page letter to Betsy DeVos, the US Department of Education secretary-designate, raising questions about DeVos’s experience, positions, and priorities in advance of her Senate confirmation hearing. Warren is also introducing a bill that would require Trump to divest his business holdings in order to avoid conflicts of interest while serving in the White House. And she has pledged to keep the heat on Trump’s band of “billionaires, bigots, and Wall Street bankers.”
Yet already, there’s some media weariness with Warren’s approach. “I’ve got to tell you, I love her, and I am getting tired of this act,” MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski said recently on “Morning Joe.” Brzezinski went on to describe Warren’s tone as “shrill”, “unmeasured,” and “almost unhinged.” That’s what critics said of Trump. Yet he’s getting ready to take the oath of office and shows no signs of dialing down his rhetoric or tweets.
Is vehement pushback the domain only of powerful men? If so, it shouldn’t be.
In the age of Trump, a liberal lioness needs sharp claws.