The Problem With Warren

Photograph Source: Senate Democrats – CC BY 2.0

A new poll shows that support for former vice president Joe Biden is falling. The survey, produced by Monmouth University, shows Biden dropping from 32 percent amongst Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in June – when Monmouth produced its last poll – to below 19 percent now. The stats, meanwhile, place Biden’s two progressive competitors, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, ahead at 20 percent each.

It seems almost certain, therefore, that if one of them were to drop out and endorse the other, it would propel the remaining candidate well above Biden and into clear front-runner status. Given what it is at stake, it is imperative that one of them do so. The prospect of four more years of the reality TV conman buffoon in the White House risks not only a completely breakdown in functioning government, it would also embolden him to turn his second administration into an authoritarian one. He has already said that he might “stay longer” if his base “demand” that he do so. In July, an administration aide said during an interview with Fox News that Trump told White House staff that he is “not going to be beholden to courts anymore.” These are clear signs of an authoritarian fascist in the making.

There will surely be those who claim that Warren represents the better choice. There will be those who claim that her affirmation that she is a capitalist will avoid alienating swathes of Middle America for whom the “S word” still evokes a visceral aversion due to the lingering success of Cold War-era Red Scare propaganda. There will be those who claim that she is more policy-savvy than Sanders, given her background as an academic and consumer rights advocate. And, sadly, there will be those who take the gender sectarian line that the fact that a female president is overdue (which it certainly is) ought to eclipse all other considerations or even override what would otherwise disqualify her from support from genuine progressives – as undoubtedly was the case with Hillary Clinton.

1) Warren isn’t that progressive

Warren likes to push flaunt her progressive credentials and her ability to implement them with her wonkish knowledge and record in the Senate. The reality, however, is that her policies aren’t nearly as progressive as Sanders’ are. And worse still, she has already shown a willingness to water down her proposals in the event that she win the presidency. For instance, in a recent New York Times survey Warren responded to a question about Medicare-for-all by stating: “There are a lot of different ways to get there. ‘Medicare for all’ has a lot of different paths.” In other words, she is not in principle committed to a full-blown public system that would eliminate the power of the private insurance industry. As has been shown by extensive research, only by taking these profit-seeking entities out of the equation can cost be effectively brought down. Yet clearly she cannot bring herself to rule out an incremental approach favored by Biden and other establishment Democrats.

2) Sanders is better on foreign policy

On foreign policy, perhaps the most crucial issue of our time, Bernie Sanders has been a consistent critic of ill-considered US military interventions and has been at the forefront of opposing them in Congress. He opposed the Iraq War when he was Vermont’s sole representative in the House of Representatives. In the Senate he was the lead sponsor of the historic resolution that invoked the War Powers Act to enable Congress to withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Far from moving to the center in an effort to “court the middle ground,” Sanders has actually been moving to the left on the issue throughout the current Democratic primary campaign. In June 2019, he stated: “We have got to stop endless wars. We have to cut military spending.” Crucially, he has indicated that the only way to bring down military spending is by confronting the system of private interests that keeps it so high in the first place. In May, 2019, he said: “we need to take on the Military Industrial Complex.” He added: “And we say to the Military Industrial Complex that we will not continue to spend $700 billion a year on the military.” Here, he is indicating that he is aware of the reasons for the ever increasing US military budget – the “the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the arms industry that Dwight Eisenhower warned about in 1961.

Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, voted in favor of the most recent defense bill in 2017 that Sanders pointed out will raise military spending to a record $700. The legislation provides $640 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon and another $60 billion for US involvement in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Amongst the eight “No” votes were those from Sanders and libertarian Republican Rand Paul. Her decision was no doubt influenced by the fact that Massachusetts, the state she represents in the Senate, employs around 100,000 people in armaments factories and other industries that supply the military. To be sure, not wanting to put people out of work is a noble instinct, but it also signals that she is willing to be a cog in the very system that keeps military spending high and incentivizes US involvement in foreign conflicts.

3) Sanders has more political experience

As much as Warren’s supporters like to tout her academic career, policy knowledge and work with the Obama administration on consumer rights, she has a much sparser political résumé than Sanders. Whereas Warren hasn’t even completed her first term in the US Senate, Sanders has been in congress for close to three decades – between 1991 and 2007 as Vermont’s member of the House of Representatives and from 2007 to the present as one of its two Senators.

Throughout this time he has been at the cutting edge of introducing and co-sponsoring progressive legislation, including fighting for campaign finance reform, the reintroduction of the Glass-Steagall Act, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and workplace democracy. He founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has served as the chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs and the ranking member of the Committee on the Budget. Warren, on the other hand, has only served as ranking remember of one subcommittee and has nowhere near Sanders’ legislative record.

4) Warren is a flip-flopper

In addition to her dubious progressive record, Warren has shown a serious lack of consistency in the political positions that she takes. In addition to the aforementioned flip-flopping on Medicare-for-all, she has also changed her position on a number of other issues. On so-called “school choice,” Warren did a complete 180 on the issue between the early 2000s and her bid for the Democratic nomination. In her book The Two-Income Trap, published in 2003, she argued in favor of a school-voucher-type system. But when a ballot measure to promote school choice – titled “Question 2” – came along in Massachusetts, she declared her opposition to the idea. In archetypal politician equivocation, she stated “But after hearing more from both sides, I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth.”

Similarly, in March, 2019, Warren said that she wanted to break up the big tech monopolies like Amazon and Facebook – one of many policy proposals she has copied from Sanders. But a look into her record shows that just months earlier she had expressed enthusiasm about Amazon setting up shop in Boston, the capital city of her home state, saying that the company’s plans to locate there ‘“would’ve been a good opportunity for Amazon.” Her tendency to change position is not confined to specific policy issues, however. She has, in fact, changed not only her party affiliation, but was a committed right-winger well into her middle age. She was a member of the Republican Party until she was 47 years-old and even described herself as a “die-hard conservative” during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Keep in mind, that during the first of these two decades the Vietnam War was raging across Indo-China and during the ‘80s Ronald Reagan was funding proxy wars in Central America via right-wing terror groups such as the Nicaraguan Contras. In addition, being a “die-hard conservative” in the ‘60s specifically translated to support for the infamous 1964 Republican presidential contender Barry Goldwater, who opposed the implementation of the Civil Rights Act.

5) Sanders created the current context

All of the above issues, however damning they are of Warren’s record and character, pale in comparison to the contextual circumstances in which she entered the Democratic primary race. Sanders’ surprise success in the 2016 primary, in which he came very close to beating establishment favorite Hillary Clinton, is what created the energy and momentum for a progressive insurgency to happen in the first place. It was Sanders who brought issues like universal healthcare, free public college tuition and taking on Wall Street into the political mainstream and created a mass movement to get a genuine progressive into the general election contest for the first time in decades.

The term “riding on the coattails” doesn’t come close to describing what Warren has done with her presidential bid. By entering the race for the party’s 2020 nomination, she is lazily strolling through a door that Sanders spent long, strenuous years prying open. And in what is perhaps the biggest slap in the face of all, she has publicly rejected the undeniable fact that the 2016 primary was rigged in favor of Clinton – a position which (surprise, surprise) she flip-flopped on, having originally affirmed that it was indeed rigged. Warren said in an interview in 2017 with MassLive: “The overall primary process was fair and Hillary made history.”