Elizabeth Warren and the Black Vote

I’m beginning to feel that people are writing about Elizabeth Warren’s presidential prospects for no other reason than that y’all keep clicking on the articles. And I’m not going to say that I disagree with the overall thrust of Nate Cohn’s analysis that Warren couldn’t have beaten Hillary in 2008 and cannot beat her in 2016.

I do think, however, that Mr. Cohn has missed Warren’s opening with black voters. And I think it’s for the same reason that so many white progressives miss Obama’s appeal to black voters.

When Cohn tries to imagine an issue that Warren could use to distinguish herself from Clinton and bring black voters into her camp, he talks about prison and sentencing reforms. Those are not bad issues. But Elizabeth Warren’s bread and butter is consumer protection. It’s not a sexy issue for intellectuals, but walk into any ghetto in America and you’ll immediately see how important it is to protect people from payday loans and check cashing joints, predatory mortgage companies, income tax filing operations, credit card companies, and all manner of rip-off artists. The legal scam industry is enormous in this country, and no one has done more to crack down on it than Elizabeth Warren and (through her) President Barack Obama.

These economic concerns form the bulk of what’s on the minds of black folks living in our poorer communities, along with anger about drugs, crime, bad schools and out of control policing. Elizabeth Warren has credibility on these issues and what’s significant about that is that these are issues that festered and were ignored for years and years until Warren came along and got in the president’s ear about them. Clinton can try to co-opt them now, but not very convincingly.

It’s kind of insulting to think that black folks will only respond to black candidates. As Mr. Cohn notes, they supported Clinton over Obama until Obama proved he could win white votes in Iowa. They would respond to Warren because Warren is, more than anyone else, the person responsible for the president’s effective progressive focus on urban issues related to consumer protection.

People talk about black folks getting taking for granted by Democratic politicians. Elizabeth Warren built her whole career on making their concerns front and center for a change. People of all races are impacted by predatory lending and other scams, but no one is more impacted than the urban poor.

So, no, Warren isn’t running. But, if she did, she has the credibility to take the black vote from Clinton precisely because she isn’t an Ivory Tower academic white progressive. She would not be the latest iteration of Gary Hart or Paul Tsongas.

If you don’t get that about Senator Warren, then you don’t understand her at all. And you probably don’t give credit to the president for being a progressive champion because he doesn’t champion your progressive agenda.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.