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writing for godot

Elizabeth Warren Is No Bernie Sanders

Written by Tom Herman   
Friday, 20 September 2019 16:34
It is easy, or perhaps tempting, to make a false equivalency between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Many of their domestic policies are similar, and they both fall on what is considered the progressive side of the political spectrum. However, this should be understood within the context of a political environment which has found itself far to the right of where it had been years ago, so what passes for progressive or “left” has shifted as well. There is a tendency to think that with Elizabeth Warren you are getting all the essential positive elements of Bernie's platform without the “radicalism” or the pesky “socialist” label; that she is the newer and safer Bernie Sanders. I would argue that her “safety” is inversely proportional to how effective she would be. She is the answer for people who dislike the word “revolution.” And yet it is revolution we need if we truly want to solve our problems. These problems are not only many and grave; they have reached the brink of existential catastrophe. That the leading Democratic candidate at this point—Joe Biden—is offering milquetoast “solutions” to the climate crisis, is indicative of how unconscious we are of the threats we face, particularly when, compared to Republicans, he would almost seem to be in the vanguard of climate policy! Between the incomprehensible scale of the threats, and the level of denial we engage in, we have created the perfect storm—an apt metaphor for where we are. It is this double-pronged situation—the problems we face combined with our denial of their scale—that makes our situation so dire. As a people, we have been so lied to, dumbed down and taken for granted, that we have come to expect our government not to take our will and our needs seriously. This makes for a kind of resignation on the part of many. People become angry, cynical, and finally just give up on having their voices matter. Then, when (rarely) someone like Bernie Sanders comes along and says “it needn't be so, we could have so much more,” he is considered a dreamer or even a deceiver. This takes the form of either a direct attack against him or of labeling him as radical and unelectable. Let us hope that Mr. Biden fails to maintain his ascendancy, which, after all, is propped up mostly by a specious “electability.” Scratch the surface of that argument and what you find is that he is electable because he is, well. . . electable! Yes, it is as thin as that! Look closer, and the many reasons for his un-electability begin to shine through: his gaffes, his lapses, his extremely flawed history, his bland and ineffective solutions to our many problems, his lack of charisma and excitement. Affable and avuncular as he may be, he is a disaster waiting to happen, should he be thrust into a battle with Donald Trump. But let's leave that aside. Assuming that Biden's popularity declines, we need to determine which of the other candidates deserves our support to become the next president of the United States. At the moment it looks like that would be either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. As I see it, however, there are serious reasons to reject a Warren nomination. 1. Money corrupts. While Warren has ostensibly rejected big money donations to her primary campaign, she is eager to receive money from wherever she can get it should she win the nomination. She has made this very clear, as she explained to Chris Hayes on MSNBC: “Republicans come to the table armed to the teeth. They’ve got all of their donors, their wealthy, wealthy donors. They’ve got their super PACs. They’ve got their dark money. They’ve got everything going for them. I’m just going to be blunt. I do not believe in unilateral disarmament. We've got to go into these fights, and we've got to be willing to win these fights.” When Hayes asked if that meant she would be willing to “raise all the money you can however you can” once she won the nomination, she acknowledged that she would. Think about the meaning of this. By claiming to forgo big money in the primary election she is tacitly agreeing with the premise that money is corrupting. Yet she is willing to take it—in as great a quantity as possible—in the general. In other words, once she has secured your vote and become the nominee; once you have nowhere else to turn—she will no longer regard taking this money as a problem. Yet either money corrupts or it doesn't. I believe most Americans, and especially most Democrats agree that it does, and taking it later rather than sooner does not mitigate its influence. While it may be business as usual in American politics, the acceptance of what could be properly called “legal bribery” is probably the single most powerful reason that the law of the land does not jibe with the will of the people. We are in wars we don't want to be in; medical bankruptcy abounds; students are burdened with suffocating debt; wealth inequality is at unprecedented levels—all because politicians are doing the bidding of the super rich at the expense of their constituents. And as long as our elected officials depend on these contributions for their political survival, how can this situation change? It can't. I'm certain that Elizabeth Warren does believe in un-rigging the system, and eliminating the harm the ruling class perpetrates against the poor and middle class. But, dependent on the economic favors of the elite she hopes to reign in, how effective is she likely to be? How effective can she be? Obama talked about hope and change, and immediately upon getting into office he staffed his cabinet with the people who had just wrecked the economy. Why? It happens that among his top ten campaign contributors were Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, Google, Citigroup and Time Warner. Money makes the world go round. Warren may believe in change, but can she hope to achieve it given her corporate-dependent campaign strategy? Don't fall for the notion that it is a necessary evil. If