“She works on the inside, but she’s never considered herself an insider.” A celebratory biography of the “brand-name populist” who many commentators expect will run for president in 2020.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, writes Felix (Michelle Obama: A Photographic Journey, 2017, etc.), comes by her advocacy for the struggling middle class honestly. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in a household run by parents who, though they considered themselves middle-class, were just a couple of paychecks away from financial disaster—as happened from time to time. Confronting those realities as a lawyer with substantial training in economics and as a public intellectual committed to conveying her findings so that readers everywhere could understand them, Warren has emerged as a leader of the left wing of the Democratic Party, as well as a senator from Massachusetts, a long journey from her beginnings as a middle-state conservative. Felix writes uncritically and sometimes breezily, addressing her subject as a familiar: “It’s a leap of faith to turn away from the sheltering walls of a university, and Elizabeth thought long and hard before jumping into the political chaos of the Bankruptcy Review Commission.” The book is best understood as a fan’s notes, though the author does a good job of digging evenhandedly into one of the central controversies surrounding Warren, the claim of Native American ancestry that has provided Donald Trump with the ugly slur “Pocahontas.” That controversy well merits the several pages Felix devotes to it, which, as she notes, could not be explained in a media atmosphere “in the business of sound-bite drama, not social analysis.” One can be sure that in the event that Warren declares for the presidency, the matter will be reignited, even as she has moved on to being a persistent—and persisting—critic of the rule of big money in electoral politics.
Admirers of Warren will find this a welcome exaltation.