Image Credits: Meredith Nierman/WGBH.
Elizabeth Warren now has a catchphrase. I think it’s a positive development for her campaign and I also think it’s pretty neat how it came about.
The Twitter exchange played out over several hours on April 11: “Many profitable companies pay nothing in corporate income tax. Elizabeth Warren has a plan to stop that,” Vox wrote, linking to one of its wonky explainers. “You bet I do,” Warren tweeted back.
Then a woman named Keely Murphy — a self-described bookworm, space enthusiast and feminist — replied back to the Massachusetts senator: “I would certainly buy a shirt that said ‘Elizabeth Warren: She’s Got a Plan for That.’”
Within days, the tweet — along with many others the campaign had been noticing expressing unbridled enthusiasm for Warren’s policy-heavy approach to her presidential candidacy — prompted the campaign to embrace the nerd-tastic meme. “I got a plan” has become a staple of her stump speech, often drawing loud applause. And Warren fans like Murphy can now purchase “Warren has a plan for that” T-shirts and tote bags from her website.
As a general matter, I think Elizabeth Warren should deemphasize her academic side and put the focus on her populist message. She should work diligently to convince ordinary Americans that she’s on their side, because her whole political career has been about standing up for the little guy against powerful and predatory corporations. So, I’m wary of this embrace of her inner geek. I don’t want her catchphrase to become a shorthand parody for an out-of-touch campaign.
Somehow, though, I think “I’ve got a plan for that” can bridge the gap between wonk and populist. It says that she’s got answers to people’s problems. She’s thought about them. She’s not out of touch.
And if it does become a bit of a joke, maybe if it’s served up with a touch of self-deprecation, it won’t come across as eggheaded and arrogant. Warren the populist is a powerful politician, potentially in parts of the country pundits wouldn’t expect. Warren the professor is a marginal candidate who will go no further than any previous champion of the academic left, which is to say that she will go nowhere.
So, the catchphrase could be a spectacular success or an albatross depending on how she presents the rest of her image and message. I think it has the potential to work well with different audiences who will take entirely different messages from it. Some will embrace the nerdiness factor as the exact kind of tonic we need for Donald Trump’s cluelessness. But others will see it as an indication that she isn’t just promising to fix things but can actually get it done.