Here’s Julián Castro, squinting into the sun, awkwardly posed in front of what might be a Hampton Inn. It’s the morning of the 2020 Iowa caucuses, a day that will eventually end in something akin to bedlam, but no one knows that yet. The former HUD Secretary, former Presidential hopeful, and current Elizabeth Warren surrogate is dressed in a manner reminiscent of your high school principal: navy two-button, single-breasted jacket, atop a white dress shirt. Hair recently trimmed. Clean-shaven. Though he is surely a handsome man, the photograph documenting this moment is not Castro’s best snap. He is squinting, and awkward, in front of a moderately-priced chain hotel. LFG, he seems to be saying, so we can stop standing in front of this Inn.
But then there’s his tie.
In this otherwise unremarkable photograph, Castro is sporting a tie in a shade known as Liberty Green. “Liberty Green” (as anyone who’s seen anything out of the Warren campaign can tell you) is the color of the Warren campaign. Paler than Mint, brighter than Gossamer Green, Warren’s supporters have knit each other scarves, added it to their profile pics, and purchased untold shirts, hats, and dog collars as a sort of pigmented shibboleth in a crowded primary field marked by primary colors. Like a MAGA hat, but opposite. And so, seen in one light, the tie, too, was unremarkable. Liberty Green? It’s what Warrenites do!
Julián Castro is not, however, just any Warrenite. He’s her presumptive VP pick, a man who fought hard to secure the nom for himself and then – 48 hours after acknowledging that he wouldn’t be able to do so – threw his lot in with the woman from Oklahoma.
There are many things about the current election cycle that are unprecedented. The sheer number of dollars, for instance, and the number of female candidates who were once in contention. The vision of a 45-year-old man standing awkwardly in a not-quite-mint tie does not seem, particularly, unprecedented.
Yet that evening, when I saw video of that man addressing the then-unfolding bedlam, something caught in my throat and sent me scrambling for confirmation. Was that – a Liberty Green tie? I found the high-school-principal glamour shot on Castro’s Twitter page, and confirmation: “It’s a beautiful day,” the Secretary had tweeted, “for liberty green.”
You may remember that on Election Night 2016, Bill and Hillary Clinton greeted supporters in matching black and purple, “in a nod to bipartisanship.” Had Hillary won, we likely would have heard a good deal more about the couple’s ensembles, his – like that of a teen who rents a teal cummerbund to match his prom date’s dress – the traditional sartorial statement of a man standing by his woman. It was an act of intimacy that evoked knights of old and ladies offering tokens. It spoke of fealty.
Castro and Warren aren’t going steady, though. They haven’t weathered decades of political storms and two full terms in the White House. Sure, Bill wore a purple tie – but Hillary’s running mate Tim Kaine didn’t break out the I’m-With-Her pocket squares.
In the world as we know it, men with successful careers and well-established power bases do not step onto grand, national stages to pledge fealty to women. They don’t ride into battle bedecked in their leader’s colors to wage war against any who would seek to strike her down. They don’t, as a rule and in my experience, gladly reveal that they are not a partner, not a peer, but a lieutenant, their fortunes tied, in victory and defeat, with that of the woman who is their captain.
It was just a tie, of course, and apparently a borrowed one, at that. But it showed up again in Nevada, and I’d wager we’ll see it on Super Tuesday, too. Even as many in the pundit class determine that Elizabeth Warren must, after all, be auditioning to play second fiddle to the Senator from Vermont, the Liberty Green tie makes a point so sharp as to slice: Castro has pledged his sword, because Warren has come to slay.
Bedlam (a word derived from the name of a 15th century insane asylum) is a fair description not just of the Iowa caucuses but also of How We Live Now, all of us ensnared in the ugly chaos spun by the Trump Administration and its enablers.
The flash of Liberty Green on Julián Castro’s chest hints at the possibility of something better: A nation not only returned to sanity, but one in which men of caliber proudly swear fealty not to their own advancement, but to that of a woman born to lead.
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