evil is necessary than evil must prevail. By contrast, a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who has forsworn all corporate contributions, can enjoy the extraordinary freedom to give all service, all fealty to his benefactors: the American people. Taking big money represents a conflict of interest. There is no way around this and its significance cannot be overstated. While I appreciate the fact that Warren is honest enough to tell us upfront that she would seek it out in a general election, that doesn't in any way dispel its corrupting influence. Corporate finance of elections may be the standard in America, but the standard has given us what we have now: a failed system. Indeed, Warren correctly discusses little else! But by being willing to take the money, she becomes part of that system. She can not take money from big donors to get elected, and credibly claim she will control them later. And to that point, even her pledge to reject big money in the primary is not genuine. As the New York Times (9/9/19) pointed out, prior to her renouncing these donations she did pursue them actively, for example in her 2018 Senate bid. She has used $10.4 million left over from that campaign to support her present pursuit of the Democratic nomination. 2. Telling it like it is—or not. With due respect for Warren's tough language against Wall Street, I must look beyond that and beyond her downhome, folksy style, and see that in some ways she is not beyond reinterpreting the truth. It took some courage to give two interviews, one with Jake Tapper and another with Judy Woodruff regarding the rigging of the 2016 Democratic primary. These came immediately after certain revelations by former DNC Chair Donna Brazile were published. Woodruff asked Warren on the PBS NewsHour if she thought the process was rigged. “I think it was,” Warren said. “The process was rigged and now it is up to Democrats to build a new process, a process that really works and works for everyone.” “ It's got to have an outcome that really has the confidence of the people” she added. Jake Tapper had a similar conversation in which Warren said: “This is a real problem, but what we've got to do as Democrats now, is we've got to hold this party accountable. When Tom Perez was first elected chair of the DNC, the very first conversation I had with him is to say, you have got to put together a Democratic party in which everybody can have confidence that the party is working for Democrats, rather than Democrats are working for the party. And he's being tested now. This is a test for Tom Perez. And either he's going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders' representatives into this process and they're going to say it's fair, it works, we all believe it, or he's going to fail. And I very much hope he succeeds. I hope for Democrats everywhere, I hope for Bernie and for all of Bernie's supporters he's going to succeed.” Tapper then asked if she agreed the process was rigged. “Yes,” she said. As I mentioned, it began as a profile in courage. But then the following week, she changed her story: “I agree with what Donna Brazile has said over the last few days;” (Donna Brazile had walked back her own story by this time), “that while there was some bias at the DNC, the overall 2016 primary process was fair and Hillary made history.” The egregious cheating of Bernie Sanders by Hillary Clinton and the DNC is so well known as not to need discussion here. But Warren's flip flop is troubling and still relevant, for unlike Hillary Clinton, Warren is running for president in 2020. The picture revealed here is of an Elizabeth Warren who wants to be brave, wants to tell the truth wants to do the right thing, but in the end doesn't quite have the guts to hold on to her truth. I have no doubt it would take much moral stamina to resist the drubbing she must have taken from the party establishment, not to mention the potential damage to her career. In any case, she didn't have that stamina. And I daresay that if this is what she does when push comes to shove, how is she going to deal with the blowback her anti-plutocratic policies will certainly incur should she have a chance to try to implement them? Could she re-proclaim the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as Bernie Sanders has done: “They hate my guts. Never have they hated someone as much as they hate me. And I welcome their hatred.” Evidence indicates she could not. 3. Evolution. Let us not deny the fact that everyone, including politicians, can grow; they can change their minds: they can “evolve.” We hear this frequently from candidates who were, for example, against gay marriage but suddenly see the light and became supporters of gay marriage. Unfortunately, all too often these evolutions (one might also call them flip-flops) are merely responses to changing public sentiment, where a previously held view is no longer politically advantageous and its opposite is seen as more beneficial to the fortunes of the candidate. How does one distinguish between a true change of mind and a mere self-serving policy shift? The difference is important. For it speaks to the honesty and integrity of the candidate. Has he or she genuinely grown, actually seen something in a more enlightened way? Or are they basically lying about what is actually a calculated campaign strategy? You might argue that it doesn't matter, so long as, one way or another, they've adopted a policy you believe in. But if the policy shift has no conscience behind it, the candidate will likely revert back to a former position if, say, a policy which appealed to one's base in a primary contest, becomes a liability in a general election. And even if the candidate remains consistent on the policy, how hard will he or she fight for it once elected, if it was mostly just a ploy to get elected? I think we can see a striking contrast between Sanders and Warren along these lines. While I believe both senators have grown in their thinking, there is an important difference between them. Sanders' evolution is marked by continuing refinements of an already consistent and altruistic