Five Takeaways from Elizabeth Warren’s Talk in Cambridge

Senator Warren promoted her new book A Fighting Chance to a friendly, familiar crowd at First Parish Church in Harvard Square.

elizabeth warren

Elizabeth Warren speaks at First Parish Church in Cambridge on Thursday, moderated by Harvard Book Store’s marketing manager Alex Meriwether.

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke to a sold-out crowd in Cambridge on Thursday at First Parish Church in Harvard Square. She read excerpts from her new book, A Fighting Chance, and fielded questions about the middle class (yay!), the big banks (boo!), healthcare (go science!), the Middle East (go John Kerry!), and more.

Like the rest of Warren’s book tour so far, her audience questions were carefully selected and her answers well-rehearsed. (After all, she’s already displayed her non-affinity for an unplanned soundbite.) But it’s a book tour, not a campaign, and Warren was in friendly territory. The former Harvard professor received multiple standing ovations as she spoke to a crowd she was clearly comfortable with.

Here are a few highlights from her talk:


“The Thread of My Story Is America’s Story”

In her book, Warren weaves personal anecdotes with experiences in politics, from a hilarious toaster-fire scenario, to giving the Senate a hard time in 2010 for trying to kill the proposed consumer agency. (“The way I saw it, we had nothing to lose. I didn’t want a job in the Capitol, so what did I care if I ticked off a lot of people in Washington?” Har har!)

The heart of A Fighting Chance, Warren said, is children and opportunity:

I tell a lot of stories in this book—stories about growing up, stories about being a young mother, stories about starting a career, stories about setting the kitchen on fire. But I tell these stories because the thread of my story is America’s story. I am the daughter of a maintenance man who ended up in the United States Senate, and I made it because American invested in kids like me.


“The Game Is Rigged”

In case you were wondering, yes, Warren still hates the big banks. They are the enemy of the middle class, after all.

Here’s what I see: Washington works for those who can hire armies, lobbyists, and lawyers. But for everyone else, not so much. I saw it with the big banks. They cheated American families, they crashed the economy, they got bailed out, and now the big five financial institutions are 38 percent bigger than they were back in 2008. They still swagger through Washington blocking reforms and pushing around agencies. A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank breaks the law on laundering drug money or manipulating currency and no one even get arrested. The game is rigged.


“Our College Kids Are Getting Crushed”

Warren did not beat around the bush when the issue of students loans came up:

We’re going to introduce a bill in the United States Senate next month or early June … to refinance the outstanding student loan debt, to bring it down so that students have a better chance to get an education, and to get a start in life without being crushed by student loan debt.

Her stance was met with cheers from the Ivy League crowd.


“I Am Not Running for President”

Technically, the question posed was, “Senator Warren, you’ve said a number of times that you do not plan to run for president. What can we say tonight to change your mind?” If this were a campaign, you could be sure that this sickly saccharine query were staged. But it’s not a campaign, right? Once again, Warren insisted she isn’t running.


“Gravity Is Just There—Damn!”

Perhaps the least staged portion of the talk came when Warren was asked for her stance on Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the 21st Century. “I know the book—it has tables and graphs!” she joked. Warren reminded the crowd of her academic roots by assessing the conclusions made in the bestseller:

Here’s the hopeful part in Piketty’s book: Piketty makes the point that although the data keep documenting [that the rich get richer], it’s not like an act of nature. It’s not like gravity and you can’t fix it, I mean, gravity is just there—damn! … Piketty’s book makes the point that how much inequality there is, how much growth is distributed through the economy, is a matter of the policies you choose to follow. And that, for example, progressive taxation, or investment in everybody’s education, has a profound effect on helping to level the playing field.


Want more Warren? You can watch her full talk via WGBH on YouTube. (Or, watch a shorter, funnier, even more sound-bitier version in her guest appearance on the Daily Show on Tuesday.)