The brouhaha over how Elizabeth Warren is phrasing her denials of a present intention to run for president in 2016 brings back memories of another Massachusetts Senator in a similar position about three-and-a-half decades ago. I can’t find a link to it, but as an old-but-not-senescent person, I distinctly remember Ted Kennedy’s formulaic answer to questions about his presidential plans for 1980: “I expect the president to run for re-election and expect to support him.” In the end, of course, the first expectation was correct but the second one dead wrong.

There’s no question that Warren’s ambiguity would make sense even–perhaps especially–if in her heart she’s horrified by the idea of a presidential run and wouldn’t take it on for all the corn dogs in Iowa. Aside from the influence and media attention a potential candidacy creates, there’s the “keeping Hillary honest” factor. And if Warren eventually bows out even as HRC is sounding new populist notes, the senior senator from Massachusetts will have earned a great deal of gratitude from Democrats without having to devote years of her life to the quest for the gut-wrenching job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.