Millard Grimes: A better choice than Hillary

July 14, 2014 

Despite the criticisms and wild charges heard in most presidential campaigns, all U.S. presidents have been smart men. Their mistakes and occasional bad judgment were not because they lacked brains, but because they came up short on courage, or simple determination. But they were all smart, some even brilliant.

Which brings us to the prospective field for 2016. Hillary Clinton seems to be the candidate deemed most likely, but behind the polls, the media hype and the obvious name recognition Hillary comes with some glaring flaws.

Her age and health are worrisome ones, quite aside from her politics or her actions as First Lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.

Hillary would be 69 if elected and inaugurated in January 2017, which would make her the second oldest person to be a first-term president, next only to Ronald Reagan, who was also 69 when first inaugurated in 1981.

She would be a veteran of four presidential campaigns, two of her husband's, two of hers. She is a lightning rod for opponents and the nation needs a modicum of soothing. Hillary does not offer that possibility.

Her husband, while her main asset, is also a major handicap. Some Americans remember him for the good economic times; others remember him as the president who brought more shame to the Oval Office than any president, was only the second president to be impeached and was disbarred for lying to a Grand Jury.

A major factor in Hillary's appeal is that many voters across the board think the time has come to elect a woman as president. If so, there is another woman who would be a more compelling choice: Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. In addition to other attributes, Sen. Warren could arguably be the smartest president since Woodrow Wilson.

At first glance she looks just like the college professor that she has been for most of her career: prim, proper, glasses low on her nose, slim and moderately tall.

Like Hillary, she has recently released a book. It's called "A Fighting Chance." The title refers to the "fighting chance" she believes all American families deserve in tough economic and cultural climates of the time.

The book reveals as much about Sen. Warren's personal life and qualities as it does about the political battles she has waged on various boards and in Congress for laws to help consumers. If you read the book you'll find a woman and a politician you'll like.

The first surprise is that she was born and grew up in small-town Oklahoma. Her father and mother had survived the Great Depression and the dust storms which tormented Oklahoma in the 1930s. Elizabeth Warren, the youngest of five children in a struggling family, was determined to go to college and become a teacher.

She was an average student in high school except for one activity: she was the anchor of the debating team and won the Oklahoma state debate championship her senior year. So she looked for a college that had a strong debating program. The one she found that offered her a full scholarship was George Washington in Washington D.C. She'd never been north of Oklahoma when at 17 she arrived in the nation's capital.

Two years later, a boyfriend who had dumped her in high school proposed marriage and Elizabeth gave up her scholarship and college to become a wife at 19 and a mother at 21.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, who went to the best colleges, Elizabeth Warren had to struggle, woking part time, being a full-time mom and then deciding she wanted to be a lawyer.

At the time there were few women lawyers. Most women in law firms were legal secretaries or assistants. She relates the story of applying to one firm and being told there was a typo in her application. "Should I take that as a sign of the quality of work you do?" her interviewer asked.

"No," she replied, "You should take it as a sign you'd better not hire me as a typist."

She got the job, and was soon a law professor at the University of Houston. A friendly divorce followed and Elizabeth later met and married a law professor from Massachusetts. She became interested in bankruptcy law because she saw the damage bankruptcy caused so many families.

She discovered that her professors didn't know why people went bankrupt, so she set out to find out why and in a few years she knew enough to co-write a book called "As We Forgive Our Debtors."

Soon, Warren became a leading advocate for changing the bankruptcy laws. Harvard called her to be a professor, which led to more prominence as an economics scholar.

She was chair of the TARP oversight committee and then developed the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. It was part of the Dodd-Frank Act, a far-reaching financial reform bill that Warren, in several advisory roles, was instrumental in writing.

Its opponents did not forgive her. President Obama wanted her to be the consumer agency's first chair, but Republicans refused to confirm her.

Warren left Washington, having created a consumer protection agency against the fiercest kind of opposition and making a name for herself as an unrelenting fighter for the underdogs.

She was persuaded in 2012 to run for the Senate against Scott Brown, the incumbent Republican who had upset the Democratic candidate in 2010. She had never been a candidate for any political office, but in the most important Senate race of the election, she defeated Brown 54 percent to 46 percent.

Whatever your political leanings, you need to read this book about the poor girl from Oklahoma, who is first of all a wife, mother and grandmother, who has spent her career working to give all Americans a "fighting chance" to live the American dream.

She says she won't run for president, but she said the same about running for Senate until she was virtually drafted.

It may be time for the right woman candidate, and Elizabeth Warren's record indicates she might be the right one.

Millard Grimes, editor of the Columbus Ledger from 1961-69 and founder of the Phenix Citizen. is author of "The Last Linotype: The Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II."

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