“I’m going to do this. I’m running for the US Senate.”

Elizabeth Warren looks directly at the camera and tells us that she’s ready. She talks to us as if we’re old friends. She sounds like the voice of reason. The middle class has suffered enough and it’s time for a change. True, it sounds a bit familiar, like the great line from the film Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Can she do it? Only 17 of 100 Senators are women so we know it will be a tough fight. One way her candidacy will succeed is by winning debates.

In looking at Warren’s candidacy, let’s examine her speaking style as she pitches to voters, raises funds, speaks to the press, and debates her opponents.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wx2H31ZgkIQ]
But first there’s breaking news: As of today, Elizabeth Warren has raised $5.7 million for her Senate bid or $2.5 million more than Senator Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts. It’s likely that her fundraising success reflects strong grassroots support, with an average contribution of $64.

Oppositional politics has left voters cynical about the process and many voters are looking for someone who is knowledgeable, reflects strong values, will work hard, and can bring people together. According to Robert Siegel of National Public Radio (NPR, Oct. 2010) there had been virtually no cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. during the few years before 2010, much less 2012 when Tea Party candidates won 87 seats and deepened the polarization.

Who is Elizabeth Warren and does she stand a chance of winning? By way of background, “Ms. Warren is known for her work as a consumer advocate; she set up the Obama administration’s new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and decided to run for office once President Obama did not tap her to lead it.” With Republicans clearly opposed to her appointment, Obama moved on and so did she.

In a Wikipedia summation of her life, it becomes clear that she lives her values. Her faith, family, and life experiences shape her understanding of how tough it can be for middle-class families to remain solvent.

  • Faith: Warren has discussed how she believed in the teachings of John Wesley, a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian (1703-1791), who founded with his brother the modern Methodist Movement.  An evangelical with a commitment to progressive social change, he wrote and spoke against the slave trade, and was active in the prison reform and abolitionism movements. Warren is  herself a reformist who believes in justice, civil rights and fair play.
  • Family: Warren’s family experience supports research for the book Women Seen and Heard(Phillips and Perez-Ferguson, Luz Publications, 2004), which revealed that women speakers gain a great deal of self-confidence from growing up in  gregarious homes in which there is a lively relationship between siblings. Dinner table conversations and debates about current issues prepare children for real-world disagreements. The Herring family struggled financially with medical bills when Elizabeth’s father became disabled; her mother and she (at 14) then went to work to pay bills. She is quoted as saying: “I’m still very connected to my family, to the world I grew up in. I understand what it means to be afraid that you can’t pay a doctor’s bill. Or to have to make the choice between buying a band uniform for a seventh-grader and making the insurance payment on time. That will never leave me. It was how I lived until I was well into my adult years.” http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/elizabeth_warren.
  • Elizabeth must have benefited from not only being the youngest of four but the only daughter with three older brothers. We know from research that being the only girl with older brothers meant exposure to a  rough and tumble “boys’ world” that develops a thicker skin and  the capacity to be a team player.
  • Life Experience: In high school, Elizabeth learned to debate and later went to George Washington University on a full debate-team scholarship — helpful skills to advance in a business, legal, and professional world shaped by men. In college, Elizabeth studied speech pathology and worked with children with disabilities, including those with brain injuries. After being at home raising children for several years, she was a “re-entry” student, studying law, then working in various jobs including real estate until she worked full-time as an attorney and later as a professor. But, like many women, the juggling act gave her a sense of what it’s like to live on a budget and the challenges low-income and middle-income families face as consumers of health care services, of loans and mortgages, and retirement plans, just to mention a few.

Make no mistake; audiences are able to interpret the non-verbal cues that tell us when someone is truthful and when someone is not, when someone is telling people what they don’t want to hear and what they do. When Warren speaks about consumer protection, her heart and  her head are united. Her sincerity is clear, from the way she makes eye contact and gestures,  to her conversational style. Standing for something, being knowledgeable, and being consistent means she can easily manage the Q & A and any tough audience because she knows what she means and means what she says. Speakers experience stress when they bob and weave, regurgitating whatever morning’s polls and trends reveal. We know that Elizabeth Warren speaks up for what she believes in. And she is a risk taker who is willing to be aggressive when she says things like:

“I support ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and the 99 percent movement. I stand with the Wall Street protesters. It’s time for the banks to own up to the greed that helped wreck our economy.”

We know that elected women are capable of being tough and standing for what they believe is right; for instance, California has another fighter in Attorney General, Kamala Harris who walked away from settlement talks with the nation’s largest banks, saying that “This is not the deal that Californians have been waiting for.” Californians need someone like Warren who will also fight for the American consumer –in the Senate.

Politics is the art of the possible. People want to believe that effective politicians are capable of  making and living with reasonable compromises that benefit our diverse society. Support for the Tea Party — and with it, the Republican Party — has fallen sharply even in places considered Tea Party strongholds, so perhaps Elizabeth Warren can use those debate skills to convince the public that more effective governance is possible, if she is given a leadership role.

As her senatorial campaign revs up, Elizabeth Warren will be making news as a woman candidate who is an American bankruptcy expert, policy advocate, Harvard Law School professor, author, and consumer advocate surely an impressive string of credentials–but her sustainability as a candidate will depend on her ability to communicate trustworthiness as someone from a middle-class family.  At the microphone, she must remain bold and consistent, be who she is, and stay focused on her beliefs and values as she faces skittish voters and the press.

American voters, tired of candidates who raise their fingers in the air to decide which way the political wind is blowing, may be ready for a woman candidate who speaks plainly and truthfully and holds her faith, family and friends as markers in a road-map for navigating the  current American reality. We can only hope so.

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