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Jilani writes: "Elizabeth Warren is no moderate. But Bernie Sanders would be the most progressive president in US history - and he'd have a movement to back him up."

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren attend a press conference on July 24, 2018 in Washington DC. (photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren attend a press conference on July 24, 2018 in Washington DC. (photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty)


Why the Differences Between Sanders and Warren Matter

By Zaid Jilani, Jacobin

09 January 19


Elizabeth Warren is no moderate. But Bernie Sanders would be the most progressive president in US history — and he'd have a movement to back him up.

oth are critics of the Democratic establishment. Both are foes of Wall Street. And both are substantive, policy-focused politicians. But that doesn’t mean Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren share the same worldview.

Sanders tends to focus on “post-distribution” remedies, meaning he prefers to use the government’s power to tax and spend to directly meet Americans’ needs — or replace the market altogether. His social-democratic ideas, like free college and single-payer health care, are now policies most Democrats have to tip their hat to at least for electoral reasons. Warren wants to empower regulators and rejigger markets to shape “pre-distribution” income, before taxes. Less likely to push for big-ticket programs, she wants to re-regulate Wall Street and make life easier for consumers.

Before I go any further, I should lay my cards on the table. I have a conflict of interest — towards Warren. In 2012, I worked for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), the most influential outside PAC supporting Warren. I raised thousands of dollars for her and recruited dozens of volunteers. I spent hundreds of hours helping elect Warren to the Senate. I have written favorably about most of her Senate career since.

But I’ve always understood that Warren does not come from the same political tradition as someone like Bernie Sanders. She was a Republican until 1996, when she realized the party had failed to rein in the influence of business (especially finance). “I was with the GOP for a while because I really thought that it was a party that was principled in its conservative approach to economics and to markets,” Warren told George Stephanopoulos in 2014. “And I feel like the GOP just left that.”

She continued: “They moved to a party that said, ‘No, it’s not about a level playing field. It’s now about a field that’s gotten tilted.’” And they really stood up for the big financial institutions when the big financial institutions are just hammering middle-class American families. I just feel like that’s a party that moved way, way away.”

Since her departure from the Republican Party, Warren has busied herself promoting a “level playing field” and a fairer system for workers and consumers. Her ideals, while not out of step with those of a mid-century liberal Republican, would represent a marked shift away from the economic status quo if implemented. In an interview for this article, Noam Chomsky called Warren a “credible candidate” who is “pretty good on domestic policy.”

Yet Sanders has always existed outside the traditional party system. He has more in common with non-American socialists like Evo Morales and Jeremy Corbyn than party figures like John Kennedy, to whom Warren has subtly linked herself. He would be the most progressive president the United States has ever seen.

The two senators also have distinct theories of change. Sanders has long believed in bottom-up, movement-based politics. Since his days as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he has tried to energize citizens to take part in government. He generally distrusts elites and decision-making that does not include the public. Warren, on the other hand, generally accepts political reality and works to push elite decision-makers towards her point of view.

When I worked at PCCC, I was once told that Warren decided to run for the Senate after witnessing the amount of power she had as an oversight chair for the bank bailouts. She believed that “being in the room” with decision-makers in the Obama administration was essential to creating change. While Warren wants to be at the table with elites, arguing for progressive policies, Sanders wants to open the doors and let the public make the policy.

Many observers point out that Warren has sponsored much of Sanders’s legislation over the past few years. But that doesn’t mean she shares his precise priorities or worldview anymore than former Big Tobacco lawyer Kirsten Gillibrand or school privatization fan Cory Booker share Sanders’s priorities and worldview because they, too, have sponsored much of his legislation ahead of their likely presidential bids.

That is not to say Warren is in the same political lane as Booker or Gillibrand — she is significantly to their left. But coming around to Sanders-style ideas in the run-up to a presidential run does not equate to meaning she necessarily would prioritize them as president.

Any president has a limited amount of political capital and limited congressional support, and therefore has to pick their battles. Those battles can be very expensive — the health insurance industry spent over a hundred million dollars fighting the Affordable Care Act, a law that left the industry mostly intact. One can easily imagine health care firms spending a billion dollars to stop Medicare for All, which would wipe it out. What the next president chooses to pursue in the face of political reality is heavily dependent on their core worldview and values. And if you roll back the clock a few years before Warren was considering running for president, you can clearly see that she prioritizes her pre-distribution, regulatory approach over Sanders’s social-democratic one.

