Let me begin by making the apparently mandatory and sacrosanct ritual offering to the gods of progressive politics in 2019: “Sure, I like Warren. In fact, I agree with her on many issues. She’s not bad.”
There. I said it. Can we do real politics now?
We’re at that ignominious point where people from all over the left end of the political spectrum in the United States are engaged in the quadrennial kabuki festival known as a presidential campaign, positioning themselves behind whichever hollow woman or stuffed man makes the best promises without improperly picking their nose or farting into a hot mic. Oh joy, campaign season once more.
But this time it feels more urgent, as if every day brings with it another mass slaughter, another crime against humanity. In fact, every new day does bring with it another slaughter, another affront to human decency and civilized society.
The Fascist-in-Chief has activated the darkest, most reactionary, most dangerous elements of American society, bringing them out of the shadows and into the light of the mainstream. Trump is the fascist smack mainlined into the body politic; crystal meth huffed from the billowing smokestacks of coal-fired power plants and fracking methane plumes.
And Americans, especially progressives, are desperately searching for treatment.
Some look to the celebrity rehab retreats of Malibu neoliberalism, hoping that if we could just get past the withdrawals in an exquisitely furnished room with silk bedsheets and an ocean view, that somehow things will return to normal. This is the fairy tale propagated by that powerful publishing house of Harris, Biden & Buttigieg and its billionaire shareholders. But their stock price is way down. Sales are plummeting as customers are increasingly turning to smaller, more independent publishers whose content is more aligned with the national mood.
So, we look to these indie leaders for a new story, a narrative arc as inspiring as it is exciting. We want Bernie Sanders to slay the dragon and ride in on a white horse to save us. We long for Elizabeth Warren to reassure us that the story we’re living is just make-believe as she kisses our foreheads and tucks us in. We need a heroic daddy; a smart, stable mommy.
This is what it feels like being on the left in American politics today, to say nothing of us Marxists, anarchists, and other political runaways hitchhiking on the road to climate perdition. But, unfortunately, feelings aren’t going to stop fascism. Rather, we must stick to the facts. We must allow the material reality of this political moment to guide our analysis.
And it is from that perspective that we must understand that the real separation between Sanders and Warren isn’t man versus woman, heroic daddy versus nurturing mommy. It isn’t electability or likeability. No, what separates them is class: which class supports them, which class’s aspirations and needs they represent, and which candidate has a class-based movement behind them.
Class Matters, Don’t Let Liberals Tell You Otherwise
If you think you’re reading the words of some “Bernie Bro” you’re way off. I didn’t support Sanders in 2016, and in fact saw him as part of an effort to rope the left back into the Democratic Party and its neoliberal Catherine wheel. I’ve repeatedly and openly attacked Sanders for his extreme blind-spot for US imperialism which gets almost no attention in national political discussion despite the US being engaged in multiple wars and various forms of imperialist aggression all over the world. I’ve noted that Sanders is not only not a socialist, but in fact is closer to mainstream FDR-style liberalism than anything resembling socialism.
But despite all that, today in Summer 2019, there is no doubt about the class nature of Bernie’s movement. This is a working class movement, not simply a campaign, and Sanders has risen to become unquestioningly the most powerful and resounding voice of the American working class. Attend any Sanders event and you see this in action: working class immigrants, broke students and recent graduates, disabled and/or elderly pensioners, union workers, etc.
This is not simply a matter of representation. This isn’t Trump getting a few brown and black faces in front of the camera to obscure the sea of fascist neanderthals at his rallies. No, at Bernie’s events this is genuine and represents an accurate snapshot of the working class in America which is majority non-white.
Warren too has a dynamic campaign that hits all the right notes. Even her events, as any video will show, have a more diverse crowd than many other candidates from the past and today. But it isn’t working class, and it isn’t a movement. Let’s look at the numbers.
According to recent polling data from Morning Consult (one of the best, most reputable along with Pew and Quinnipiac) regarding Democratic primary voter support:
* Voters earning less than $50,000 (Sanders – 22%; Warren – 12%)
* Voters without college degrees (Sanders – 22%; Warren – 10%)
* Voters with college degrees (Sanders – 16%; Warren – 15%)
* Voters with postgraduate degrees (Sanders – 12%; Warren – 19%)
Just from these numbers one clear fact jumps out: Sanders supporters are less wealthy and less privileged on the whole. Looking specifically at income and education, two key indicators of class orientation and access to social mobility, it’s clear which candidate is supported by the poor and working class. Moreover, because access to education is directly correlated to wealth and privilege, these numbers reflect a broader political tendency among those most economically marginalized, seeing Sanders, not Warren, as the voice of the poor in America.
But you don’t actually need these numbers to reach this conclusion. Just monitor the campaign events, the venues, the attendees. While Sanders goes to Skid Row and snubs liberal kingmaker rituals like Netroots Nation, Warren passes the collection plate among the Forever Hillary liberal crowd. The faces and voices you see at Sanders events from California and Michigan, Ohio to Vermont speak volumes about the class character of the movement behind Bernie. People living paycheck to paycheck, seeing in Sanders a voice of their plight. Moreover, in Sanders they see a movement of themselves, not simply faith in a Democrat politician. Warren does not enjoy a similar movement. She is, at best, the face of a very good political campaign. But a good campaign does not a movement make.
Let’s look a little further.
The Kids Are Alright
Sanders also dominates Warren with young people, another indication of class, though perhaps less obvious than income and education. According to Morning Consult:
* Support from 18-29 voters (Sanders – 33+%; Warren – 11%)
* Support from 30-44 voters (Sanders – 25%; Warren – 13%)
* Support from 45-54 voters (Sanders – 17%; Warren – 12%)
* Support from 55-64 voters (Sanders – 12%; Warren – 13%)
* Support from 65+ voters (Sanders – 8%; Warren – 13%)
The numbers paint a fairly obvious picture: Sanders has huge support among the young, those who must look forward to decades of life to be lived in this country. The older the voter gets the less they like Sanders and more they like Warren. But let’s look a little deeper at what this actually means.
Increasingly, America’s educated youth must be considered largely working class as tens of millions are already, or soon will be, saddled with so much debt that they are likely to have no wealth at all despite years of working. Sanders call to cancel all student debt, as opposed to Warren’s half-measure that would reduce debts by a maximum of $50,000, is predictably popular among these key demographics. It should be noted though that student debt is also held by many middle-aged Americans who are either still paying their loans or are paying those of their children.
Naturally, young people from underprivileged backgrounds are much more likely to have less access to education and are more likely to get caught up in the prison-industrial complex, social ills which Sanders’s free public higher education and criminal justice reform proposals speak to. Warren may “have a plan for that” but the data says that its Sanders who they’re listening to.
Perhaps we can most clearly define what we’re witnessing on the progressive end of the political spectrum as something akin to Rosa Luxemburg’s 120-year-old question: reform or revolution?
I’m the first to say that Sanders isn’t exactly my ideal communist revolutionary…hell, he’s not even really a socialist in the true sense of the word. But for this moment, after three years of Trump-addled political fog, he represents the revolutionary upsurge in American politics. Warren represents a moderate, reform-oriented tinkering with the system, Sanders is for upending it.
Warren is praised by analysts on CNN and MSNBC while Sanders is marginalized and maligned. Why?
Because while Bernie rides his white stallion to defend workers, it is Warren who is being tapped to ride in and save the ruling class from Bernie and the Sandernistas that are propelling his candidacy.