BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer published a thoughtful piece today on the relationship between Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two progressive stalwarts who are both eyeing a possible presidential run in 2020.
The piece probes both of the senators’ career trajectories, the difference in how members of the party—particularly its progressive wing—have come to view them, and the push-pull of just who is really leading the ascendant left wing movement within the party.
There’s one part I want to tease out: the answer Warren gives when she’s asked, with increasing frequency, how she’s different from the most popular politician in America.
Per BuzzFeed (emphasis added):
Warren has so far stayed close to Sanders, cohosting livestreamed town halls and Facebook discussions. Last year, she and her aides worked closely with his office to hone the details of his Medicare for All bill, though her name, like other cosponsors who worked on the bill, were just part of what was perceived as his effort. And when asked about the difference between her and Sanders, it is usually only in private that she chooses to reply, “He’s a socialist, and I believe in markets.”
Still, the response is an indication of how she would differentiate herself from the Vermont senator. “I am a capitalist,” she told CNBC in an interview last month. “Come on. I believe in markets.” (Or as one former aide put it, “She believes in markets. She loves markets.”) Last week, she introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act to encourage corporate profit-sharing. Vox called it “a plan to save capitalism.”
Far be it from me to chide Warren. But it’s difficult to imagine a less appealing message to rev up young, left wing Democrats—like those so energized by Sanders’ 2016 race—than casting yourself as both definitely not socialist and really into markets. Rather than lifting everyone up, the free market has worked to make a small group of rich people much richer at the expense of the people who toil to create that wealth. Warren favors regulation and government intervention, which, to be fair, are better than any freewheeling Republican approach. But Sanders and his ilk understand the whole damn system is broken and rigged against the vast majority of Americans. It’s no coincidence that more and more Democrats say they favor socialism over capitalism.
You can either accept the world as it is and try to pragmatically affect change within existing frameworks—which seems to be Warren’s approach. But when things are as bad as they are and getting worse all the time, we need to demand more than new toothless “accountability” measures. Pragmatism doesn’t play at the ballot booth, but optimism does. It’s worth seeking out a candidate who understands the distinction.