For instance, when she initially ran for Senate in 2012, Warren did not support single-payer health care. That position was taken by Marisa DeFranco, an immigration lawyer who ran to Warren’s left on both health care and foreign policy but who was muscled out of the Democratic primary during the convention process (one Democratic activist said it would take a “dictatorship, not democracy” to defeat incumbent Republican senator Scott Brown).

With DeFranco eliminated from the primary ballot, Warren felt no pressure to shift left. During an interview with the local press, she was asked about once praising single-payer health care in a book chapter she co-authored with Deborah Thorne.

“If you were the tsarina, something like single-payer, government-run health care, far lower administrative costs, that sort of thing, would be the Senator Warren prescription, would it not?” the host asked.

“I think right now what we have to do — I’m serious about this — I think you’ve got to stay with what’s possible. And I think what we’re doing — and look at the dust-up around this — we really need to consolidate our gains around what we’ve got around the table,” Warren said.

The host followed up by asking if Warren personally supports single-payer. “No,” she replied.

Five years later — after decades of advocacy by Sanders had helped popularize Medicare for All — Warren decided to endorse the policy. But unlike consumer protections or financial regulation, establishing a single-payer health care system doesn’t seem to be a top priority for Warren. She probably isn’t opposed to doing so, but if she’s going to spend her finite political capital moving things through Congress, it’s a good bet she would likely focus on the core priorities she has championed throughout her adult life. It’s hardly a surprise that Warren didn’t raise single-payer during her first two campaign events in Iowa and when asked about it by a Washington Post reporter, suggested she didn’t bring it up because no one else at the events raised it.

When Warren says that the primary difference between Sanders and herself is that she’s a proponent of capitalism, it’s not just rhetoric. Her life’s work has been to make markets more competitive and equitable, not to redistribute money from the rich to the poor and remove big chunks of economic life from the private sector. (That’s one reason she was once a big proponent of charter schools, believing that they introduced much-needed competition.)

Warren’s marquee legislation is substantive and serious. Her Accountable Capitalism Act would increase corporate accountability to stakeholders like the workers who produce their profits. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, largely the product of Warren’s advocacy, has aided consumers who are ripped off by industry. But it also points to their political differences.

While Sanders was authoring a bill to make health care basically free, she was authoring one to tighten regulation of the private health insurance industry. While Sanders was proposing making every public college in America tuition-free, Warren was promoting a third way approach: increasing public aid to colleges (allowing them to offer a “debt-free option”) and increasing accountability over federal dollars.

“Democrats talk about resources, pointing out that we’re no longer investing in our kids the way we once did. Republicans talk about risk and incentives — arguing that students take on debt without fully understanding the consequences, and that colleges get access to federal dollars pretty much no matter the quality or cost of the education they provide,” she noted during a 2015 speech to the American Federation of Teachers. “Here’s the truth — both sides are right.” The idea of simply making public college free, as it once was in many states across America, did not occur to Warren until she endorsed the Sanders legislation to do so in 2017.

Warren isn’t totally opposed to more robust government programs. She is a fan of postal banking, and she has also proposed getting the federal government into the business of producing generic pharmaceutical drugs. But both of these measures are intended to spur competition — unlike, say, single payer, which would replace most of the private health insurance industry altogether.

Sanders isn’t opposed to “pre-distribution” measures. His campaign against Amazon led the company to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. He has authored legislation that would foster worker-owned businesses. He’s a strident supporter of unions and staunch opponent of deregulation.

But it’s clear what his priorities are. All of his signal legislation is based around increasing taxes and directly paying for Americans’ medical and education costs. To him, the problem is not so much that the rules are rigged so people can’t become entrepreneurs, or that regulators need to be empowered to act on behalf of the public. The problem is that the government is not doing enough to bypass the private sector to directly deliver funds and services to the poor and working class. During Sanders’s presidential bid, he proposed paying for his agenda with a barrage of taxes and new tax brackets; in an interview last year, Warren refused to say what she thinks the highest tax rate should be, although in the past she has endorsed a fairly conventional Democratic policies on taxes, such as the “Buffet Rule.” Sanders famously told the same interviewer who queried Warren that he didn’t mind the 90 percent marginal income tax rate under President Eisenhower.

