How to Speak Warren: Translating The Senator Progressives Want For President

What Sen. Warren said vs. what she actually meant.

WHAT SHE MEANT: It’s OK for Democrats to be happy about economic gains. It's not OK for them to be satisfied by them. Her tone in this line isn't quite as patronizing as the words might read. She followed them up by leading the crowd into a round of polite applause, but quickly went into the ways that bank bailouts, trade pacts and tax deals have contributed to middle-class stagnation.

WHAT SHE SAID: “All of the new money earned in this economy over the past generation, all of that growth in GDP, went to the top. All of it.”

WHAT SHE SAID: “Many feel like the game is rigged against them. And they are right – the game is rigged against them.”

WHAT SHE MEANT: I’m with you. This has been the heart of Warren’s message throughout her brief career in public life. The power of the argument is that the institutions we trust to protect and support us are in fact weakening our economy and its middle-class households. That’s the economic populism that made a liberal senator from Massachusetts a big campaign draw in Kentucky and West Virginia last fall.

WHAT SHE SAID: “I graduated from a commuter college that cost $50 a semester, and I ended up in the United States Senate.”

WHAT SHE MEANT: I’m one of you. Warren’s biography -- from her mother’s minimum-wage job through her own struggles as a single mom -- informs her political identity to an uncommon degree. She speaks to crowds not as a Harvard professor but as someone who knows the struggles of Americans – Americans who don’t know from corporate jets and six-figure speaking gigs.

WHAT SHE SAID: “We have seen David beat Goliath.”

WHAT SHE MEANT: I will need you to be with me. I'm just not saying where or when quite yet. For now, Warren's fights are inside the Senate. It's there that she’s celebrating – in her words – the times the "lobbyists lose.” But her calls to “un-rig the system” seem broader than that, which is why her speeches connect in crowds like the one gathered by the AFL-CIO. Much of her intrigue is the possibility of much bigger political victories.