Russell Dobular debates and discusses how progressives can best handle the Warren & Sanders dilemma currently taking shape in the 2020 primary. **This discussion was prompted by Russell’s blog submission, which is listed below the episode.**
The Case for Elizabeth Warren From A “Bernie Bro”
by Russell Dobular
It has long been assumed that this year’s Democratic primaries would boil down to an establishment candidate vs. a progressive. It could still turn out that way, but the chances are increasing by the day that the top two candidates in the race end up being Bernie Sanders and . . . Elizabeth Warren. After the debates we could very easily wind up with the country’s two most prominent progressive voices battling it out for the nomination and that’s going to present the progressive movement with both an embarrassment of riches and a serious conundrum. Who do you pick, and why? For me personally, the choice in that fight would have to be Warren. But I’ll get to that. First, the reasons why I think we’re going to end up there.
- Biden’s support is going to collapse. Between the crime bill, Anita Hill, his votes on trade, the bankruptcy bill, his past coziness with segregationists, and his inability to use the English language without creating a controversy, Biden will be lucky to make it out of New Hampshire. Add to that the fact that his whole campaign is being built around the completely nutso idea that Republicans are going to come to their senses once Trump is out of office, and that this message is being delivered with a straight face by a veteran of the White House that had its Supreme Court nominee blocked for a year by a pre-Trump Republican Senate, and Biden is going to go down very hard and faster than anyone realizes, probably right after the first debates.
- As strange and counterintuitive as it is, Sanders is the most popular second choice for Biden’s voters, with 29%. So, when Biden goes the way of Jeb, Sanders is likely to be the biggest beneficiary. Add those voters to Sanders’ solid base of support and Bernie is going to stay in the top three for the foreseeable future.
- Warren is a great candidate. She’s warm, relatable and folksy in a way that you wouldn’t expect from someone with her intellectual firepower. The more people see her, the more they like her. And she’s shown an ability to translate a lot of the message that up until now has belonged almost exclusively to Sanders, into policies that are easy for the average voter to comprehend. Her framing of her “wealth tax” as 2 cents on the dollar over 50 million is brilliant and easier to defend than “70% of income.” Who can argue against taxing fabulously wealthy people 2 cents? Some will try, but that’s only going to make them look like assholes.
For all of those reasons, I think there’s a decent chance this ends up being a Warren vs. Sanders race. Given those choices, if you really care about advancing the progressive agenda, Warren is the better vehicle. Here’s why:
- Sanders made a lot of enemies in 2016 and a good chunk of them show no signs of letting it go. A not insignificant number of voters who were on the other side in those primaries hate Sanders with the white-hot light of a thousand burning suns. They always will. It doesn’t matter whether you think that’s justified or not, its an unalterable fact that needs to be acknowledged. If Sanders is the nominee not only will a lot of those voters stay home (they’ll never admit it in public but I promise you, a sizable portion of them will find other things to do on election day), but most of them will maintain their allegiance to the party establishment in a way they probably wouldn’t if Warren were the one at odds with the party. Which brings us to:
- Yes, I know your issues with Clinton were all policy based. If you were a Sanders supporter in 2016, even now you could probably be woken up with a flashlight in the middle of the night and without a moment’s hesitation recite her policy history chapter and verse. Doesn’t change the fact that we’ve never had a female President and for a lot of voters, not all of them women, that’s a travesty. When it was Bernie and Hillary, there were legitimate policy reasons to reject Clinton. What would the justification be for rejecting Warren? There are a fair number of former Clinton supporters who like Warren. Some of them love Warren. If Warren is the nominee, they’ll end up supporting not only her, but the kinds of policies she’s espousing. In other words, they’ll be working with us instead of against us. If Sanders is the nominee all that goes away. Not only will they close their ears to his policies, but they’ll take it as further evidence that support for Sanders was always first and foremost about sexism. And this time, they won’t sound batshit crazy.
- The party establishment, Wall Street, and the corporate media are going to go after Warren, just like they went after Sanders. But it won’t be as effective and its going to open the eyes of some Warren supporters who still have faith in those institutions. If you hate Sanders, and those institutions also hate Sanders, there’s not a lot of reason for you to question their motives. When they start giving Liz the WAPO, sixteen negative articles in sixteen hours treatment, they’ll finally realize what we realized four years ago-those institutions aren’t what we thought they were.
- We need to win the primaries. Look at the support that consolidated around Biden. Yes, its largely because of name recognition, but its also because the older generation of Democratic voters still has a death grip on the party. They already got theirs and the last thing they want is for someone to come in and radically revamp the system in a way that might cost them a nickel, even if its going to save their Grandkids from growing up in a dystopian hellscape. Sanders is where the party and the country are going. But a lot of these folks have to die off before we get there. What Biden’s numbers should tell us is that faced with a Sanders nomination, there’s a good chance the geriatrics consolidate around another centrist when Biden’s candidacy collapses. They’re not as afraid of Warren, largely because she isn’t Bernie. He’s essentially scaring those people into accepting her, because at least she doesn’t identify as a socialist.
- Warren takes the identity politics attacks on progressives off the table. “Warren Bro” just isn’t gonna have the same ring to it. If we stick with Bernie, the same dishonest actors who cry sexism whenever its convenient, but never when it isn’t (like when it’s an old, white, male Democrat in good standing, running against a progressive woman. See: Cuomo/Nixon, Crowley/AOC), are going to scream “Bernie Bros” from the rooftops all day, every day. Wouldn’t it be nice to just discuss the issues and not have to list all the progressive women you’ve supported over the years in the effort to shut those people up, usually to no avail? Wouldn’t it be even nicer to get their votes?
I get the case against Warren, really I do. She plays politics in a way that Bernie doesn’t; staying silent on Standing Rock, voting for Trump’s military budget, refusing to condemn Israeli bombings of Gaza schools, etc. But in the end, I’m a political pragmatist. I didn’t stop supporting the Democratic party establishment because I caught a bad case of the idealisms. I stopped because I realized that long-term there was nothing pragmatic about supporting an ideology that’s led to such grotesque levels of wealth inequality and such extreme desperation in the voting public that Donald Trump would even be a thing. I started thinking about what comes after Trump if the Democrats continue to offer more of the same. And that led me to fight as hard as I can for a peaceful progressive revolution that might start to undo some of the damage that the post-Bill Clinton Democratic Party has wrought. And I didn’t work my ass off for Sanders in 2016 just to make a point. There’s been a Bernie Sanders in every Democratic primary I can remember, from Jerry Brown to Howard Dean to Al Sharpton. I never supported any of them. Because they couldn’t win. 2016 was different and if you were paying attention you knew that all the conventional wisdom was out the window in that particular year. If you got your understanding of the world from the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Hillary made a lot of sense. If you were in tune with what was actually going on in the country, you knew a candidate like Sanders had a much better chance of defeating Trump, than a consummate tribune of the status quo like HRC. I make the case for Warren in the same spirit. She’s the furthest left candidate we can support who can also unite the party behind her. That’s just a stone cold fact. If we really care about making progressive policy happen, she’s our best bet.
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