With the announcement of Warren’s exploratory committee and Sanders’s likely entry into the Democratic race, it will be important for voters to carefully study the nuances of Warren and Sanders’s records and worldviews. While both are critics of the Democratic establishment, their long-held beliefs suggest they would prioritize different solutions, both in terms of the policies they would push and how they plan to achieve them.

Warren is a brilliant legal scholar who changed party allegiances after studying the abusive practices of the financial industry. As a senator, she has been effective at promoting change, primarily through brilliant interrogations at hearings and effective advocacy within the halls of Congress. Tellingly, she sat out the 2016 Democratic primary, choosing to offer compelling but private policy advice to the Clinton campaign.

That is a very different approach than that of Bernie Sanders, who defied the conventional wisdom in 2016 to run for president and became one of America’s most influential politicians thanks to thousands of volunteers and small donors. In a span of just a few short years, he has made his social-democratic policies mainstream. More Democrats now say they prefer socialism than say they prefer capitalism.

As soon as the next president takes office, they will likely face intense pressure from powerful interests, especially big business. The choice between Warren and Sanders may very well determine if that president confronts those interests with careful reasoning and principled advocacy or the force of a mass movement.

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+41 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-09 17:05
This is a good article. It reveals a lot of the questions true progressives will have about Warren. Sanders has been pretty much the same for his whole life. He is consistent and steady. Warren is an opportunist who takes up policies that will abet her career ambitions.

I have strong concerns about Warren. She's a little like Hillary Clinton and that is not a good sign. Still, I think she is a strong candidate and I hope she does well -- just not well enough to beat Sanders. Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, and some others I hope end up like some benighted Marco Rubio on the republican campaign trail. He went down as "little Marco." So should they.
 
 
-5 # johnescher 2019-01-10 05:43
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov:
This is a good article. It reveals a lot of the questions true progressives will have about Warren. Sanders has been pretty much the same for his whole life. He is consistent and steady. Warren is an opportunist who takes up policies that will abet her career ambitions.

have strong concerns about Warren. She's a little like Hillary Clinton and that is not a good sign. Still, I think she is a strong candidate and I hope she does well -- just not well enough to beat Sanders. Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, and some others I hope end up like some benighted Marco Rubio on the republican campaign trail. He went down as "little Marco." So should they.


Good except for the nonsense about Warren being an "opportunist." She is far more dedicated and socially committed and passionate and nuanced in what she has to say
than most. She also appears to be brighter than almost anybody.

The second bit of nonsense is the conflation with Hillary. The name "Hillary" does not and should not be conflated with "bad" unless you want to put a Russian twist on it, Russian murderer.

Why not just admit that both are women and you don't trust women.
 
 
+20 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-10 11:52
JE -- I agree that Warren is much smarter than almost anyone, even Sanders. That's part of what I like about her. I do trust women. Probably more than I trust male politicians. But this is a matter of record.


I'm just not yet convinced about her commitment, as you are. Maybe I'm wrong on this. I will find out and if warranted I will change. I need to be persuaded.

Sanders is committed to people as a socialist. Warren is a professional scholar and now politician. She seems to jump on to issues that help her career and not have a lot of commitment to people. The article above makes this point and I think it is very good.


I was put off by the way Warren gave Sanders the cold shoulder in the 2016 primaries but when Hillary got the nomination, Warren jumped on her campaign, made appearances with her, and said "I'm with her" (the campaign slogan). This was in the context of the revelations of the $400,000 speeches Hillary gave to Goldman Sachs and her deep involvement with the very financial institutions Warren was so good at critiquing. It just seemed to me that if Warren were serious about her critique of financial institutions, she would have backed Sanders and not Hillary. Maybe I am wrong on that. We will see.
 
 
+1 # johnescher 2019-01-10 19:20
If Warrented, you will change. That's good.
 
 
+4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-11 07:58
Maybe that will be her campaign slogan -- "If Warrented, we will all change."
That would be good.
 
 
+88 # librarian1984 2019-01-09 20:11
After decades of moving to the right, it's imperative that the Democratic Party moves left. They need to embrace the progressive agenda proposed by Sanders, and the country needs his practically unique focus on improving the lives of citizens.

Warren would make an excellent Treasury Secretary.
 
 
+16 # wrknight 2019-01-10 11:10
Absolutely right. We do need to make America great again, but we need to do it by building America up instead of tearing other nations down.
 
 
-4 # johnescher 2019-01-10 19:33
Quoting librarian1984:
After decades of moving to the right, it's imperative that the Democratic Party moves left. They need to embrace the progressive agenda proposed by Sanders, and the country needs his practically unique focus on improving the lives of citizens.

