Monday, January 14, 2019


In a piece published by Vanity Fair today, Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political reporter, makes note of the fact that Elizabeth Warren can talk to voters in a way they find genuinely engaging and enlightening:
Warren’s talents as a campaigner were evident in her foray into Iowa during the first week of January. She’s quite skilled at drilling down to a simple, comprehensible point, usually having to do with economic justice. Her anecdotes go over well. For example, in Iowa she told the story of getting in touch with Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, and working with him to get a bill through Congress that lowered the cost of hearing aids. (Cheers and applause.)
But, you see, we rabble don't understand Warren the way she's understood by those who work with her -- or at least by one unnamed male Senate aide who, we're told, is representative. Warren, you see, is actually an unlikable bitch, according to Drew:
But there’s another aspect to Warren’s economic populism—one that makes her less than popular among her Senate colleagues. This friction has nothing to do with Warren being a woman in politics, or displaying political ambition.... For an explanation of what it is about Warren that perturbs her colleagues, I sought out an observant former Senate Democratic aide of many years’ standing. What he said echoed comments and stories I’d heard from senators and reporters who’ve dealt with Warren. “She projects a ‘holier than thou’ attitude that her colleagues find irritating. She’s very doctrinaire. She’s somewhat ‘My way or the highway’—not as much as Bernie Sanders, but up there,” he said. “She has a moralizing to her ... She rails against Wall Street, which may be appealing to some people, but it’s too simplistic to work as an analysis. But she’s very good at finding issues that resonate with middle Americans,” he added, citing the hearing-aid story. He went on: “She’s a little aloof; she’s strong in her convictions, unwilling to bend.”
Drew has been reporting from Washington for more than half a century. She started when women were a rarity in the D.C. press corps (a gender imbalance that's far from fully rectified). She says she understands that women and men are held to different standards:
It’s undeniable that, while women have been making headlong progress in politics, as well as in some other professional fields, they still carry an extra burden. The double standard still exists: A man who speaks out strongly or objects to something a male boss has done is “strong,” “tough.” A woman who does the same thing is likely to be termed “difficult.” That word, “difficult,” stated or insinuated, haunts women in the workplace.
Which doesn't prevent her from applying precisely that double standard to Warren, while insisting she isn't.

I'm not sure what good it would do Warren to pass the likability litmus test to which Drew subjects her. Here are the stories of a couple of women who apparently passed the test:
[The unnamed aide] then offered a comparison between Warren and [Hillary] Clinton as senators. Of Warren he said, “She’s never tried very hard to make friends there. Compare that to Hillary: She knew coming into the Senate that she was viewed by many there as the devil incarnate, and she kept her head down and worked to make friends on both sides of the aisle.”

... Another way to look at Warren’s situation in Congress is to compare it to that of Nancy Pelosi.... Pelosi’s colleagues don’t raise the issue of her likability.... Pelosi is admired by most of the men as well as the women in the Democratic caucus for her legislative smarts and her toughness wrapped in a certain grace. Several said that Pelosi was just who was needed to deal with Donald Trump. She met the argument of those who said she should make way for younger leadership by agreeing to step down from the Speakership after four more years. The contrasting cases of Warren and Pelosi show that people—both men and women—are capable of making distinctions among women in politics.
Yes, the insiders don't attack Clinton and Pelosi as hateful bitches among themselves -- they save that for public consumption, so we hate the two.

On the other hand, maybe there really is something else going on here besides sexism. We're told that Bernie Sanders also rubs senators and staffers the wrong way. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- who seems open, cheerful, engaging, and not "aloof" at all -- is reported to be upsetting House colleagues.

Maybe if you're seriously upset about economic equality -- a state of affairs that the system very much wants to preserve -- you're inevitably going to be impatient and pushy, because it's a big, serious problem that won't be solved unless people act in ways that clearly make them uncomfortable. So Sanders, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez all annoy Washington. It appears, however, that they annoy D.C. a lot more than they annoy the population at large. (Yes, even Bernie, whom most Americans view favorably.) In that case, maybe it's fine if Washington considers them unlikable.

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