Elizabeth Warren's Best Quality Might Be Her Hatred of Norms

Screenshot: CNN

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s CNN town hall on Monday night made clear that she can be disappointingly ambiguous on some issues outside of her sweet spot of inequality and financial reform. For instance, Warren revealed that she was open to “different paths” for Medicare for All, which doesn’t actually exist.

But there’s one broader political issue that Warren was crystal-clear about at the town hall, and she’s getting a lot of attention for it: getting rid of the Electoral College.

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“My view is that every vote matters,” Warren told her Mississippi audience on Monday night. “The way that we can make that happen is that we can have national voting. And that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

Already, the GOP is jumping on Warren for this. Here’s her colleague Lindsey Graham:

Graham, of course, is wrong, probably purposefully so. The Democrats want the Electoral College to go away because they would like to be considered the winners of elections in which they receive the most votes—something which has happened in six out of the past seven elections. Republicans want the Electoral College to stay firmly in place because it’s incredibly advantageous to them. Whether you live in a rural town or city or in a suburb has nothing to do with it; under a national popular vote system, the vote of someone in the Bronx would count exactly the same as the vote of someone from Wyoming. One person, one vote.

But that’s another argument for another blog. When it comes to Warren, the electoral college issue further solidifies her stance as someone who has no love for the stupid, outdated norms of American government. Yesterday, Warren—along with fellow 2020 contenders Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand—refused to rule out a push to expand the Supreme Court if elected. And in January, Warren refused to rule out killing the filibuster once and for all, a change that would immediately make the Senate a much more democratic body than it’s ever been, and one which even Bernie Sanders has been skeptical of.

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Her reasoning for doing so was even better. “Everything stays on the table. You keep it all on the table. Don’t take anything off the table,” Warren told Politico. “That’s a clear answer. You’re not going to have a clearer answer than that.”

It’s not election-year posturing, either: Warren has been on this since 2013, the year she entered the Senate. “So far [Republicans] have shut down the government, they have filibustered people [President Obama] has nominated to fill out his administration and they are now filibustering judges to block him from filling any of the vacancies with highly qualified people,” Warren said in 2013. “We need to call out these filibusters for what they are: Naked attempts to nullify the results of the last election.” (Senate Democrats, under Harry Reid, did get rid of the filibuster for lower court and executive branch nominations.)

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It’s easy to see why Warren is most immune to the fealty to norms and tradition that plagues most other Democrats. After all, she helped build the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from scratch, and then the Obama administration—despite having a clear mandate and 59 Senate seats—shelved her nomination to run it because of fears that she wouldn’t get past the GOP’s filibuster.

So few people in America have had such a personal experience with GOP obstruction that these are not exactly issues you can win a campaign on. But the GOP has stacked the deck in its favor in every way it possibly can, and when it comes to the biggest items on a progressive agenda—Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and so on—there is no feasible path to get these things done without fundamentally changing how the Senate works, how the courts work, and how elections work. There is no way to win without these things changing. And if the end result of these things is that we have fairer elections and a more democratic government, it’s more than worth rocking the boat.

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If you’re a socialist, you’re automatically deeply skeptical of Warren’s (a little too) steadfast belief that the U.S. is and should be a capitalist country. But even if Warren has only lent tepid or ambiguous support to Medicare for All or a Green New Deal, the whole of what she proposes, if they come to pass, will make building a fairer society a more attainable goal. And at this point in time, that might actually be a more meaningful position than just wanting those things.

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