Last week, Rachel Maddow wrapped up her interview with Elizabeth Warren with the question we all knew was coming. The question we knew she would surely duck.
If, Maddow asked, she were offered the vice-presidential spot on the Democratic ticket, would she take it?
Warren didn’t hem, haw, spin, or equivocate. She said, and I quote her verbatim, “Yes.”
As far as I can tell, this has not gotten the media attention we might have expected — the virus does tend to dominate the discussion these days — but there it was, out in the open. Maddow was visibly gobsmacked, but no more than I was. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
First let me say that I consider Warren to be, by a wide margin, the person most qualified to be president. Her accomplishments are one thing — how many of us have designed and built a federal agency from scratch? But it’s her communication skills — her uncanny ability to explain difficult concepts so that Main Street can understand them — that put her in a class by herself. Add to that her obvious compassion and authenticity and it’s clear why I’m not alone in regarding her failure in the primaries as profoundly disappointing.
That said, I never considered her an especially good choice for running mate. I have spent the last few months convinced — and it’s hardly an original thought — that Joe Biden needs to name an African-American woman, as the literal embodiment of the two demographics now at the core of the Democratic party. The fact that we have at least two talented and charismatic choices at hand — Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams — it has seemed to me a no-brainer.
At the same time, I thought Warren would ultimately be more useful either in the Senate, running the Finance Committee, or in a key cabinet post — Treasury comes to mind. It never occurred to me that she might actually see opportunity in the vice presidency, a post that has historically been a political graveyard, but which has grown in stature over the last several presidencies (Mike Pence notwithstanding).
But now I’m thinking — and more important, she seems to be thinking — that the virus changes everything. It certainly shifts the dynamic of the election to the point where I can’t see anyone not voting for Biden based on his choice of running mate. Would an African-American be a more righteous choice? Definitely. But this is Elizabeth Warren we’re talking about, and for me that makes all the difference.
Clearly someone will need to take charge of a badly damaged country. Clearly someone has to figure out what America 2.0 is going to look like. I don’t think Joe Biden is the guy for that. Nothing against Joe, but rebuilding the economy in the wake of a global pandemic is not really in his skill set. It is definitely in Warren’s.
So assuming he were to get elected president (please oh please), wouldn’t it be beautiful if he could leave the real work to her? If he could make her the de facto president? We all know by now that complex plans are at the heart of her brand. She deserves the chance to make one and oversee its execution. I would trust her ideas over anyone else’s, and I would trust her to appreciate anyone else’s ideas if she thought them workable. She won’t let ego get in the way of a good idea.
Biden’s job would be to run interference for her. Take the political heat, which will be intense. Tend to the healing, which will be prolonged and heart-breaking. These are things he’s good at. He’ll exude empathy. He’ll be as touchy-feely as he can be from six feet away. And while he will surely continue to make all the spontaneous gaffes he’s so famous for, we’ll forgive him because in that regard he is so not Trump.
In the back of Warren’s mind, I’m guessing, is the real possibility that Biden may not finish his term. Yes, the virus could take him, and his age will always be a concern. But I think he’s just as likely to want to step down. He might just decide that he’s done what he came to do, and that he’s leaving the country in good hands. Or he might forego a second term.
But however that plays out — and there are many possibilities — Warren surely understands that as vice president, her odds of one day becoming president will have been raised considerably.
Hey, a guy can dream. Right?