Yesterday, at The Atlantic, Emily Schultheis gave us 1159 words about Elizabeth Warren under the headline "Why Is Elizabeth Warren Campaigning in Red States?" The day before, The Washington Post's Robert Costa gave us 1160 words about Warren under the headline "Progressives Turn from Obama to Embrace Warren." So Elizabeth Warren is going on the red-state campaign trail and getting her message out! Yay! Right?
I'm not so sure. It's great that a crowd in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (where both reports were filed), got to hear Warren make a speech on behalf of long-shot Senate candidate Natalie Tennant. It's great that she's been heard at rallies for Kentucky's Alison Lundergan Grimes, as well as at events for candidates in blue and purple states.
But the elite media cares about Warren only as part of various horse-race stories -- the midterms, future presidential cycles, the relative strength of the two parties, the possibility that her star's rise means Obama's star has fallen or Hillary's is in a precarious position. In all those words, we barely get a sense of what she's actually saying. Mainstream journalists and political insiders don't care very much about that. And so Warren's message isn't being transmitted very effectively.
That matters, because the mainstream does pay attention to what rising Republican stars say and do, even when those people are engaged in cheap stunts. The insiders cared deeply about Rand Paul's drone filibuster and Ted Cruz's efforts to cause a government shutdown. The insiders pay close, careful attention whenever there's a poverty photo op or "major speech" on the economy by Rand Paul or Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio. Ideas expressed by these guys are carefully compared and contrasted with the musings of the endlessly fascinating reform conservatives.
Where's all the Beltway love for Elizabeth Warren's ideas?
Instead, from The Atlantic's Schultheis, we get 87 quoted words from longtime Democratic consultant Bob Shrum and only 53 words from Warren herself. We get four quotes from Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, and only one quote from a Warren press aide. What Shrum and Chamberlain have to say involves Warren's place in the party, not Warren's message.
The Post's Costa at least gives us a few more Warren quotes -- but they're presented in the context of what's happening to the Democratic Party; we're not expected to assess Warren's proposals for what they are:
Tennant's decision to invite Warren signals where she stands on the tension within the Democratic Party over whether to move more to the left as it tries to hold on to a slim Senate majority -- and that she needs progressives to turn out in droves. Warren, who has frequently railed against the coziness of both parties with corporate titans and hedge-fund managers, is not beloved by some centrist Democratic financiers.And, of course, we learn that Warren's appeal is to certain voting blocs who fit your Democratic stereotypes:
"Natalie Tennant and I do not agree on every issue," Warren said, but added that they agree on the "core issue," which she described as passing policies that lift the lives of working families.
Warren, 65, -- who has repeatedly said she will not seek the White House in 2016 -- focused her pitch on pocketbook issues such as student loans and Social Security while blasting banks and big businesses for tilting federal laws in their favor. Again and again, Warren thrust her fists in the air as union members and college-age volunteers in the crowd roared their approval.Look, it's hard out there for a progressive. You can't get legislation past the filibustering Senate Republicans and refusenik House Republicans. MSNBC isn't left-leaning all day, and it doesn't have the reach of Fox and talk radio. Powerful interests don't want progressive ideas to achieve critical mass.
Plus, elected progressives are mostly just too nice. Warren has tried to play by the Senate rules -- but would it be better if she were making waves and pulling stunts like Cruz and Paul? You don't want to turn into Alan Grayson, but Republican agitators find a sweet spot that gets them noticed -- they pull their stunts with a faux-solemnity, an implicit message that it pains them to do what they're doing but the fate of the Republic depends on it (Fox talking heads such as Bill O'Reilly have mastered this tone as well), and they cut through the clutter.
I want America discussing the things that matter to Elizabeth Warren -- not just whether she's the anti-Obama or anti-Hillary. Unfortunately, that's not happening yet.