Saturday, February 8, 2020

Unity Candidate Elizabeth Warren

Ben Mathis-Lilley in his “Scared of Bernie? Not Feeling Pete? The Unity Candidate Has Been Right Here the Whole Time” piece at Slate magazine makes the case for a candidate who matches Bernie Sanders’ level of ambition and outraged concern for inequality with the interest in “practical solutions” and ability to “unify” that the party’s more status quo–friendly voters say they are drawn to? And perhaps that candidate is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren doesn’t participate in the typical mainstream Democratic-politician practice of using the words practical, solutions, and unity as a means of signaling her distance from the left. is a practical-minded center-left candidate with a plausible case that she will get useful things done.

Warren’s pitches are more substantive than Clinton or Biden’s were, and she rejects the big business–friendly belief that most problems can be solved with technology and efficiency—the so-called technocratic and incrementalist tradition that Buttigieg’s background exemplifies, which is loathed (often for good reason) by the left. But her proposals are more reminiscent of FDR-LBJ Democrat ClassicTM legislation than Euro-style socialism.

Sanders wants to break up the big banks; Warren prefers subjecting them to escalated regulation and savage congressional grillings. Sanders wants to forgive all college debt; Warren would means-test such a program so higher-income individuals still had to pay some back. He would seek a single payer transition immediately and eliminate private insurance; Warren has backed off from her initially hard-line position on the issue and now says private insurance shouldn’t be made illegal until after the introduction of a public option.

Sanders acknowledges that full implementation of his program would require increasing middle-class taxes; Warren says that hers can be accomplished by returning to a 1950s-style regime of high rates on the rich. Sanders asks voters to imagine a new era of American government; the premise of Warren’s top campaign priority—eliminating the corrupting and market-skewing influence of money in politics—is that there is such a thing as a sustainable version of the existing one.

In a way it was bad luck for Warren that her early 2019 surge coincided with a flat period for Sanders’ polling. It gave her party’s moderates and conservatives the impression that she was the leftmost viable candidate, and she became cast as the race’s McGovern. She was attacked for supporting single payer, being too antagonistic to business, and being too angry to win over voters who just want to get Trump out so things can go back to normal. Major donors who weren’t already with Biden coalesced around Buttigieg, as did rank-and-file voters swayed by his all-things-to-all-people uplift rhetoric.

Then, as Bernie rose on the pure socialist energy of an AOC endorsement and heart attack recovery, she dropped back to the pack. The rejuvenated Sanders campaign overtook her on the left, without Warren being able to shake the centrists’ perception that she is a “my way or the highway” ideologue — even though her hedge on private insurance is the only example of anyone in the Democratic field during the 2020 cycle actually acknowledging the importance of “listening to voters” and making a compromise to political circumstances.

You could say Warren bears some responsibility for drawing the centrists’ hostility. Her rhetoric is confrontational toward Wall Street. She uses the word fight frequently. She hasn’t attacked Sanders or “drawn a contrast” with him by belittling his platform as “free stuff.”

Another way of looking at that, though, is that she is being realistic—that she is recommending “big, structural change” and identifying malefactors of great wealth because problems have causes and the common good can sometimes conflict with the interests of the privileged few. You could also say she’s behaved in a unifying way by trying to win the nomination without caricaturing candidates to her left or rolling her eyes at Buttigieg when he says he will deliver solutions that will unite liberals, Goldman Sachs, and red-state gun owners in a warm glow of patriotism.
Read Ben Mathis-Lilley’s full article, “Scared of Bernie? Not Feeling Pete? The Unity Candidate Has Been Right Here the Whole Time,” at Slate magazine.

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