It seems like everyone is either running for President or having think pieces written about the possibility of them running for President. When I say everyone, I do mean just about everyone (see articles about John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore). It’s way too early to start talking about electability, so disregard whatever you read on that subject. At this point in 2011, it seemed pretty clear to everyone that just about any Republican could topple Obama after his midterm thrashing. If that’s too far back for you, remember in 2015 we were told that the only Republican equipped to defeat Hillary Clinton was Mitt Romney.
To be clear, electability matters but we don’t exactly have a metric for what that means. After 2016, it’s abundantly clear that the American voter will elect just about anyone if frustrated enough. It seems electability has just become whatever the pundit decides it is at a given moment. But as we enter a new presidential cycle it’s easy to imagine a scenario where just about any Democrat could defeat President Trump but it’s just as easy to imagine a scenario where nearly nobody could (there are two candidates who I think would win in either case, more on them later).
There are two potential candidates that are worth talking about, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. This isn’t an endorsement of either or to disparage any candidate, I will vote for literally any Democrat in a race to defeat Donald Trump. Full Stop. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge now before the media narratives take hold that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not the same, and Elizabeth Warren is different from the rest of the Democrats.
Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist. That’s an important distinction if not the most important distinction. Bernie’s view of politics is shaped by a criticism of class and capitalism which is unique and totally separate from the reformist tendencies of Elizabeth Warren. Warren believes that reforming capitalism is the way to fix larger societal problems and Sanders believes that capitalism is the problem. Warren would tell us that we need to fix our rigged system while Sanders would tell us that the system isn’t rigged but rather that’s just the system and hence why we need an entirely new system. That’s not nothing, it’s an entirely different worldview. Both are worlds more progressive than the field, but those differences matter.
Elizabeth Warren in her announcement video talks about the American Meritocracy. Warren believes that an America can exist where people if they work hard enough can achieve based on that work. Bernie Sanders does not believe that and has made a point throughout his career to state his view that we’ve never truly been a meritocracy and opportunity only exists for those with resources.
Sanders and Warren are different, but not like Sanders and Clinton were different. The Senators do share a number of policy positions and Warren has been very progressive in her own right. Warren and Sanders have co-sponsored Medicare-for-All legislation and other bills relating to environmental protection. Warren recently introduced a bill to create a government-run pharmaceutical manufacturer to mass-produce generic drugs and bring down prices for consumers. Since she first appeared on the national stage during the recession, Warren has been a bonafide progressive. So much so that Bernie was ready to not run for President at all in 2016.
In Bernie’s book “Our Revolution” he explained that he was wanted Elizabeth Warren to enter the race and was waiting on her to do so. It may seem like an eternity ago, but Warren not Sanders was the leader of the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party. There were draft movements and party insiders pushing her to run as a contrast to Hillary Clinton, and she refused forcing Bernie to take up the mantle. It was not expected that Bernie’s campaign would be so successful, but it was and the energy in the party moved. That is something that supporters of both should remember when the primaries get into full swing.
Warren stands out for her record in the public and private sector of being very aggressive towards Wall Street and her clear distinct vision on policy. We know who Warren is and what she believes. As for the rest of the field, there’s a lot of similarities between the potential candidates. Much like the Republicans in 2016, there are candidates crowding ideological lanes or overlapping with other candidates making it unclear who could cobble together enough delegates for a majority. There’s a reason for that. Not only are many of the Democrats looking toward 2020 similar in nature, they are essentially the same. Rhetorically there are differences but it’s hard to find the policy disagreements or where their governing philosophies diverge (they also seem to share the same corporate donors). For example, Candidate A says they believe “Everyone should have access to healthcare”, Candidate B says they believe “universal healthcare should be our goal”, while Candidate C says, “Healthcare is a human right and there should be access for everyone.” Now re-read those statements, none of that was a specific policy aim or particularly ambitious. We currently have “universal healthcare” if we consider those who have access. Everyone has “access” much in the same way that I have access to a Ferrari. I do not envy the Iowa Caucus goer who’ll be forced to delineate which candidate’s positions they support most.
I’m not going to mince words, there are some people thinking about running who I find to be particularly odious. Earlier in the piece I said there are two people who I believe undoubtedly could defeat Donald Trump in any circumstance. One of them is Bernie Sanders, who I hold in very high regard for his consistency in policy and personal character. The other is Vice-President Joe Biden who is maybe one of the most likable people in politics, I like him quite a lot. Nevertheless, he has a record as a Senator that is somehow worse than Hillary Clinton’s. Joe Biden voted for the Iraq War, he voted for the Crime Bill, he wrote the legislation that deregulated the banks, his performance during the Clarence Thomas spectacle was shameful, and that doesn’t even begin to mention his complicity in the disastrous War on Drugs.
It troubles me to see so many potential candidates emulating Biden or vying to be the next Barack Obama. It is a very worrying prospect that one of these candidates might turn to the triangulation of Bill Clinton and abandon a progressive policy agenda. There is an obsession among some Democrats about how to appeal to the Trump voter, and I’m unsure what or who they’d be willing to sacrifice just for the possibility that some rural areas might be brought back into the fold. The rest of the field with a few exceptions at this point simply do not seem to have the authenticity about their positions that Warren and Sanders do. That said, every Democrat is better than Donald Trump. Many like Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sen. Corey Booker have been pushed to the progressive side of issues despite relatively centrist pasts and we should encourage that movement. Of course, Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio has been inveighing against the excesses of Wall Street and the downsides of Free Trade for over a decade in Ohio. In Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has always been a supporter of labor interests. Not to forget Beto O’Rourke, who has been a champion for the rights of immigrants and a leader in the fight against racial injustice.
The primary will eventually devolve into a contest of personality rather than policy and we’ll judge candidates by their fundraising totals and not their policy agendas. Hopefully before we get there, we’ll have had a serious assessment of the candidates and thought about not just “who can beat Donald Trump” but “who do we want to be President.” It may seem like the same question, but answers may vary.