Originally posted June 17, 2019 at nytimes.com
The first time I met Elizabeth Warren, she had just come home from a walk with her husband and her dog at Fresh Pond, the reservoir near her house in Cambridge, Mass. It was a sunny day in February, a couple of weeks after Warren announced her candidacy for president, and she was wearing a navy North Face jacket and black sneakers with, as usual, rimless glasses and small gold earrings. Her hair had drifted a bit out of place.
The dog, Bailey, is a golden retriever who had already been deployed by her presidential campaign in a tweet a week earlier, a pink-tongued snapshot with the caption “Bailey will be your Valentine.” Warren started toweling off his paws and fur, which were coated in mud and ice from the reservoir, when she seemed to realize that it made more sense to hand this task over to her husband, Bruce Mann.
In the kitchen, Warren opened a cupboard to reveal an array of boxes and canisters of tea. She drinks many cups a day (her favorite morning blend is English breakfast). Pouring us each a mug, she said, “This is a fantasy.” She was talking about the enormous platform she has, now that she’s running for president, to propagate policy proposals that she has been thinking about for decades. “It’s this moment of being able to talk about these ideas, and everybody says, ‘Oh, wait, I better pay attention to this.’” She went on: “It’s not about me; it’s about those ideas. We’ve moved the Overton window” — the range of ideas deemed to merit serious consideration — “on how we think about taxes. And I think, I think we’re about to move it on child care.”
Her plan, announced in January, would raise $2.75 trillion in revenue over 10 years through a 2 percent tax on assets over $50 million and a higher rate for billionaires. Warren wants to use some of that money to pay for universal child care on a sliding scale. As she talked, she shifted around in her chair — her hands, her arms, her whole body leaning forward and moving back. Onstage, including at TV town halls, she prefers to stand and pace rather than sit (she tries to record six miles a day on her Fitbit), and sometimes she comes across as a little frenetic, like a darting bird. One on one, though, she seemed relaxed, intent.
Warren moved to Cambridge in 1995 when she took a tenured job at Harvard Law School, and 11 years later, Mann, who is a legal historian, got a job there, too. By then they had bought their house; Warren’s two children from a previous marriage, her daughter, Amelia, and son, Alexander, were already grown. The first floor is impeccable, with a formal living room — elegant decorative boxes arranged on a handsome coffee table — a cozy sunroom and a gleaming kitchen with green tile countertops. When Warren taught classes at Harvard, she would invite her students over for barbecue and peach cobbler during the semester. Some of them marveled at the polish and order, which tends not to be the norm in faculty homes. Warren says she scoops up dog toys before people come over.
For her entire career, Warren’s singular focus has been the growing fragility of America’s middle class. She made the unusual choice as a law professor to concentrate relentlessly on data, and the data that alarms her shows corporate profits creeping up over the last 40 years while employees’ share of the pie shrinks. This shift occurred, Warren argues, because in the 1980s, politicians began reworking the rules for the market to the specifications of corporations that effectively owned the politicians. In Warren’s view of history, “The constant tension in a democracy is that those with money will try to capture the government to turn it to their own purposes.” Over the last four decades, people with money have been winning, in a million ways, many cleverly hidden from view. That’s why economists have estimated that the wealthiest top 0.1 percent of Americans now own nearly as much as the bottom 90 percent.
As a presidential candidate, Warren has rolled out proposal after proposal to rewrite the rules again, this time on behalf of a majority of American families. On the trail, she says “I have a plan for that” so often that it has turned into a T-shirt slogan. Warren has plans (about 20 so far, detailed and multipart) for making housing and child care affordable, forgiving college-loan debt, tackling the opioid crisis, protecting public lands, manufacturing green products, cracking down on lobbying in Washington and giving workers a voice in selecting corporate board members. Her grand overarching ambition is to end America’s second Gilded Age.
[Elizabeth Warren has lots of plans. Together, they would remake the economy.]