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July 18, 2014 4:45 PM Elizabeth Warren, Role Model

By Ed Kilgore

Unsurprisingly, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was a boffo hit at Netroots Nation today, giving what is increasingly becoming a standard stump speech expressing progressive determination to fight Wall Street and address inequality. She’s increasingly fluid in extending this theme to a broad range of issues:

Some of the loudest applause of the morning came when she dinged the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows some private companies to claim religious exemptions and not pay for contraceptive coverage mandated under the health care law. Democrats see the ruling as one way to galvanize base enthusiasm ahead of the midterms.
“Oh, and we believe that corporations are not people,” Warren said, a reference to a comment Mitt Romney made in the last presidential election. “That women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it, we will fight for it.”

Netrooters love them some “fight” language.

The crowd was chanting “Run, Liz, run!” when she was introduced, and there were “Elizabeth Warren for president” signs about.

But as Bill Scher reminds us at Politico Magazine today, that almost certainly ain’t happening:

[T]ake her at her word: Warren 2016 is a fantasy. She has repeatedly given flat denials, including a pledge to serve out her six-year term, and most recently telling the Boston Globe “I am not running for president. Do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?” Even if Warren privately keeps the door open a crack in her mind, if she has a hard head she’ll leave the symbolic, quixotic primary challenge to the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Polling data and anecdotal reporting suggest Hillary Clinton’s base of support in the Democratic Party is broader and deeper than ever, with bitter opponents from 2008 turned into “Ready for Hillary” foot soldiers. Any 2016 drama will likely be over faster than you can say “Wesley Clark.”

So does Warren matter right now in terms of the future of the Democratic Party? Absolutely. Aside from her activity in the Senate, and even beyond her well-received campaigning for Democratic candidates like Alison Grimes and Natalie Tennant, she’s a rhetorical role model for Democrats everywhere. The kind of reception she’s getting in Detroit today will not be lost on other ambitious pols; she’s come a long way fast. Not that long ago, Warren was one of my fellow columnists at TPMCafe, mainly writing about bankruptcy law. Now she’s a growing legend. So even if she never runs for president, she’ll indirectly keep pressure on those who do (like a certain former Senator from New York) to sharpen their message. Warren is, to use the biblical phrase, shining a lamp unto the feet of others. It’s not a bad mission.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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