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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

How Not To Criticize Elizabeth Warren

How someone dances is irrelevant. What matters is their record.

I do not dance well. I do, however, dance often. I dance in offices and on subway trains, I dance when I am standing around waiting for something to happen, sometimes I dance myself from one place to another. When there is music on, it can be hard not to dance. 

This is a world without enough dancing in it. People feel embarrassed to dance. Does Trump dance? Probably not. I bet he thinks it’s unmasculine. Dancing is for wusses. Real men stand perfectly still at all times, glaring at you with rage in their eyes. Real men repress their silliness. 

One reason for the global dancing deficit is that people fear that if they dance badly, they will be mocked. Dancing is sort of inherently ridiculous, making your body do little motions, wiggling here and there, putting your right foot in and shaking it all about. Those of us who believe in dancing must reassure people: No, nobody cares about how you dance. Dance proudly. Do not fear mockery. Nobody cares if you’re bad at dancing.

Except they do. Bad dancers will be mocked mercilessly. Because bad dancers are not cool. Cool people are in control, cool people know how they look to others. Bad dancers think they look good. But actually they look like morons.

Elizabeth Warren did a dance recently. A brief one. Not much to it, but she was on stage, so it was videoed, and it was the sort of dance that lots of people who do not dance would do if music came on and they felt the need to do a little dance. I have done dances similar to the ones she did. I learned them from SpongeBob

She was mocked on Twitter. “Who thinks this is dance?” asked historian Ann Little. Kyle Kulinski suggested Warren had been told to dance by advisers encouraging her to be relatable. Stephen Colbert said she was “really rocking an ‘every chaperone at the eighth-grade dance’ vibe.” Cory Booker stepped in and wondered why people mocked Warren’s dancing but not his “dad jokes.” (The implication being because of sexism, but more likely because nobody has followed Cory Booker’s candidacy closely enough to notice his dad jokes. I am sure those who did notice mocked them brutally.) 

Now, many of the mockers will say the problem with Warren’s dancing was not that it was bad but that it was fake, that it seemed forced. Calculated to appear relatable. Perhaps. I don’t know. Sometimes you just get nervous and a dance comes out. People are awkward. I don’t think she thought “Now time to win them over with some relatable dancing.” I just think she was standing there when music was playing and felt the unstoppable urge. 

But my main problem with criticizing Warren’s dancing is that it’s the wrong criticism. It’s irrelevant. I could not care less how Elizabeth Warren dances. I care about whether she is the person we should nominate to be president. And because I do not think she is the person we should nominate, I do not want to make criticisms of her that her supporters will correctly deem petty. If it seems like Bernie supporters just dislike Warren because she is uncool, and think we are the cool kids of the left, why should Warren supporters listen to a thing we say? In fact, they should probably like her more: She is a proud dork, standing up for the uncool everywhere, resisting the sneers. We need to show some decency to her and her supporters, because we are going to need to win them over in a general election, and we do not want them hating our guts for having looked down upon them and their candidate. 

Just as you might expect after an unfair criticism, some of Warren’s fans wrote articles defending her, pointing out that women are often perceived as inauthentic and are in an impossible position, and that having fun is good. And they were right. In fact, I am frustrated with any and all social media mockery of Warren’s dance styles, because it allows her supporters to dismiss us, to avoid confronting the serious arguments against Warren because the criticism simply looks like cruelty. So I do not care what Warren wears, how her voice sounds, what she looks like when she moves, whether her supporters are too nerdy, or anything like that. What I care about is her vision for the country and her chances of enacting it. 

I have written in a highly critical manner about Warren before. I think it is important to be blunt during primaries. Hillary Clinton’s supporters were furious that she was criticized harshly in the primary, but it is actually important to air the differences between candidates. If we opt for “unity” too early on, then candidates who have massive differences between them will look like they are the same. The arguments for each candidate, and against the others, need to be made clearly.

Because I fear Elizabeth Warren would make a bad general election candidate and a disappointing president, I want to draw attention to the parts of her record that I believe are indefensible. Here is a long video in which I do that:

I do not mention her dancing, though. I do talk about inauthenticity, because sincerity is important. But the evidence is that she has been evasive on her core political commitments and has said things that are not true. That is the kind of authenticity that matters: Do you tell the truth? 

Let us then, have a serious conversation, and not get distracted. What matters are the issues: How is each candidate’s climate plan? Have they been consistent on healthcare? And the strategy: Will they beat Donald Trump? Will they have glaring misstatements the other side can point out? Will we be able to make a powerful pitch for them? All of this needs to be hashed out. 

One criticism one could make of the dancing is that it was untimely: I originally wondered why Warren was doing something so upbeat the night Iranian missiles were flying at US targets. And I think Pete Buttigieg’s “high hopes” dance is a way of trying to paper over support for the interests of U.S. corporations and militaristic imperialism. Strictly as a dance, however, I have no objection even to the “high hopes” dance. I have done it. I have experienced pleasure doing it. I would do it again.

So let us criticize Warren. In fact, we must. But let us not focus on that which does not matter. Let her dance her heart out. We all ought to do the same. 

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