“I refuse to let disappointment blind me.”
Surely someone out there in our great capitalistic society is already manufacturing a coffee mug emblazoned with those parting words from Elizabeth Warren, and as soon as those mugs hit the market I’m getting one. I plan to set it next to my mug that says, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Warren did persist, through many ups and downs of a presidential primary campaign that she suspended on Thursday. The numbers were against her, and one of her charms is that her persistence is matched by practicality.
Heartbroken. Tearful. In mourning.
Those were some of the words her supporters used in reply to the news, but they also talked about being thankful. Warren inspired many until the very end.
“I refuse to let disappointment blind me — or you — to what we’ve accomplished,” she told her staff Thursday.
Warren, a Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts, would have been among the great American presidents.
She would have restored a sense of decency to the job, along with an ethical pragmatism. She would have brought wit, grit, infectious energy, wide experience and — an underestimated virtue in politics — a sense of fun. She would have been a collegial leader who knew when to bend and when to stand like steel. She would have offered a new vision of what a president looks and sounds like.
Hey, look Ma, it’s a woman!
“Would have,” of course, is just another way of saying we now know she won’t.
But as Warren leaves the race, she leaves behind the ideas she articulated with passion and, more importantly, with plans.
“What we have done — and the ideas we have launched into the world, the way we have fought this fight, the relationships we have built — will carry through, carry through for the rest of this election, the one after that, and the one after that,” she told her staff.
She talked about building a grassroots organization not dependent on wealthy donors. She went on: “We have also shown that race and justice — economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, criminal justice — are not an afterthought, but are at the heart of everything that we do.”
In her parting pep talk, Warren used words that don’t show up in a lot of politicians’ speeches — collaboration, empathy, kindness, generosity, friendships — but she didn’t shy away from the more common language of battle.
“We have been willing to fight,” she said, “and, when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor.”
If Warren had stayed in the race a few days longer, we could have witnessed her in one more presidential debate, this time with the pair of men now battling to wrest the White House from the despot who currently occupies it. It would have been fun and useful to watch. A few more teeth would have wound up on the floor but the two remaining Democratic candidates — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — would have been better for it. One of Warren’s gifts is to sharpen everyone around her.
On Thursday, I heard several Warren supporters say, “Now I know I’ll never see a woman president in my lifetime.” They may be right.
It’s certainly right that sexism in its many cagey forms played into her fate. Sexism wasn’t her only obstacle, but it was surely one of them, practiced by both men and women, often unconsciously. As Megan Garber argued in The Atlantic, Warren’s competence was often written off as condescension, a punishment far more often inflicted on women.
But the past is not the future. We have to hold on to that thought.
“Susan B. Anthony & Liz Cady Stanton,” someone tweeted, citing two leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, “died before we got the right to vote.”
Warren, too, understands that what she has done is an investment, even if it lacks the big payoff for her. As she put it to her staff: “We have shown that a woman can stand up, hold her ground and stay true to herself — no matter what.”
Sometimes courage means giving up what you love and want for something that’s better for someone besides you alone. Warren recognized that persisting in this race was not the right choice for her or for our common good.
Her loss is our loss, but her campaign was also a win. She leaves knowing she pushed the door open a little wider for the next women coming through, and that those women will be fortified by the idea that they can’t be blinded by disappointment.
Bring on the mugs.
Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.