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Elizabeth Warren’s Search For A Personality

Liz Warren
As Senator Elizabeth Warren has steadily risen in the polls, questions have persisted among establishment Democrats about whether she is offering an agenda that's too liberal for the country or too polarizing to win a general election.

According to Washington Post writers Annie Linskey, Amy B Wang and Cleve Wootson Jr., Warren spent much of the summer months trying to combat that view and emphasize her ostensible electability and her potentially broad appeal.

If that was ever true, Warren certainly dropped the mask at her September 16 rally at New York’s Washington Square.

"I wanted to give this speech here - but not because of the arch behind me or the president this square is named for," Warren said, reading from a teleprompter in Washington Square Park, blocks from where the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed more than 140 workers, including many young immigrant women.

"We're not here today because of famous arches or famous men," she said. "In fact, we're not here because of men at all - we're here because of some hard-working women."

The comments were a more direct nod to gender than most of her public remarks to date, observed Linskey, Wang and Wootson. Warren’s remarks typically include a Trump-like focus on the ways in which powerful interests have tilted the country's government toward elites and avoidance of the full-on feminist crazy of putting down men for no apparent reason.

In her speech, Warren likened herself to Frances Perkins, who as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's labor secretary was the first female member of the U.S. Cabinet. Perkins was not an elected official but is seen as a highly influential and effective public figure noted Linskey, Wang and Wootson.

"What did one woman - one very persistent woman - backed up by millions of people across this country get done? Big structural change," Warren said, invoking one of her own campaign slogans. "One woman, and millions of people to back her up."

She credited Perkins, a longtime labor activist, with pushing for major worker protections in New York in the wake of the Triangle fire and with helping launch Social Security, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage and child labor laws. Warren even spoke from a podium built from barn boards from Perkins's homestead.

In focusing on Perkins, Warren sought to tie her campaign to the New Deal and an era of powerful liberal accomplishment, and she cited Perkins's methods to bolster her view of the best way to bring about change. "She worked the political system relentlessly from the inside, while a sustained movement applied pressure from the outside," Warren said.

It is interesting that Senator Warren would choose Frances Perkins as a role model at this particular moment in history: Perkins was indeed the first female Cabinet officer, but she was also the first Cabinet officer to face impeachment.

Perkins was charged by Rep. Martin Dies’ House Un-American Activities committee with protecting communists. J. Parnell Thomas, another staunch anti-Communist, introduced the motion to impeach her. The initiating cause for this effort was her defense of Harry Bridges, an Australian-born longshoreman labor leader on the West Coast.  An effort was being made to deport him as a Communist and Perkins’ punctilious insistence on procedure and her long association with other Communist and “Pink” organizations led many to believe she was a Communist sympathizer, if not a card-carrying Party member.

After an investigation, the Committee voted unanimously not to proceed, and Harry Bridges was never deported, even though his 1990 obituary identified him as an ardent Marxist and staunch supporter of the Soviet Union.

As predictable as it is that Senator Elizabeth Warren would pick a Communist sympathizer as a role model one thing puzzles us. One of the great influences on Frances Perkins life was her association with the National Consumers’ League.

In February of 1902, Perkins and her Mount Holyoke classmates invited National Consumers’ League executive secretary, Florence Kelley, to speak at the college. Later Frances Perkins told a friend that Kelley’s speech “first opened my mind to the necessity for and the possibility of the work which became my vocation” and she later became Secretary of the New York Consumers’ League, a position that launched her into her career in government.

So, it is a puzzlement that in 1938, while Frances Perkins was serving in the Cabinet of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the organization that inspired Frances Perkins, who today inspires Elizabeth Warren, would say this about the Equal Rights Amendment:

On behalf of the National Consumers’ League I wish, most strongly, to urge you to vote against the so-called Equal Rights Amendment now being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As long as millions of working women need protection against long hours, low wages and other unsatisfactory working conditions the National Consumers’ League will vigorously oppose the Equal Rights Amendment.

Given that the personalities of an oppressed Native American and Scold-In-Chief didn’t work with voters, and despite its Communist associations it looks like Frances Perkins’ 120-year old persona may not be woke enough on the ERA, we presume Senator Warren’s team will continue its search for a suitable new personality for the Senator to adopt out on the campaign trail.

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