In the Democratic primary field, Elizabeth Warren is by far the strongest candidate, despite slanted coverage by even the so-called “liberal” media which portrays her as some kind of radical leftist, which she is not. Warren is the best candidate in part because all of her rivals are either weak candidates or downright not viable, a point I will get to below. But Warren is the strongest candidate also because she offers real change in our political system and a serious effort to remedy our country’s dangerous levels of economic inequality. Donald Trump won in 2016 in part because, as an outsider who showed only contempt for political insiders, he appeared to be the candidate of change. The American people were fed up with a corrupt political system in which our government is for sale to donors and lobbyists, and which serves the needs of corporations and the wealthy to the detriment of most Americans. The last three years have done nothing to relieve the voters’ alienation from politics as usual, and Trump’s promise of change has been exposed as empty, even though he continues to delight his followers by humiliating the political establishment.
Like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren consistently calls the central flaw in our political system by name: it is “rigged” in favor of corporations and wealthy individuals. Unfortunately, so far neither she nor Sanders has shown the voters how we could fix the system, but they easily could do so, as I will explain below. In a series of detailed policy proposals, Warren has shown how she would bring structural economic change to our country, and almost all of her plans enjoy majority support among the American people, in many cases even among Republicans: a wealth tax; requiring that 40% of corporate board members be representatives of the companies’ workers; stricter regulation of Wall Street; student loan forgiveness and debt-free college. An additional policy which she hasn’t yet proposed (it comes from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), raising the top marginal income tax rate to 70%, has the support of 59% of registered voters, including 45% of Republicans. None of these policies is at all radical, which is why they enjoy majority support among the American people. In addition to offering meaningful change which enjoys majority support, Warren is the smartest candidate in the race, has the best thought-out policy ideas, has shown a real talent for explaining her policies in accessible terms, and clearly has her heart in the right place. Having worked her way up from humble, financially straightened circumstances to the pinnacle of legal academe, Warren has a compelling life story which matches her message of restoring democracy and social justice. She doesn’t just talk the talk. Warren also walks the walk.
Warren advocates only two policies which are out of the American mainstream, and these two policies are enough to sink her candidacy, even though neither is particularly “leftist” in any meaningful sense of the word. Warren’s first major blunder was to embrace the politically idiotic idea of decriminalizing border crossings. This may have been a spur of the moment decision, prompted when the Univision moderator stampeded the candidates during the first Democratic debate by challenging them to raise their hands in support of this idea. Warren can discard this position at little political cost, and should do so soon, as it plays straight into Trump’s hands. A more serious threat to her candidacy has been her demand that we make an immediate transition to single-payer health care and abolish all private health insurance in the process. Luckily, Warren shows signs of backing away from this position, not least by putting this disruptive step off to the third year of her presidency. If Warren drops this politically ill-advised policy, and embraces the public option – “Medicare for All Who Want It” in Buttigieg’s useful phrasing – I think she would win the nomination and mop up the floor with Trump in November.
As has been shown, none of Warren’s policies are very far to the left, not even Medicare for All. That plan is politically unwise because it is so disruptive of people’s lives, because people are terrified of getting even worse health insurance than they already have. But ultimately it only means expanding a long-established and much beloved program – Medicare – that itself enjoys overwhelming support among Americans. There is nothing at all radical about this idea. So where does this nonsense about Warren being a “leftist,” or even a “socialist” or “socialistic” come from? Part of the problem is the overlap between her program and that of Sanders, who insists on calling himself a socialist even though he isn’t. But the bigger problem, in my view, is that the Democratic Party establishment, and the so-called “liberal” media (especially CNN and MSNBC) who are aligned with the party establishment, are conservative Democrats in the mould of Bill and Hillary Clinton. The media consistently slant their coverage against both Sanders and Warren, not least by constantly pushing the idea – often in rhetorical questions – that Joe Biden is inherently more “electable” than his progressive rivals.
What of Warren’s rivals for the Democratic nomination? Gabbard, Steyer, Booker, Bennet, Delaney, Yang, Williamson, Klobuchar, and Patrick: these people have gotten no traction, nor are they going to get any. They need to take a hint, get over themselves, and drop out so that the voters can focus on the real alternatives that are available. Buttigieg has enough of a war chest to remain a contender, but he is too young, his sexual orientation makes him too much of a gamble when defeating Trump is at stake, and like Biden, he is too much the creature of high-dollar campaign donors to offer the American people real change, at a time when meaningful change is desperately needed.
Biden is too old, and he is showing his age badly. Watching the poor man on stage, one fears that he will start wetting his pants. There is also a real risk that he might secure the nomination and then suffer some serious setback to his health between the nomination and the general election. Biden also has no program, nothing to offer the American people beyond nostalgia for the Obama years. Even worse, he continues to peddle the fantasy of bipartisanship, of “working across the aisle” to “get things done.” Buttigieg and Klobuchar have been selling the voters the same nonsense, but Biden above all people should know better. He was Obama’s VP. Obama bent over backwards for eight years in the quest for bipartisanship, and all it got him was obstruction, abuse, and racist challenges to the legitimacy of his presidency. Like Buttigieg, Biden is also a creature of wealthy high-dollar donors, and so cannot offer the American people meaningful change to a broken political system. So why has Biden stayed on top of the Democratic field in the national polls? This question can’t be answered with certainty, but some possible reasons are name recognition, Biden’s association with the popular Obama, Biden’s likable personality and evident sincerity, the division of the progressive electorate between Sanders and Warren – which prevents either from seeming a viable alternative to Biden – and the media’s clear preference for Biden over his rivals, which inevitably shapes public opinion and the polling data, in a feedback loop which reinforces the narrative that Biden is more “electable” than Warren.
As for Bernie, I love him, and gave him money and canvassed for him in 2016. But not only is he too old, but, for reasons that even he may not understand, he persists in describing himself as a “socialist.” Sanders obviously has no clue as to what socialism, historically, has been. Socialism is government ownership and direction of the economy. It is the same thing as communism. Speaking as an academically trained historian (Columbia Ph.D.!) with considerable expertise in American and European history, I can say that the only difference between socialist and communist parties in the first half of the 20th century was the communists’ willingness to use massive violence to achieve the socialist goals which they shared with the socialist parties. Sanders is no more a socialist than Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were socialists. But by calling himself a “socialist,” Sanders has disqualified himself for the presidency by swallowing political poison. If he were to become the nominee, Trump would win in a landslide, and the GOP would sweep the Congressional elections, because they could tar the entire Democratic Party with the socialist label. Sanders needs to drop out of the race and throw his support to Warren. Otherwise he will reprise the tragic spoiler’s role he played in 2016.
As for Warren, here is what she needs to do to fulfill her destiny as our next president, and bring our politics the fundamental change which the American people know is needed. Besides changing her tune on Medicare for All and decriminalizing border crossings, she needs to show the voters how she intends to fix the rigged political system, how she proposes to tame the influence of big money in our politics. So far, all she has said about this is to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. This is silly: given Republicans’ staunch opposition to all campaign finance reform, an amendment is a sheer impossibility. But there is a better, easier way, a simple act of Congress that would drive most of the dirty money out of our politics and make the United States a democracy again. It’s usually known by the name “Democracy Dollars.” Having discussed it in many of my blog posts, especially my post of October 5, 2019, I will refrain from discussing it now. If you’re not yet familiar with it, please do read my earlier posts. My main point: we CAN get money out of politics, we can make our government serve the American people instead of serving corporations and rich people, and we can solve the country’s many serious problems. Warren is the one to do it, and she is only a few steps from the strategy that will let her win. Elizabeth – she’s the man! (So to speak.)