Confessions of a former Warren supporter

Courtesy of Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons.

Let me begin by stating that, no matter the results of the primary, the Democratic party must unite behind whoever wins the nomination. In the event that Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the nominee, I would never want the ire of Bernie Sanders supporters to detract from her campaign. Many see this as a likely possibility for 2020, considering the results of the 2016 election—there is a widespread perception that die-hard “Bernie Bros” cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, either due to apathy about the nominee or because they directly voted for Trump instead of supporting her. Whether or not this had an effect on Clinton’s loss, the truth is that Sanders himself held not one, not five, but 39 rallies for Clinton. Apart from dropping out, he did everything he could to encourage his base to vote for her, and indeed most did (lest we forget, Clinton did win the popular vote).

Unfortunately, irritation at Sanders’ outspoken followers persists, and turns many progressives away from the candidate. As recently as November, I hesitated to lump myself in with this zealous group of “Bernie Bros,” which I saw as overwhelmingly male and white. If Warren and Sanders are similar enough, I reasoned, I’d much rather vote a woman into office. Not to mention her obvious intelligence, experience and eloquence.

However, despite my reluctance to feed into the Sanders v. Warren divide, lest it prove damaging later on, I feel it is necessary to acknowledge the differences between the candidates as the primaries draw night. As a feminist, it feels counterintuitive to vote against a woman, but I don’t condone voting based solely on identity. Though I profoundly desire a Madame President, each new piece of information I learn makes me more confident that Sanders is the only candidate I can support in the Democratic primary. Yes, Warren is my second choice, but she is a distant second for the following reasons.

Endorsement

Let’s start simple: notable endorsement. At first, I was heartened by Warren’s many eminent supporters, including feminist author Roxane Gay, soccer and LGBT icon Megan Rapinoe and actress Constance Wu. Compared to the “Bernie Bros” (the mainstream representation of Sanders’ endorsers), I felt more compelled to listen to women of color and LGBT folks. I’d much rather place myself in the camp of powerful women supporting a powerful woman, I thought, than join the ranks of belligerent male followers of an old white man.

But then Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) endorsed Sanders. That’s when my perception of Sanders’ following began to shift. These were two endorsements by women of color in politics, people who craft policy and debate in the House daily. AOC’s rhetoric and policies (such as staunch support for immigration justice and opposition to corporate influence in government) have always aligned so well with my beliefs, and when I realized her views align most closely with Sanders’, enough for her to endorse him over a fellow woman in politics, I realized I must look deeper into Sanders’ actual policies, rather than solely his fanbase, before deciding whom I would vote for.

Comedian Joe Rogan’s recent Sanders endorsement garnered controversy, as he is known for right-leaning politics and politically incorrect humor. However, Sanders has numerous endorsements among left-leaning activists: Jamie Margolin, Qasim Rashid, Barbara Smith, Eddy Zheng, Noura Erakat and twenty more. The fact is, Sanders attracts not only steadfast Democrats, but new voters, whether they are young or just disillusioned with American politics

In contrast, Warren’s following consists of those who will vote blue no matter who. I don’t suggest that Sanders’ voters are justified in staunchly voting for only him. I instead interpret this data as a heartening display of drawing people together across the aisle in pursuit of economic justice. His rhetoric may seem to alienate the middle/right, but his more conservative and moderate endorsements show this isn’t quite the case: he’s a candidate who could represent a wide spectrum of people, rather than solely the default Democrats.

Furthermore, in contrast to Sanders’ lengthy list of activist endorsers, most of Warren’s outspoken advocates are notably wealthy, such as Chrissy Teigen and Scarlett Johansson, and few are activists. These particular celebrity endorsements demonstrate the very different strengths of Sanders and Warren: He is able to unite the left and right against capitalism, and she is equipped to keep the wealthy class just as wealthy as they were before. The New York Times, as a business and a for-profit institution, also recognizes the threat that Sanders poses to the establishment; thus, their recommendation of Warren (in tandem with Klobuchar) was not surprising to me. The Times, just like Hollywood celebrities, touts feminist rhetoric to masquerade as progressive without supporting any real change.

Consistency

By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that Elizabeth Warren was a Republican for most of her political career, and only changed parties in 1996. This means she probably voted for George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan (she has refused to comment on whether or not she voted for Reagan). For many, this conversion demonstrates that she may be someone who can convince other Republicans to switch over, just as she did (although her polls suggest otherwise). 

Although I believe that Warren’s changeover was genuine, throughout her career as a lawyer, she proved time and time again that her priorities lie in the establishment—a pattern worth noting as we conjecture how she would act as potential president. As a professor at Penn in the 1980s, she earned a reputation among for avoiding minority issues on campus. Those who knew her described her as “mainstream” and “conservative.” In 1992, Colorado held a referendum opposing gay rights, and academics agreed to boycott events in the state—but not Warren. She agreed to speak at a panel there, placing her ambition and career ahead of people of marginalized groups who she now claims she’ll fight for, if only they vote her into office.

