Should Elizabeth Warren run? A debate with myself

Updated 11:31 AM EDT, Wed March 25, 2015

Story highlights

The Boston Globe and others have urged Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton's likely candidacy

Sally Kohn: The idealist in me wants her to run; the pragmatist thinks we should taker a safer route

Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) —  

Scene: A warm beach in the Caribbean (because as long as I’m setting a scene…), March of 2015

Two women, both, curiously, named “Sally Kohn,” recline and sip their drinks at they stare at the blue-green water, occasionally checking their addictive mobile devices for new emails, conversing about the third season of “House of Cards” and the political mess in Washington. They’re both bold progressives and Democrats more by default than enthusiasm.

The two Sallys are debating whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren should respond to the calls from the Boston Globe and others for her to enter the 2016 race, challenging likely frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Sally Kohn
Courtesy Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

Sally “Idealistic” Kohn desperately and impatiently wants the world to be a fairer and more just place and thinks progress toward that goal could immeasurably be helped by a bold leader articulating and pushing for big ideas at the top of the national and global political hierarchy. This Sally is wearing a skimpy bikini.

Sally “Pragmatic” Kohn wants the world to be better too, but she’s all-too-aware of how progressive idealists are chewed up, spit out and drowned out by party politics. She is conscious that Barack Obama wasn’t even that progressive and knows how much more centrist he became in the first six years of his presidency. This Sally is skeptical of how much politics can be changed from the inside as well as how much politics these days can change the world, especially given entrenched partisanship. She is wearing swim trunks, a long-sleeve UV protective t-shirt and two hats.

Sally (Idealistic) Kohn: Elizabeth Warren is like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of American politics today – she’s our only hope. There’s no one else speaking as sharply and powerfully about inequality and economic populism. Plus she has solutions. [She takes a sip of her piña colada.]

Sally (Pragmatic) Kohn: I couldn’t agree more. Which is exactly why we shouldn’t waste Warren on a dead-end presidential campaign. [She gulps her margarita.]

Sally I. Kohn: First of all, you don’t know it’s a dead end. Barack Obama was the underdog in 2008 and look what happened. Plus, Warren is much more popular at this point now than he was then.

Sally P. Kohn: Yeah, but in the latest CNN Democratic primary poll, Warren trails Hillary Clinton by 52 points. Even Joe Biden fared better.

Sally I. Kohn: Those are national polls. Primaries are run state-by-state. And in a different poll, Democratic primary voters in Iowa and in New Hampshire favored Warren over Clinton, so….

Sally P. Kohn: In fairness, that poll was run by Warren backers. And anyway, nationwide 79% of Democrats have a favorable view of Clinton. Just 37% have a favorable view of Warren.

Sally I. Kohn: Because 63% don’t know her yet. That’s why she needs to run.

Sally P. Kohn: But be honest, the path to her winning is hard to see. Sure, Barack Obama did it once, but do you really think the Clinton machine will allow itself to be defeated twice?

Sally I. Kohn: Ah, and that’s reason two why Warren should run – because even if she can’t win, she will help shape the political debate and push Hillary Clinton to the left, especially around economic justice issues.

Sally P. Kohn: Maybe, but then in four or eight years when Warren would really have a shot at the presidency, she’ll be a Mitt Romney-esque already-ran, not a bright shiny new candidate. That never helps.

Sally I. Kohn: All the more reason to run now. Now is her moment. Now is our nation’s moment, crawling out of the economic crisis, still riddled with unprecedented economic inequality, we don’t need Elizabeth Warren to be president in four years or eight years or 16. We need her now.

Sally P. Kohn: I agree that Warren is transformational and has the bold vision we need right now. And isn’t that exactly why she shouldn’t run? National big money political campaigns are where good ideas go to die.

Sally I. Kohn: Maybe Elizabeth Warren can be the candidate to change all that, the candidate for the people, not the political process – who even appeals to and unites independent and conservative voters who know the economy is ridiculously rigged for the rich and want government to stop aiding and abetting injustice.

[They both laugh uproariously at the suggestion that politics could ever be about people, not big money.]

Sally P. Kohn: What I will say is that now is definitely the moment for a woman president! And Hillary’s the one with the best shot. Plus, for all her coziness with Wall Street and hawkish foreign policy, she’s still a bajillion times better than any of the Republican options. Heck, they have Congress for a few months and can’t even govern themselves out of a paper bag. And if Hillary might not do as much as we’d like to fix economic inequality, let’s be clear – Republicans would just make it worse, like they did before. Which is what really worries me about Warren. There’s a reason they’re called “spoiler candidates.” I don’t want her to spoil the Democrats’ chance to elect a woman this election.

Sally I. Kohn: But no, that’s exactly why she has to run – to make the party stronger, to make Hillary less economically centrist and quick on the military trigger. We need a bold progressive candidate we can rally behind in the primaries. And if Warren wins, great. Her vision also appeals to the broad majority of working people. And if she doesn’t win the primaries, still great – we’ve sent a clear message to Hillary and forced her to be more populist.

Sally P. Kohn: Maybe… Or maybe Warren runs and wastes all her political capital, making too many compromises to be a viable candidate and losing her pedestal as an irreverent outsider and then being defeated anyway, so she’s diminished in some of the power and leverage she had before, too. She’s a great leader now, right now, as is. The magnifying glass of a national campaign could expose her imperfections or even burn her up in the sun…. [She reaches for the suntan lotion.]

Sally I. Kohn: … or it could magnify her reach and impact. [She, too, reaches for the suntan lotion.]

Sally P. Kohn: Maybe we just see things too differently.

[They both stare down at their drinks and take another sip.]

Sally P. Kohn: Hey, my margarita is half-empty.

Sally I. Kohn: Oh, my piña colada is half-full.

Sally P. Kohn: Either way, we both need more, eh?

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