worldview. Yet his progressivism itself seems to be part of his DNA. Warren's began with a gradual disillusionment with the Republican party (she was a Republican till the age of 47); followed by the development of a fairly progressive political agenda. Yet it is Bernie who has started a revolution, and the rest of the Democratic hopefuls are either subscribing to his policies or fighting against them. It is Bernie who has set the terms of the conversation. I think it is a fair assessment to say that we would not be seeing the current level of progressivism in Elizabeth Warren had it not been for Bernie's trailblazing over the past four years. Her policy positions have arguably become more progressive over this time, but whether this is evolution or mere accommodation to changing public sentiment is unclear. Take for example her vote for the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This was a bill that authorized $700 billion for defense spending: $640 billion for the Pentagon and $60 billion for operations in specific locations such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This represented an increase of $80 billion in military spending, which was substantially more than the $54 billion increase that President Trump had requested. Recently, Warren was asked by The Young Turks reporter Emma Vigeland about this vote: “You have focused a lot on progressive domestic policy. You also voted for a military budget increase in 2017. How does that square with your progressive politics when we're talking about foreign policy?” Senator Warren responded: “If the question is 'Do I think we should cut the military budget?' the answer is 'Yes.'” She then went on to condemn corruption, such as putting lobbyists into positions of political power so that defense companies, say, can control the government. Yet she did not answer the question Vigeland posed to her, but only reinforced it: If you knew all this, and felt this way, Senator Warren, why did you vote to approve the military budget increase? To be fair, the following year, 2018, she voted 'no' on the NDAA. Was that evolution? Or was it that she wanted to run for president as a progressive and had learned by this time that a yes vote would be a stain on her resume? We can not say for sure, but she doesn't have much of a track record to indicate that she would be a strong counter to an overly aggressive Pentagon in the future. We do know that she has worked actively and consistently for the military contractors in her state, such as Raytheon and General Dynamics. For another example, look at Warren's positions on Israel and Palestine. In 2014, Israel staged a brutal attack on Gaza in its “Operation Protective Edge” offensive, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including four Palestinian children playing on the beach. Warren defended Israel's actions and also voted to send an extra $225 million to Israel in support of their defensive “Iron Dome” project. When questioned on this vote she said, “I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right. America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world.” The inadequacy of that answer is apparent. Friend though Israel may be, it was committing atrocities against a people it had been occupying for years, under the tenuous claim of self-defense. And we rewarded that behavior with money to aid in the effort. Warren's answer to Vigeland spoke to neither U.S. culpability in that debacle or her personal support of it. Only recently has Warren shown a somewhat less hard line position toward the region. In 2017 she declined to cosponsor a bill criticizing a 2016 UN Security Council resolution which deemed Israeli settlements illegal. In 2019 she opposed a bill that would have criminalized the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and given additional funding to Israel. Is this the result of a deepened insight into the inequity of the situation, or a response to a change in public opinion? Again, we can only guess. In general, her foreign policy stances range from default American bellicosity to more thoughtful positions. This year we saw her move rightward regarding Venezuela. In January she argued against invasion and sanctions. In February she was supporting sanctions, while also recommending “humanitarian help at the same time.” This can only be considered a self-contradictory position. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Trump's sanctions on Venezuela are estimated to have killed forty thousand people from 2017 to 2018, and constitute violations of the Geneva and Hague international conventions. Is Warren's stance not comparable to torturing someone and then suggesting they receive first aid? Some of Warren's foreign policy stances are downright dangerous. Her 2018 criticism of Trump—from the right!—opining that Trump might not be aggressive enough in his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, can not have been conducive to restoring peace between North and South Korea. We have at present a Democratic establishment which hates Trump so much, that even if he occasionally manages to do something useful, he must be attacked. Warren does not seem to be beyond that default partisan mentality. 