Are Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the same?
The answer one often hears on mainstream media is either “yes,” so we should support Warren because she is younger than Sanders and is female, “or no, Warren is better,” so we should still support Warren. Democratic strategist Emily Tisch Sussman recently went as far as suggesting on MSNBC that supporting Sanders over Warren is sexist “because she has more detailed plans and her plans have evolved.”
Here’s a third possibility: Warren and Sanders are not the same person at all. Though the two share similar policies, their commitment to those policies and their political worldviews are significantly different. And if progressives like many of us here at Claremont want to see those policies materialize and ultimately change an unjust, corrupt, political-economic system, it is Sanders, not Warren, we should trust.
True, Sanders and Warren both have strong track records as progressive legislators, but their backgrounds are different. Sanders’ message has been strikingly similar his whole life.
In the 1970s, he told audiences that “this is the world of the 2 percent of the population that owns more than one-third of the personally held wealth in America,” according to the Guardian, and railed against “Richard Nixon, and the millionaires and billionaires whom he represents.”
Warren, on the other hand, was a registered Republican until 1996 and a “diehard conservative” according to Politico. And for someone with a reputation for being a champion of consumer protection, it’s odd that she worked as a lawyer counseling corporations including big banks, chemical companies and insurers on bankruptcy cases, as reported by Current Affairs. In one case, she represented Dow Chemical, a huge chemical company accused of causing health problems to women, aiding the company in its goal of limiting monetary compensations to victims.
Warren has obviously evolved since then. From wealth taxes to more worker control in corporations, she’s released some of the most detailed and most progressive plans among candidates in the Democratic presidential primary. Yet she does not seem as willing as Sanders to fight for some of those policies.
Take healthcare, for instance, the issue that voters say they are most concerned about, according to a poll by Gallup. Warren is apparently for Medicare-for-All, except in reality, it’s not so clear. In debates, for instance, she’s said she’s “with Bernie on Medicare-for-All,” according to Politico, presumably as a way to appease the most progressive voting base of the Democratic Party.
In other contexts, she’s said that Medicare-for-All is merely a “framework,” according to the Hill, and campaigned against single-payer healthcare when running for Massachusetts senator in 2012, Politico reported. Over and over again, she’s also refused to say if her plan for Medicare-for-All would raise taxes for the middle class, which is the crux of Sanders’ proposal to fund the $32 trillion plan.
In other words, unlike the rest of the top-tier Democratic contenders, Warren simply has no plan for the issue voters are most concerned about. This is why “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness’ endorsement of Warren last month was so bizarre: Van Ness suggested on Twitter he did so because he was impressed by Warren’s committment to fight for affordable healthcare.
Another area in which Warren lags behind Sanders is foreign policy. This is odd: Her most progressive democratic policies would all require approval from Congress, but foreign policy is the one area over which she would have broad authority. Foreign policy is also arguably the most important job of the U.S. president.
Although we have known for decades what Sanders’ foreign policy vision is, Warren hasn’t really articulated her worldview. The little record that we have from her suggests her foreign policy thinking is very much aligned with that of the Democratic establishment and former President Barack Obama, which should raise red flags for any progressive opposed to the way the U.S. has historically conducted its foreign policy.
For instance, in 2013, Warren voted to confirm John Brennan as the Director of CIA, according to The New York Times. Brennan is “one of the individuals who sold Obama on the merits of the targeted killing program, which has been criticized by human rights advocates for its legality and morality,” wrote journalist Zaid Jilani. Sanders voted against the nomination, according to The New York Times.
Sanders has also spoken and acted more forcefully on foreign policy issues, including authoring and successfully passing a Senate resolution to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war. He’s voiced strong opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies and the Israeli occupation and spoken harshly against Brazil’s right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro. Warren, on the other hand, “has been slow to speak on major foreign policy issues,” Jilani wrote.
The biggest difference between Sanders and Warren, however, involves not their policies but their politics. Sanders has consistently supported a bottom-up approach to changing American politics, calling for a “revolution.”
“We need an ongoing grassroots movement of millions of people to pressure Congress, to pressure the corporate establishment, so that we can bring about the changes that this country desperately needs. So that’s why I have said that I will not only be commander-in-chef, I’m going to be organizer-in-chief,” Sanders has said, drawing a contrast to Obama.
Obama, after all, stopped organizing once he got into office, wrote Micah Sifry, and let die the grassroots activist movement that he had built, which many point to as a cause of his ineffectiveness in his first term.
Warren’s vision, based on her previous work and her constant focus on “plans,” seems to be more aligned with Obama’s than Sanders’, casting doubt on her ability to push ambitious bills through Congress, which will not pass without mass-based grassroots pressure and activism, as noted by Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs.
Americans need a candidate who not only has plans to fix the system but also mobilizes people for a much-needed revolution to match the scale of what they are against: a system replete with corruption, inequality and injustice.
Warren and Sanders are indeed two of the most progressive voices in the current presidential primary, and the election of either candidate would be historic for the U.S. But if progressives want to see their ideals realized in 2020, they must nominate Sanders as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
Sarthak Sharma PO ’20 is from Kathmandu, Nepal. He’s an economics major and spends most of his time sending messages to Claremont Crushes.