In a year dominated by waffling and acquiescence on the left, White House adviser-turned-senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren is playing offense. She's spearheaded an agency to protect consumers, she's bluntly explained why we need higher taxes, and now she's running for Scott Brown's Massachusetts Senate seat. If all goes well in 2012, she's poised to be one of the most powerful Democrats—and the most formidable female one since Hillary Clinton.
Like Clinton, Warren realized she wanted to be a politician after observing them up close. In a recent New York Times magazine profile, she recounts watching Barney Frank casually include her ideas about credit reports in a financial regulations bill: “[Frank] says ‘Done!’ and everybody writes it down. I thought, 'Whooaah'... That was the first time that I understood—and real well—what it means to be in the room.” Warren evidently came to the same conclusion as Clinton did back in 2000: The only way to stay in that room is to run for Senate.
By the end of the 2008 primary, Clinton and the demographic she represented were branded as elitist, dated, cranky, stiff. Nowadays, Elizabeth Warren is complicating (and redeeming) the image of the rich white lady. She may work at Harvard, but she's framed herself as the candidate who's truly on the people's side. Being a political newbie comes with the luxury of populist real talk, giving her ammo against "establishment" criticisms.
As a candidate, Warren is a hybrid of Clinton and pre-White House Obama, mixing Clinton's tactics and no-nonsense style with Obama's grassroots energy and messianic presence. It's premature to guess whether Warren will follow Clinton's post-Senate example in a few years. Still, given how perfectly her everywoman take on politics complements the zeitgeist, a 2016 run may not be such a stretch.