4. Grit. In 1963, still a student, Bernie Sanders chained himself to the ankles of two black women in a Chicago protest over inadequate school facilities for African American children. A year earlier he led the first sit-in in Chicago history, occupying the office of the Dean of the University of Chicago for 13 days and nights with fellow activists to protest segregated University-owned off-campus housing. Until 1996, Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Though it is apparent that she has undergone a remarkable and admirable shift in her politics over the years, it is not easy to picture her with chains around her ankles struggling with armed policemen at a civil rights demonstration. Where, for instance, was her voice during the protracted struggle at Standing Rock, where in sub-freezing weather, peaceful, unarmed Native Americans and environmental activists protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline? The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe argued that the pipeline violated a longstanding land treaty and posed “a serious risk to the very survival of our Tribe. . .” It also presented a grave threat to their water supply. In response to their their protests, they were illegally arrested and shot at with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, freezing water, and grenades. Yet Warren made no mention of these events until the day the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to continue with the building of the pipeline—in other words, when the fight was over. At that point she managed to say all the right things—a day late and a dollar short. In this age of the phantom filibuster—where all it takes to filibuster is to mention the word— signifying that it's going to take 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate—Bernie Sanders performed something akin to an actual filibuster, in 2010, speaking for 8 hours and 37 minutes on the floor of the Senate. He was arguing against President Obama's deal with the Republicans to extend George Bush's tax cuts for the rich. Not only was Bernie courageous enough to take on bad policy at significant personal discomfort; he also had the guts to take on a Democratic president. This does not strike me as something that Elizabeth Warren would do. Lately, she has been going across the country speaking to establishment Democrats on all levels of government. She has been reassuring them that she is a team player and so not to worry about her straying too far from the Party line. No revolutionary, she, “capitalist to my bones” by her own proud admission. Bernie is the one who stood up to billionaire Jeff Bezos and secured a $15 minimum wage for Amazon workers. He helped achieve the same result for Disney employees. It was he who showed up at the Walmart shareholders meeting this past June to demand better pay for their workers and to insist they put workers on their board of directors. Warren has endless harsh words against banks and a rigged economy—all to her credit; but she doesn't have the fortitude to fully break with the establishment. She wants to be seen as progressive, but she has also pledged fidelity to the DNC. Unfortunately, these goals are often at cross-purposes. I believe her intentions are sincere, but her desire not to offend party leaders is an impediment to her making meaningful changes. She did not have, for example, the courage to endorse Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election. Given that her professed policies are so similar to Sanders', we must conclude that she was kowtowing to Party pressure rather than boldly standing up for her own principles. The biggest difference between Sanders and Warren is that Sanders is a revolutionary and Warren is not. Many people—especially people who are doing quite well financially—are quite comfortable with Warren for that reason. They like the idea of making the country more equitable, but they don't realize that the inequity is so entrenched, so structural, that only a revolution has the hope of making any significant impact. Or perhaps they like the sound of the word “progressive,” but they don't actually want anything to change all that much. What is the revolution that Bernie calls for? Only that power be reclaimed by the citizens of America; that we enliven the vision of a country that is truly of, for and by the people. This cannot happen from the top down, but must come from the bottom up. That understanding is Bernie's genius; and in that is he different from Elizabeth Warren and every other candidate. There are many reasons to choose a candidate, from the most superficial to the most noble. Some people like a candidate who reflects the same biases and prejudices that they do. Some are drawn toward or repelled by a candidate for their' race or gender. Some are attracted to specific policies. Others choose a candidate as someone they'd like to have a beer with. But there is another reason to vote for a candidate, and that is their strength of character. I think Elizabeth Warren is a much better candidate than most. I think she cares, and wants to make the system fairer for the average person. But Bernie Sanders must win the prize for courage, integrity and compassion for “the least among us.” Like Bernie, Warren has wonderful policies and plans. But Bernie is the one who will go to the mat for what he believes. It is why he has limited his entanglements with the Democratic establishment and why they despise him so much. People get it about Bernie: he is “unbought and unbossed” (as Shirley Chisholm described herself many years ago.) He is the real deal, the one who will not waver on his principles. Whether organizing sit-ins for civil rights, or filibustering for 8½ hours on the Senate floor to protest tax cuts for the rich, or taking people with diabetes to Canada to purchase insulin at one tenth the U.S. price, Bernie is the one who lives to serve the people. There is at this moment an unmistakable bias in the media for Elizabeth Warren, with a corresponding negative bias toward Bernie Sanders. To put it slightly differently, the corporate media feels less threatened by Warren than by Sanders, and they want you to feel that way too. But it is the very thing they fear in Sanders—his willingness to take on the Wall Street plutocracy, Big Pharma, the fossil fuel industry, as well as the Democratic party and the media themselves—that our country so desperately needs. If you don't see that Bernie is one of a kind; an extreme rarity in the world of politicians, an opportunity for change whose like we have seldom seen, I must conclude you are not paying attention. You have but to look at his policies, his actions and his history to recognize the depth of courage and compassion that inform them, and to see the true character of the man. May we not let this opportunity slip by. Let us not settle for the “safer” choice. Never has “safety” been more dangerous. your social media marketing partner
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