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My Night In Brooklyn With Elizabeth Warren & Julian Castro

Fans dancing in the aisles, a selfie line that went on forever, toasters.

Sam Dock Jan 9

On Tuesday night, I took my young son Arthur to see Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro at Kings Theater in Brooklyn. We watch the debates together, any excuse for him to eat Oreos.This time he wanted a chance to see his first real live presidential candidate since Bernie launched his campaign at Brooklyn College on March 2. I agreed because I am both a political junkie and was curious to watch Castro audition for Warren’s VP pick.

A caveat on my observations: A toaster is not a car. Elizabeth Warren is a progressive candidate for the Democratic Party nomination who proudly proclaims she is “capitalist to her bones.” My politics are a bit to the left of hers, but these notes just assess her for who she is.

Observations:

1) The venue was sold out. There were 3,000 people inside and reportedly another 1,000 outside. The crowd was was majority women, queer-friendly and genial. There was corny crowd behavior like dancing in the aisles and doing the wave, but overall it was just a chill and friendly environment. 

2) Julian Castro was solid: a little too “American dream” for me, but compared to recent Dems, liberal enough. He trotted out anecdotes about Warren being a “fighter,” but his big pitch was that Warren is the candidate who can unite the Democratic party. This seems to be the calculation of a lot of Dems who can see the writing on the wall when it comes to the centrist Democratic Party’s business-as-usual domestic politics and recent history but are still terrified of Bernie Sanders. After his warm-up, he sat in a chair, center stage, perched right behind Warren. For the most part, Castro played a good role in the debates and he’s polished, but Tuesday night, he seemed like he needed a moment during Warren’s speech. We had binoculars and I got the distinct impression that he was a bit sad to be displayed on the stage of his recent rival.

3) Warren started off by stating clearly that “Americans do not want war with Iran.”

4) Warren uses a different “C” word: where Bernie talks “Capitalism,” Warren talks “Corruption.” As if we just regulated a system predicated on exploitation, it would be much better for everyone involved. On debate stages, it comes off as wanting to be acceptable to both the Democratic Party’s right, who worry she is too radical, and its left, who know the problem with capitalism isn’t just corruption. Her corruption theme is just as silly in person, but otherwise, she is a compelling speaker and is clearly using the campaign to sell a wealth tax, “structural change” and protecting democracy as her big visionary goals. 

Almost any other year, Warren would be the solid progressive choice. But there’s also what she doesn’t say or barely mentions: Unions get two sentences, the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all got one apiece, toasters, used in a metaphor for regulation, got like three minutes. 

(What do toasters and bad mortgages have in common? Warren’s argument goes. Both could cost you your home. We regulate toasters but not big banks.)

I have no doubt that Warren will fight for these reforms. The time and energy she devoted to making the case for her two-cent tax alone suggests she’s learned from some of Obama’s mistakes of negotiating against himself and pragmatic of defeatism, but she still has no real conception for how you actually win change besides “fight” for it.

5) Buttigieg got briefly heckled. Everyone laughed, but I told Arthur I bet I could find a 100 Buttigieg supporters in the crowd.

6) Bernie is hands-down better on both the issues and as a candidate, but Warren obviously makes sense for running mate consideration.

7) The selfie line is seriously bullshit and deserving of its own set of observations (this is the retail politics of Pokemon Go inverted), but my son wanted one so I got him one.

8) I got roped into a selfie. I said to Warren that I liked her statement against war on Iran and that we cannot have a war with Iran. She didn’t respond during the picture, but immediately after turned to me and said forcefully, “We are not going to allow a war with Iran, we’re going to go” back to D.C. and “stop them.” In the selfie line, I debated saying something to her about the need to support Palestinian liberation but I was too freaked out on Iran the missiles got launched just before the event began. I have been kicking myself about this ever since. 

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