Yves here. I know Warren is deemed to be progressive by American standards, but I recall clearly when I first say her speak at a Roosevelt Institute conference, Let Markets Be Markets, which was a title I found to be unhelpful, since it suggested that markets would exist in a state of nature and just needed to be left alone. In fact, markets depend on rules and enforcement mechanisms to operate regularly and well.
Warren, who was the first speaker, gave a long preamble about how she loved markets and had long taught contract in law school. I don’t recall her giving any reason as to why she loved markets, when you’d expect her to make a case, such as how they were good for people. Her speech struck me as defensive, as in she felt she had to say she was in favor of commerce so as not to be painted as a Commie if/when she called for reforms.
By contrast, Karl Polyani, in his classic book The Great Transformation, argued that the evolution of market economies undermined society because it treated land and labor as commodities. Pressured to slow the development economies were inevitable and Polyani suggested, desirable, because the impact of the development of the market society on communities and families was often so disruptive that the changes needed to be mitigated.
I didn’t get any sense that Warren had those concerns, and I found that troubling. I didn’t see how her profession of enthusiasm for markets connected with the concerns she has expressed for the welfare of American families.
By Thomas Neuburger Originally published at DownWithTryanny!
I’ve written before comparing Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as presidential candidates, but only preliminarily. (See “The Difference Between Sanders and Warren, or Can Regulated Capitalism Save the Country?“) But there’s much more to say — foreign policy, for example, is barely touched on there — and also much is evolving in their positions, especially Warren’s.
That earlier piece focused on the differences between these two candidates based on their economic ideologies. As I wrote then, “Though both would make the next administration, if either were elected, a progressive one by many definitions, the nature of the progressivism under each would be quite different.”
In particular, I asked:
Can the current capitalist system be reformed and retained, or must it be partly nationalized — taken over by government — and reduced in size and capacity, for the country to be saved from its current economic enslavement to the “billionaire class”? In addition to questions of personal preference, Democratic primary voters will be asked to decide this question as well.
And the question applies quite broadly. The billionaire class also controls our response to climate change. Is it possible for a “free” market system — a system in which billionaires and their corporations have control — to transform the energy economy enough to mitigate the coming disaster, or must government wrest control of the energy economy in order to have even a hope of reducing the certain damage?
But there are other contrasts between these two as well, other differences, as Zaid Jilani, writingin Jacobin, points out. He begins where we began, with the ideological and philosophical differences:
Why the Differences Between Sanders and Warren Matter
Both 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.
So far this is familiar ground.
Different Theories of Change
But as Jilani points out, there are differences in style and “theory of change” as well. (“Theory of change” usually encompasses how a given policy change is to be accomplished, as opposed to what that change should be.) Jilani again:
The two senators also have distinct theories of change. Sanders has long believed in bottom-up, movement-based politics. Since his daysas 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 [“the most influential outside PAC supporting Warren” says Jilani], 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.
About this he concludes: “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.”
“Elizabeth is all about leverage”
These are significant differences, and his observation goes a long way to explaining this item from a long piecepublished in Politico Magazinein 2016, an article otherwise about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Discussing why Warren refused to endorse Sanders, Glenn Thrush wrote:
Luckily for Clinton, Warren resisted Sanders’ entreaties, for months telling the senator and his staff she hadn’t made up her mind about which candidate she would support. For all her credibility on the left, Warren is more interested in influencing the granular Washington decisions of policymaking and presidential personnel—and in power politics. Warren’s favored modus operandi: leveraging her outsider popularity to gain influence on the issues she cares about, namely income inequality and financial services reform.
“Elizabeth is all about leverage, and she used it,” a top Warren ally told me. “The main thing, you know, is that she always thought Hillary was going to be the nominee, so that was where the leverage was.”
Warren, several people in her orbit say, never really came close to endorsing the man many progressives consider to be her ideological soulmate.
For many grassroots supporters of Sanders, who were also strong Warren supporters prior to his entry into the race, these revelations — “all about the leverage” and “never came close to endorsing” — took the bloom off the Warren rose. For whatever reason, that bloom appears not to have returned, at least not completely.
Jilani’s observation in no way diminishes Warren’s credibility or core desirability as a candidate. If you care about achieving your goals through “leverage,” joining the Sanders campaign, which may have looked to you like a kind of Children’s Crusade, would seem foreign to your way of operating.
The Bottom Line — Not Just Method, But Scope
While Jilani notes that many of Warren’s past positions, for example, on charter schoolsand Medicare for All, have grown more progressive, she still doesn’t seem to prioritize Medicare for All as strongly as Sanders does.
In 2012, Warren was explicitly opposed to Medicare for All (called “single payer” at the time). “Five years later — after decades of advocacyby Sanders had helped popularize Medicare for All — Warren [finally] decided to endorse the policy,” writes Jilani. “But unlike consumer protections or financial regulation, establishing a single-payer health care system doesn’t seem to be a top priority for Warren.” He adds, “It’s hardly a surprisethat Warren didn’t raise single-payer during her first two campaign events in Iowa and when asked about it by a Washington Postreporter, [she] suggested she didn’t bring it up because no one else at the events raised it.”
As noted above, if either were president, the odds that America will change for the better would vastly improve. But each would do that job in a different way. Each has a different philosophy of how government should work, and approach the process of change from different directions — though I have to give Warren credit for picking public fights with fellow Democratswhen others are much more timid.
But to these two differences — philosophy and approach — let me add a third, a difference in sweep. The scope of change envisioned and attempted by a Sanders presidency would likely be far greater than that attempted by Warren.
In these times, with a massive climate tsunami fast approaching and a Depression-style rebellion in full view, can America, in this Franklin Roosevelt moment, afford just a better manager of the current system, a better rearranger, and survive?
There’s not much question that Warren would better fix the status quo, and be a better choice as president, than 95% of the other candidates on offer. But would a Warren presidency be enough to bring us through this crisis as safely as Washington, Lincoln and FDR once did?
For many true progressives, I think that’s the question she’ll be asked to answer, and she has about a year, or less, to answer it.