On Wednesday night Elizabeth Warren spoke at the Democratic National Convention in support of Joe Biden and his many plans to “build back better.” (Warren did not mention if Biden had any plan to build a better slogan, however, which is of great national concern.) Warren’s five-minute speech focused “childcare [as] part of the basic infrastructure of this nation,” and how the lack of affordable childcare when her children were young made working “nearly impossible.” Warren again credited her Aunt Bee, who came to live with her and help raise her children, as the reason she was able to have the career she has had.
From start to finish Elizabeth Warren is positioned as the quintessential schoolmarm. She’s standing in the middle of an empty early childhood education center with a set of cubbies behind her, children’s spelling blocks spelling out BLM, Black Lives Matter. On the wide shot, the audience can see the tiny empty tables that would be holding children were it not for a global pandemic keeping kids and their parents trapped at home. It is a wholesome backdrop for a wholesome woman to talk about the plans of a man who, despite having children, now has to scramble and come up with a childcare plan of his own. The speech casually glosses over the fact that of all the 800 democrats who ran for the presidential nomination last year, Warren, not Biden, had the best plan for universal childcare. It was a plan she was passionate about and yet because elections are what they are, has transferred her passion over to promoting Joe Biden and his flawed plans.
Warren’s dedication to pushing for a universal childcare plan is well documented—a central and exciting part of her campaign for president. She was able to discuss the matter with enough weight and emphasis in her voice to lift it out of the wading pool of women’s only issues, forcing people to give a shit about childcare by plainly stating how her plan would affect the economy as a whole. But in this particular speech, the DNC minimized the issue yet again, at a time when while childcare has never been as needed. This tonal shift was also affected by Warren’s staging. A woman in a dimly lit classroom was more of a depressing reminder of the pandemic and Warren’s untimely sidelining, rather than projecting power or authority, two things Warren possesses in spades.
Warren was once a teacher and is a mother. But she is also a law professor and a United States Senator. She ran for president. She is bigger than just a talking head for gendered issues. But Wednesday night, she was presented as a gentle caricature of a woman likely designed to attract on the fence Democrats and less conservative Republicans. The whole thing felt empty.
For generations, affordable childcare has been a fight largely fought by women who are perceived to be the main if not sole caretakers of America’s children. It is a crucial and worthy discussion to have and yet it isn’t so worthy as to be presented as a top-tier issue from a male candidate—a male candidate who finally cares because a woman forced him to.