Ghosts of Elizabeth Warren: Potential White House contender seeks to 'reclaim' Oklahoma past

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren traveled to her native state of Oklahoma recently to speak at a teachers’ rally at her old high school, Northwest Classen in Oklahoma City.

The Los Angeles Times used the occasion as a perfectly reasonable peg for an in-depth profile of the potential 2020 Democratic candidate for president.

The original headline on the Times story, published today, was this:

Elizabeth Warren is trying to reclaim her past as she prepares for the ‘fight’ in 2020

As I type this, there’s a tweaked headline atop the story (“Elizabeth Warren goes back home to Oklahoma, as she forward to 2020”), but I actually think the original title better encapsulates the profile’s general thrust. (Quick note on the new headline: Hopefully, someone will notice the missing “looks” before “forward.”)

In reading the Times piece, I was extremely curious to see if religion would figure in the descriptions of Warren’s Sooner background and her effort to appeal to a Bible Belt state known for its conservative values and voting patterns.

After all, the Boston Globe noted in a 2012 profile that during Warren’s early years in a community south of Oklahoma City, “Life in Norman revolved around church and the military, in that order.”

Later, the family moved to Oklahoma City, as the Globe recounted:

And the culture was then, as now, deeply religious and deeply conservative. Warren’s family attended a Methodist church, where her mother taught Sunday school.

Last year, GetReligion praised the Globe for its coverage of the constant role of religion in Warren’s life.

But back to the Times: My search for the faith angle went unfulfilled.

Holy ghosts haunt this piece, starting up high:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s gestures grew more emphatic and her light Southern accent more pronounced as the Massachusetts Democrat moved toward a crescendo before an audience in her native Oklahoma. She ticked off the villains: billionaires, giant corporations, hungry politicians and their rigged system.

“Yeah, we got a fight on our hands,” she said, stirring a mostly female crowd that was already on its feet. “A tough fight.”

“And here’s the deal,” she continued. “They have more money than we do. They already run big chunks of government. But here’s the thing I want you to think about: There’s a whole lot more of us than there is of them.”

This was the Elizabeth Warren that many liberals were clamoring to see on the presidential stump in 2016, a Democrat who would go to the country’s deep-red middle and sell her progressive version of prairie populism. Instead, Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders swooped in to capture the party’s left while Donald Trump claimed populism for the right.

Did you catch the religious signpost in that last paragraph? I’m talking about the reference to “the country’s deep-red middle.” Religion is a major factor, is it not, in that deep-red middle? So why not mention it?

But the closest the Times gets to any religious reference comes in this paragraph:

Warren was greeted with a flashing “Welcome Home” sign. She recalled the elementary school teacher in nearby Norman who inspired her, Mrs. Lee, the Methodist church where Warren learned she couldn’t sing and the high school debate team that taught her how to argue.

What else, if anything, did Warren say about her old church or her faith then and now? Granted, there’s a good chance she didn’t say much, since Democrats like Warren and Hillary Clinton — as we’ve discussed — are often more reticent to focus on their religious beliefs at campaign rallies. But even if she doesn’t mention it, that doesn’t make the religious issue any less relevant. (We’re back to another question we’ve highlighted before: “Why is religion only talked about when reporters profile Republicans?”)

The Times does make reference to Warren’s “modest upbringing among the oil derricks and flatlands of Oklahoma.”

Yep, that’s us — oil derricks and flatlands, not to mention an NBA team.

But dear Times journalists, you forgot the church steeples. And that’s my entire point: You really can’t tell the full story of Warren or Oklahoma without the church steeples.

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