Warren would make an excellent Treasury Secretary.


This all sounds pretty good, but are you sure you don't have it out for smart women, and that's why Elizabeth gets placed lower than Bernie in your hierarchical view? The reason for my bringing up this suspicion of mine is that I remember you as the American most influenced by Russian propaganda about Hillary.

But Bernie is very good. A bit tendentious, but one of the best.
 
 
+7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-11 07:59
Librarian is the smartest woman on RSN and she's ranked higher than all the men. She can't have it out for smart women. She is one.
 
 
+4 # dbrize 2019-01-11 15:44
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov:
Librarian is the smartest woman on RSN and she's ranked higher than all the men. She can't have it out for smart women. She is one.


Mr Escher clings to a priori judgements about elections past. One that evil mind controlling Rooskies successfully shape shifted into the physical embodiment of librarian and cast her vote for other than his desired candidate.

If only our own miserable attempts would have worked for “Yats is our guy” in Ukraine. We are behind the curve.

I concur in your recognition of our media specialist and will add the estimable “Trefethen also known as tref” to our admiration society.
 
 
-3 # johnescher 2019-01-12 09:48
Jesus. Why don't you try to communicate?
 
 
+2 # librarian1984 2019-01-12 17:59
Why don't you try to be civil?
 
 
+22 # lfeuille 2019-01-09 23:59
Yes, Warren and Sanders are not the same and Sanders is always ahead of her on what is really needed. Warren doesn't really get poverty. She is concerned about the dwindling middle class but not as much about those who have never been able to get into it. And, I am concerned that she would let the Pentagon run circles around her. She doesn't seem to be very sure about foreign policy.

That said, she is still better than the other contenders who are too tied to corporate money to be trusted. But I hope Bernie announces soon and doesn't let her get too far ahead. She got a big bounce from her announcement and is now leading in a lot of polls. It would be a shame if we lost a chance to have to most progressive president in US history.
 
 
+20 # tedrey 2019-01-10 07:54
You must add that Bernie wants to fund his programs by taxing not the general public but those rich enough to distort democratic decison making; AND by dieting a bloated military budget which diverts unaudited trillions of dollars from defence to perpetual aggression; AND by ending handouts to corporations which destroy the environment and the health of millions -- all these worthy goals in their own right.

But RR, Warren is *not* an opportunist. She believes, and acts, for the public good with complete courage and integrity. But on the larger scale her policies are "too little and too late" for the problems that face as in the near future.
 
 
+18 # wrknight 2019-01-10 10:16
Excellent article, but unfortunately doesn't address foreign policy which, as we speak, is totally out of control. Our present foreign policy is causing us to spend nearly $1 trillion annually defending the U.S. against enemies from everywhere including the moon and Mars - all for the benefit of the defense industrial complex. Are we going to continue that?

Now the problem is that the treasury had to borrow nearly $1 trillion last year alone just to pay for its obligations. This is due primarily to irresponsible foreign policies and irresponsible tax policies. As a result, there is no money to increase domestic spending.

Clearly, if we're going to increase domestic spending which both Sanders and Warren advocate, we need to cut back on defense spending and adjust our tax policies (start by repealing the Trump, Bush and Reagan tax cuts that primarily benefited the rich. There's nothing wrong with the tax policies of the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon era except that the rich didn't get richer as fast as they do now.) Without these adjustments, we are screwed.

Now knowing their positions on domestic policy, what I want to hear from both Warren and Sanders is their positions on foreign policy, defense spending and tax policies. Those are going to be the major uphill battles. Do either of them have the willingness, courage and strength to fight those battles? Let's talk about it.
 
 
+3 # Dale 2019-01-10 10:18
The entry of Warren undermines the possibility of Sanders winning, that makes her a spoiler and opportunist.
 
 
+9 # EternalTruth 2019-01-10 14:01
I’m sure she is getting support from people who expect to use her to derail Bernie, but I seriously doubt that is her purpose. While I’d be happy with Warren as president, I’d be thrilled with Sanders, and regardless of intentions, Warren will take votes from Bernie in the primary (assuming he runs). Having them both running helps ensure that neither wins.
 
 
+1 # RICHARDKANE.Philadelphia 2019-01-13 02:28
If you look at foreign policy their differences would be stark, including a hysterical anti-Russia speech.
 

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