Don’t Run, Elizabeth!

Roundup
tags: 2016 election, Elizabeth Warren



Garry Wills holds the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture at Emory. He is the author of "The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis."

Believers in the good and true have for some time been urging Elizabeth Warren to run for president. They don’t, most of them, expect her to win—just to hold Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire on populist issues she is beginning to endorse. Warren might even pry loose some of Wall Street’s cephalopod arms wrapped around Hillary. But Warren is already doing that, by her stellar work on the concrete issues that have long animated her—jobs, wages, bank excesses, mortgages, student loans. All the things she is doing in these areas pose a challenge to Hillary, which is why Hillary has been adopting some of her positions.

Besides, Bernie Sanders, having convinced himself that Warren is not going to run, has taken up the task of fire-bringing to Hillary’s feet. Good for him. His work at his day job in the Senate will be less missed than Warren’s. She is a massive presence there, perpetually bearing in on her colleagues—and the president. Sanders is more a gadfly making some of the livestock itchy. Furthermore, as a declared socialist he is so unlikely a candidate that there is little chance of his being infected by the attendant delirium of a campaign and starting to believe he can win. Of course he has to lie, as all candidates do, when he says he is “in it to win it.” Bill Buckley demonstrated long ago how dangerous is the truth for anyone running a symbolic campaign.

In 1965, when he was running for mayor of New York, Buckley was asked what he would do if he won, and he shot back: “Demand a recount.” That one comment got more attention than all the position papers he had labored over to show that the nascent Conservative Party of New York should be taken seriously. More immediately, the quip almost made his assistant campaign manager faint. He took Buckley aside and said, “You have people working night and day for your campaign. You can’t dismiss their efforts, making it harder for them to raise money or make voters pay attention.” Buckley never again said he could not win. He had learned the rules: pretend candidates have to pretend they are not pretending. It seems almost cruel to let down people whose belief in you is greater than your own.

Of course, once you start professing belief in yourself, it is easy to try sipping some of your own Kool-Aid. It saves psychic wear and tear just to go along with the campaign’s official line. I observed the perils of pretend campaigns in the case of Ralph Nader. In 1972, many were urging Nader to run for president—among them my friend Marc Raskin. Nader told Raskin he had worked hard to master the projects he was devoted to—car safety, consumer protection, the environment, and the PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) he was setting up state-by-state. If he ran for president, he would have to learn about many things he had not studied (who is the president of Uzbekistan?) and try pleasing a range of constituents with priorities very far from his own. He could do more by staying focused. ...




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