Elizabeth Warren’s Netroots speech got off to an interesting start, as she took to the stage to a predictable burst of adoration from the crowd of liberal activists. The political thing to do would be to take in the applause, offer a few thanks, and let the cheers build to a crescendo. Warren seemed to have no patience for the whole spectacle, particularly as the chants imploring her to seek higher office began to build. In a tone more befitting an admonishing college professor than a Senator with a national profile, Warren cut off the crowd, imploring everyone to sit down and, as the crowd settled, said “Let’s get started.”
Though Warren is a Senator and a rising star in the Democratic Party who has generated quite a bit of national buzz, she hardly comes off as a politician in her speeches. She has a strong message that obviously resonates with the crowd, but the demeanor is less that of the politician seeking to sell a message than an advocate speaking for a cause. Although the depth of support for Warren’s non-existent presidential bid is generally overstated, her speech at Netroots provides a window into how and why she generates such enthusiasm.
The speech is laced with the values of progressive populism, repeated assertions that the political system is rigged for corporations and special interests, and, most of all, a determination to fight. At one point, she cited the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she helped set up, as “proof of how democracy can work in the 21st century.” In an age when so much of the political oxygen and outrage is spent on denouncing the government, it sounds strange to hear someone citing an acroynmed regulatory agency as an example of democracy at work. She also touched on issues such as student loans, crumbling roads, climate change, and expanding scientific research.
Warren has expressed no interest in running in 2016 and is unlikely to emerge as the nominee if she does so, but it’s not hard to see why she has such appeal to the liberal base. While there isn’t any shortage of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, she’s also a tremendously wealthy insider who has spent much of the past two decades in Washington. For people who are concerned with income inequality and the increasing power of corporations and billionaires in the wake of Citizens United, Warren may offer a fresher and more appealing perspective. Furthermore, there is an opening for a progressive, populist voice amidst a political discourse that has been dominated for six years by Barack Obama’s slow-pulse liberalism and the anti-government opposition. Warren has the potential, regardless of whether or not she launches a longshot presidential bid, to emerge as a significant national voice.