In a new interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), ABC's Jeff Zeleny does something a journalist should have done a long time ago: press her on her use of verb tense.
Noting Warren's stock response to whether she will run for president is "I am not running," Zeleny makes the completely valid point that such a statement is quite a bit less than Shermanesque.
Here's the video, and here's the exchange:
ZELENY: You've said 'I am not running.' Is that still your answer today?
WARREN: I am not running.
ZELENY: I noticed it's in the present tense, though. 'I am not running.'
WARREN: I'm not running.
ZELENY: Does that mean you've ruled out running, or all you'll say is, 'I am not running'?
WARREN: I am not running for president.
These are the 434th, 435th and 436th times (rough estimates) Warren has uttered some variation of this sentence. One thing she has not yet said: "I will not run for president."
And there's a reason for that.
Warren is, essentially, having her cake and eating it too. She's telling people she's "not running," and that's undeniably a true statement. But if she ever decided to run, nobody could accuse her of being a liar. After all, she was speaking in the present tense. And as of right now, she's not running.
A list of other people who can credibly say "I am not running" today includes Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Joe Biden and Martin O'Malley. None of them are official candidates for president with campaign committees. None of them are running, as of right now.
Now, it might sound like we're playing a dumb game of semantics here. And we understand how tiresome the repeated "will you run" questions are even for the biggest political junkies.
There's also the fact that many politicians have offered more-Shermanesque, future-tense denials and still decided to run. These folks include the incumbent president of the United States.
But politicians use certain words for a reason, and the fact that Warren won't venture beyond the present tense isn't a coincidence. This is the response she has given over and over again. It's clearly the message she has chosen for herself.
That doesn't mean she will eventually run. Perhaps she's just hoping that we'll continue to write stuff like this so that the talk persists and she can stay politically relevant.
But we also shouldn't pretend that Elizabeth Warren is totally exasperated that people keep asking her this question. She could put a stop to it today.