Mary Schmich

Elizabeth Warren can do it.

Yes, she can.

I'll concede that betting on winners and losers in the Democratic presidential free-for-all is like betting on Chicago weather in June. Only fools and hardcore gamblers would dare.

But if I had to gamble, I'd bet my collectible Obama-Biden button that Warren will be among the top two contenders in the Democratic race.

What the heck, I'll gamble big: I'll stake that button on her being the nominee.

I've been sensing Warren's rise for several weeks, even before her poll numbers went up and the media air around her brightened. In different cities, with various people of liberal but not identical tastes, I've been asking a question that turns into conversations that go like this:

Who do you like among the Democrats running for president?

Anyone who can beat Trump.

OK, fine. But who?

I have to say I'm liking Elizabeth Warren.

Of the 23 Democrats who have announced they're running, hers is the name that comes up most, and not just with resignation but with enthusiasm.

I've heard some interest in Kamala Harris, the smart and tough U.S. senator from California, and in Pete Buttigieg, the smart and charming mayor of South Bend, Ind. Bernie and Biden -- both so well-known they don't need full names -- bubble into the conversation, but typically with a sigh, not a cheer.

The rest? They don't exist.

Conversations, obviously, aren't science, and we should all be wary of polls and media spin. November 2016 wasn't the first time the pundits and the polls were wrong.

But at least for now Elizabeth Warren, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, is on the rise, and even if she doesn't win, she's defining the debate.

In recent weeks she has been profiled by The New York Times and The New Yorker. Other stories have noted her nipping at the heels of Biden and Bernie.

Naturally, given that success always breeds critics, there are contrarians, like the Fox News analyst Howard Kurtz, who raised a skeptical eyebrow under the headline: "Elizabeth Warren Surges on Flattering Profiles, Pundit Praise."

And yet even Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who often reacts to liberal ideas as if they were raw sewage, devoted a laudatory segment recently to Warren's cannily named "economic patriotism" plan.

So what is Warren fighting for?

Her policy proposals are wonky so they're not easy to condense into a column, but if you want the details, they're not hard to find. Part of what makes her attractive is that she knows stuff. Serious stuff. Her fight is grounded not just in passion but in knowledge.

It's a fight against economic injustice, but not one based on pitting average Americans against each other. It's a fight against an economic system that privileges corporations, big banks and the uber-wealthy. It's founded on an understanding that while discrimination of many kinds runs deep and poisonous in our society, those sicknesses won't be fixed without a restructuring of the economy.

Under her plan, the rich would stay rich -- but they'd pay more in taxes. Those taxes would help do things like wipe out $640 billion in student debt. She has detailed plans for many other issues, too, from fair housing to opioid addiction.

Some of Warren's critics call her a socialist. A former Republican, she calls herself a capitalist.

"I believe in markets," she has said, "... But only fair markets, markets with rules."

As Emily Bazelon's recent New York Times profile notes:

"There's a concerted effort to equate Warren with Bernie, to make her seem more radical," says Luigi Zingales, a University of Chicago economist and co-host of the podcast Capitalisn't. But Wall Street and its allies "are more afraid of her than Bernie," Zingales continued, "because when she says she'll change the rules, she's the one who knows how to do it.'"

Warren has plenty of critics. She's too far left. She's not left enough. She's too wonky. She lectures. At 69, she's too old. And -- insert eye roll here -- a woman can't beat Trump.

Who can beat Trump? We don't know yet. The country continues to evolve. The candidates continue to emerge. Few of us can know today which candidate we'll vote for.

But a smart woman with a good plan has as good a shot as anyone. Warren deserves to be heard. Don't rely on me. Go read a responsible profile of her. Read her policy proposals.

And if I lose that Obama-Biden collectible on this bet? I'll always have my 2000 campaign button for Al Gore to keep me warm.

(Mary Schmich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Contact her at mschmich@chicagotribune.com. You can follow her on twitter.com/maryschmich or contact her on facebook.com/maryschmich)

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