Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren appeared on the same stage today, in the ballroom at Boston’s Park Plaza, but at different times. There must be some significance in that, right? Uh, no. Their appearances were complementary, not competitive. We tend to overanalyze these things at times… but it was fun to compare and contrast, all the same, as both women worked to gin up support for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts Governor race, as she seemed to slip behind her Republican opponent Charles Baker.
Warren went first and emphasized Coakley’s willingness to take on the big banks that have been “tricking and trapping” the American people. She actually shook her fist at one point, but this was not a pitchfork speech… and not a long one, either. I’ve always been impressed by Warren’s ability to explain the complexities of financial policy in a way that civilians can understand, but she didn’t have much time for that. She stuck to the job at hand: praising Coakley as a populist hero. And she did it very well, if not transcendently.
Clinton was obviously the star of the show. She spoke after Coakley, and was given much more time than Warren. She was greeted, as both Warren and Coakley were, by a roar, though her roar may have been a smidgeon louder than the others’. She wasted no time in praising Warren as someone willing to “give it to those who deserve to get it.” (She also praised all the other elected officials present, especially Coakley.)
It will be said that Warren emphasized her break-up-the-banks populism while Clinton spoke about women’s issues, and that is true–although Clinton did offer one passing acknowledgment of Coakley as someone who was willing to fight against “corrupt financial institutions” during her years as Mass. Atty. General. But that wasn’t the most important thing about her speech. Actually, there were three important things:
1. The emphasis on women’s rights, especially equal pay, was spot on the Democrats’ most successful message in these 2014 campaigns. She told a personal story about Chelsea getting sick at the age of two, on a day when Clinton had to appear in court as a young lawyer. She told it well, making clear her anguish throughout the day, the difficulty of finding someone to take care of Chelsea (finally, “a trusted friend” volunteered to help) and the relief when she got home to find Chelsea better and reading with the friend. This was the opposite of her awkward “poor”-mouthing during her book tour. It was recognizably life-sized and very effective.
2. The story was striking to old-timers like me because this was exactly the sort of message she rarely delivered when she ran for President in 2008. She took the advice of her pollster-strategist Mark Penn and emphasized her experience rather than her gender, which was disastrously stupid. Her life-long obsession with women’s and children’s issues is a calling more than a message. Although, a message it certainly is, grounded and practical…and she laid out the financial benefits of equal pay in a way that might have made the Big Dog proud: she talked about the things that moms could buy with the extra money. Food for the kids, better daycare, maybe even a car–think about the impact on the economy! (Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if her husband had helped a little with that one.)
3. She spoke slowly, confidently, conversationally. No screaming. The audience listened intently, at times losing track of what they were supposed to do for applause lines. She didn’t try to rouse them, except at the end–when her peroration began inaudible because of the cheers.
Yes, it was packaged. Almost everything is, in politics these days. But it didn’t seem packaged. There’s a long and winding road to travel between now and 2016, but she seems to have given smarter and subtler thought to how she’s going to present herself than she did last time.