this MoveOn.org page, captioned "the Elizabeth Warren quote every American needs to see."
Look at that accompanying photo. Professor Warren is smiling amiably, eyes bright, forehead pleasantly un-furrowed. Her hand is open in a non-aggressive, 'come and reason with me' gesture. She looks friendly and reasonable.
Despite all of the reading and thinking I did about that extended quote last month, it didn't occur to me until very recently that I'd never bothered to seek out and view the widely-available YouTube video of the Professor's actual delivery of those telling words. Like many people, I suspect, I subconsciously imposed on the speech a calm and rational tone lifted from the accompanying photograph.
The reality is quite different. If, like me, you hadn't previous bothered, take a moment to watch for yourself:
That friendly smile? Nowhere in evidence, buried 'neath a scowl. The welcoming hand? Replaced by a pointed, stabbing finger, and by big, violent gesticulations. Professor Warren's tone in the video is that of a hectoring lecturer from on high - someone who knows better than you, delivering a verbal tongue-lashing to the hypothetical factory-owning straw man she's erected to absorb her class warfare-inducing reprimand.
A tip of the hat is due to the MoveOn.org operative who recognized the political value of divorcing Professor Warren's words from the tone in which they were spoken. That graphic is a subtle bit of genius.
Now of course I realize that just as in my initial read I imposed upon Professor Warren's words a tone unconsciously derived from the accompanying photo, my impressions upon viewing the video are colored by my own predispositions toward the candidate and my well-percolated opinions about the message she's delivering. I realize that the very same words, spoken in the very same tone, strike other ears as a passionate declaration of fundamental political truths. But if I close my eyes and listen just to the audio, and I try to picture the facial expressions that accompany the tone, I see only what in fact appeared on the Professor's face as she spoke. The scowl. The frown. I can almost feel the breeze from those waving hands.
In its initial iteration Professor Warren's diatribe was less a calm, reasoned expression of progressive first principles than a strident call to arms to the most radical elements of the left; the people motivating the groups of kids who are now spending most of their time camping out in our city centers, scribbling gripes on scraps of torn cardboard. Insofar as a coherent message can be gleaned from those "Occupy ______" protests, it is of a piece with Professor Warren's "pay forward" speech - and expressed in a similar tone.
To the extent that this is the tone the Warren campaign intends to bring to her campaign for Senate, it could not contrast more starkly with the friendly, non-ideological equanimity of the man she is hoping to replace. Though it might energize the base (as clearly it already has), I don't expect that contrast will serve her well with the broader electorate, including the Commonwealth's majority of moderate unenrolled voters who were key to Senator Brown's win the first time around. That's why for all of the mileage she's gotten off of the viral video,
I suspect we won't see that speech in any of her campaign ads. Political junkies
watch candidate YouTube videos. Mainstream voters watch TV.