A scrupulous reader of the New York Times editorial board’s interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren is likely to come away from it with at least one nagging conclusion: She doesn’t think you’re very bright. On issue after issue, Warren showed unveiled contempt for both the intelligence of her interlocutors and the legitimate concerns of voters.
Take, for example, the senator’s tenuous grasp of geopolitical affairs related to U.S. national security. American commitments in the Middle East are of particular relevance given recent events in the region, the most urgent of which from the American perspective consists of a series of Iran-backed attacks on U.S. interests culminating in Donald Trump’s strike on IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani and Iran’s acquiescent response. To these adverse conditions, a President Warren would respond with capitulation.
“I think we need to get our combat troops out,” Warren said, adding that “it’s time to end combat operations” in the Middle East. Warren confessed that the U.S. would need to “keep shipping lanes open” and maintain relationships with regional allies, but kinetic contingencies would have to end. The Times editors asked the obvious follow-up: What about ongoing operations targeting the remnants of the Islamic State militia? “Would you bring them all home?” Times editor John Broder asked of troops engaged in those missions. “Yeah,” Warren replied. “I think we need to bring our combat troops home.”
But in the next breath, when Warren was asked if the Trump administration had erred by declaring a premature withdrawal of troops from Syria and sacrificed our Kurdish allies in the process, the senator was quick to respond in the affirmative. That was “a huge signal to the rest of the world that the United States is not a reliable ally,” she replied. A similar signal would presumably be sent by unilaterally withdrawing from places like Iraq, where U.S. soldiers are assisting counterterror operations at the request of the host government. For an interview headlined “Elizabeth Warren Is Ready for a Fight,” it leaves the reader wondering who precisely Warren considers a deserving adversary.
Transitioning to domestic policy, the Times editors probed Warren about how she would see her many ambitious policy prescriptions realized if Republicans maintained their control of the Senate. “The way I think we get something done in Washington, it’s the Frances Perkins story,” she said. Franklin Roosevelt’s labor secretary, Warren recalled, was a progressive activist who had been a grassroots crusader for pro-labor workplace reforms before the tragic 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which vaulted her into a role in state and, eventually, national government. “But she needed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire,” editor Brent Staples replied. “What is the contemporary equivalent of the Shirtwaist fire?” Warren’s response: the “43 million Americans who are dealing with student loan debt.” If that’s not good enough, how about the “12 million children who are struggling to find childcare.”
There may be no better crystallization of a movement that has become the victim of its own success. If the progressive cause has been reduced to transferring wealth from all Americans to the privileged constituencies who seek a college degree, it’d be one thing. To compare that to the effort to address the appalling conditions that led to the deaths of so many poorly compensated and overworked young women at one of New York City’s small garment factories at the turn of the 20th century is unspeakably callous. Or, it would be if the person who made this comparison did not possess what Times readers consider the right political pedigree.
Having noticed that Warren did not answer their question, the Times editors circled back. Just how would President Warren pass transformative reforms such as Medicare-for-all, a wealth tax, cutting the defense budget, and comprehensive immigration reform through Congress? Her answer: “50 votes.” That’s right: “budget reconciliation,” she added. In Warren’s estimation, the virtual nationalization of the health-insurance industry, the constitutionally dubious expropriation of private property, and the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants can be deemed budgetary issues and passed with a simple majority vote. Why didn’t anyone else think of that?
To their credit, the Times editors did not seem to accept the notion that some of the most contentious debates of our time could be swept aside with this rarely applied legislative maneuver. But their deserved incredulity was repaid with contempt. “All right, so what do you want to do?” Warren replied impertinently. “You want [to] just give up?” But, Times editor Michelle Cottle noted, immigration reform and the revenues derived from the taxes that would be paid by those newly minted citizens are critical to making the math work in Warren’s universal health-care plan. Its opponents cannot simply be dismissed, can they? Of course they can. “It’s 5 percent of the pay-for,” Warren responded. “Give me a break.” “O.K.,” a chastened Cottle replied. “So, we mark that one off.” Warren’s derision was good enough for the Times.
The senator’s disregard for any American constituency not already in her corner was perhaps most evident in her casual dismissal of the obstacles before would-be reformers of the Electoral College. Warren has said she hopes to be the last president elected by that body. “I’m assuming you’re not talking about a constitutional amendment,” said editor Jesse Wegman, though his question was accompanied by a wry parenthetical noting that Warren had herself argued in favor of a constitutional amendment to do away with the College. Warren said that “it’s time for us to take it on.” She elaborated: “We take it on by deciding we’re going to take it on. We pass it through Congress, and then we set it up for the states to be able to vote on it.” Wegman astutely observed that Warren was describing the process by which constitutional amendments are ratified. “So, you think a constitutional amendment?” he asked. “You can take it through a constitutional amendment if you think it needs a constitutional amendment,” was Warren’s insouciant response. Once again, this embarrassingly tautological exchange was apparently sufficient for the Times.
On January 19, the New York Times editorial board will endorse one of the candidates running for president, and the conventional wisdom holds that Warren is their odds-on favorite. If she wins their support, it would be in spite of this interview. The former Harvard professor is too smart to believe half the answers she gave in this interview, but she clearly thinks you might not be sharp enough to notice her evasions. If, however, the editorial board reserves for itself some measure of self-respect, they might reject a candidate who displayed such obvious loathing for their intelligence and that of their readers as well.