To hear some people tell it, a loss for Elizabeth Warren is a loss for womankind. Ever since the Massachusetts senator withdrew her presidential candidacy after finishing third in her home state primary on Super Tuesday, many have described her demise as resulting from dislike and fear of strong women and a victory for the dread patriarchy.
Oddly, nobody says that about Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who'd withdrawn and endorsed Joe Biden only days before. Evidently, some women are more emblematic than others. But hold that thought.
"America Punished Elizabeth Warren for Her Competence," was the title of a fairly typical example by Megan Garber in The Atlantic. A lively stylist, Garber did a terrific job of analyzing what I thought were Warren's weaknesses as a candidate while entirely missing her own point. One Democratic woman she saw being interviewed on TV put it this way: "When I hear her talk, I want to slap her, even when I agree with her." She quotes others describing Warren as "sanctimonious," "condescending" and "a know-it-all."
Yet to Garber, it was Warren's refusal to hide her intellectual brilliance that did her in: "The country still doesn't know what to make of a woman – in politics, and beyond – who refuses to qualify her success." She quotes an Ivy League philosophy professor to the effect that "[m]isogyny is the law-enforcement branch of patriarchy."
Sigh. I see the word "patriarchy," I reach for my revolver. Particularly when it's brandished by somebody a lot higher on the social organization chart than anybody in the unrecorded history of my family.
OK, that's a joke. A famous Nazi said that about the word "culture." I am not a Nazi, and I don't keep a pistol close at hand.
But here's the deal: An American presidential election, for better and definitely for worse, is for most voters an extended TV series. And nobody much is keen to watch "The Liz Warren Show." MSNBC could give her Chris Matthews' old "Hardball" program, and the ratings would nose-dive.
During Warren's epic demolition of a smug and bewildered Michael Bloomberg during the Feb. 12 Democratic debate on NBC, I remarked to my wife, "My God, she's a jerk. She's destroying him. But she's hurting herself almost as much as she's hurting him."
I actually used an earthier epithet, which shall remain our little secret. A gender-neutral one, I hasten to add. Anyway, Bloomberg probably deserved it. He certainly stepped into the batter's box without a helmet. But Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum noticed that Bloomberg crashed, while Joe Biden soared in voter polls from that point forward. Warren steadily declined.
I've been instructed to leave Diane's own somewhat incorrect reaction to Sen. Warren's demeanor out of this column. Her voice! Her antic arm-waving! Suffice it to say that while Diane and a couple of her girlfriends traveled to New Hampshire to stump for Hillary Clinton in 2016, with one signal exception they did not support Warren's candidacy.
Another friend, an Irish guy from Brooklyn, said she reminded him of the kind of nun who would whack your knuckles with a ruler. And Warren's not even Catholic, although she does appear to have purchased her campaign wardrobe from her local Nuns-R-Us outlet.
Catty and subjective enough for you? Good, because that's how people watch TV. It's an intensely subjective medium. Warren does very well in one-on-one interviews and town hall settings but falls flat on the big stage. Brilliant woman; failed the screen test.
On Super Tuesday, Warren collected 21 percent of the Massachusetts vote, compared to 34 percent for Joe Biden and 27 percent for Bernie Sanders. She finished a poor third among Massachusetts women, too. In the 2016 general election, by way of comparison, it was Hillary Clinton 60 percent, Donald Trump 33 percent.
So don't blame misogyny. Hillary's not exactly Miss Congeniality, yet Massachusetts voted for her. Anyway, Elizabeth Warren's not womankind, she's one woman who ran a fairly incoherent campaign: notably all over the place about her Medicare-for-all proposal and how to pay for it.
I suspect that Warren's being a Harvard professor also had something to do with her defeat. Of course, that could be my own anti-academic bias talking. But her professorial manner didn't help. During the same debate where she eviscerated Bloomberg, she dismissed Klobuchar's health insurance proposal as a "Post-it note." The Minnesota senator bristled.
Even on campus, calling people stupid rarely elicits their admiration. On health care, Klobuchar's a pragmatist, favoring an Obamacare public option that's politically feasible, while Medicare-for-all is certainly not – as you'd think Warren's floundering on the issue might have taught her.
Or as Klobuchar herself put it, "You don't put your money on a number that's not even on the wheel."
Had she not withdrawn, I'd have supported Klobuchar, to me the most politically talented Democrat of either gender.
But like most, I ended up voting tactically.
Gene Lyons is an author and a columnist with the Arkansas Times.