In the ’90s, Warren worked as a lawyer for Dow Chemical. When tens of thousands of women reported that the silicone gel breast implants manufactured by Dow had made them sick, Warren “used every trick in the book,” according to a support group for victims of the incident, to convince cheat women out of the money the company owed them. “They don’t have any loyalty to American workers. They have loyalty to exactly one thing, and that is their own profits,” asserted Warren in June, referring to corporations. She should know; she played for their team.

She’s also not afraid to profit off of that team. Though she claimed to refuse big-money donations for her campaign, few realize that she had already stockpiled corporate donations from her senate campaign. The New York Times reports $10.4 million transferred from her 2018 senate campaign to her 2020 senate run. For her campaign to claim to be “100 percent grass-roots funded” is disingenuous and hypocritical.

Bernie Sanders, however, has maintained remarkable consistency throughout his entire political career. His speeches from the ’80s and ’90s are just as relevant today, and he speaks with the same rhetoric and principle. He pointed out income inequality and the one percent back in 1976, asserting, “The fundamental issue facing us in the state is that … the richest ½ of 1 percent earn as much as the bottom 27 percent,” and he’s continuing to bring that topic to the debate stage today. This past June, echoing speeches he’s been making for over thirty years, Sanders said, “Tens of millions of working-class people, in the wealthiest country on earth, are suffering under incredible economic hardship, desperately trying to survive.” In short, Warren wants to avoid a class war. Bernie recognizes that there already is one, and it’s time for the working class to win it.

Policy

Bernie Sanders’ background shows me that he’s the only candidate truly committed to pulling the party, and entire political spectrum, leftward. His proposals, like Medicare for all, canceling student debt, a wealth tax of up to eight percent and the Green New Deal, would not have even entered many of his fellow candidates’ field of view were it not for his 2016 campaign. Yes, Warren shares some of Sanders’ more socialist proposals, but even within their common policies, I believe their differences need to be highlighted. Bernie Sanders has been pushing for a wealth tax since 1997. Warren’s wealth-tax momentum gathered speed by piggy-backing onto Sanders’ idea and watering it down. He begins to tax income that exceeds $32.1 million; hers protects wealth up to $50.1 million. Even stretching into the $10.1 billion (BILLION) bracket and beyond, Warren never taxes above three percent; Sanders’ grows to eight percent. His plan would raise almost double the amount of Warren’s in a 10 year period. While I would be happy to see any implementation of a wealth tax, these numbers demonstrate a significant difference to me.

Moreover, Sanders is far more firm in his convictions on how the revenue his tax would generate would be used. Sanders recognizes the absurdity of the fact that we are the only wealthy nation on earth that does not guarantee health care for its citizens. Warren agrees that health care is a human right, but she has already softened her stance, pushing instead for a Buy-In Public Option. Due to her lack of consistent principles, I don’t trust her to prioritize social programs when it comes to government spending. In 2017, she voted for a bill that would increase military spending up to $700 billion. A full $60 billion is allocated specifically for conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries—a budget Trump is already putting to use. War benefits no one but the wealthy; voting for increased military spending is a vote for big oil. I do not believe her willingness to compromise with the establishment is a good quality, especially when you consider her political career and employment background. Her concessions have continuously prioritized other things over the good of the working people.

Of course we all live and participate in capitalism (we have no choice!), but I firmly believe late-stage capitalism has inherent ties to injustice and imperialism. Therefore, I am extremely unwilling to vote for a candidate who so freely, openly, and proudly admits to being “a capitalist to her bones.” As much as I’d like to believe Warren truly cares about the good of the people, we must recognize that prioritization of capitalism often subverts the well-being of minorities, women, families, and global peace. While Warren attempts to reconcile capitalism with social justice, Sanders understands that capitalism is the root of many problems in America and worldwide. His foreign policy rhetoric, while virtually absent in his 2016 campaign, deserves discussion now. Sanders is unique because he does not engage in American exceptionalism. He has long-condemned the US intervention in Latin American countries and the events of the Cold War, and currently opposes US aid in Israel. No other candidate so starkly opposes the modern imperialism of the United States.

Sanders again stands firmly to the left of Warren on the topic of deportation. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who supports pausing all deportations. Warren believes we should focus deportation efforts on “actual criminals and real threats.” My question is, in a state where being brown-skinned is equated with committing a crime, how can facilities like the Immigration and Naturalization Service be trusted to determine who an “actual criminal” is? Only a halt of all deportation can begin to resolve the crisis at the border; healing the xenophobia in this country begins with policies that include minorities. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Warren’s “plan” does not prioritize the well-being of brown people in concentration camps.

Finally, a very serious issue that is almost never discussed: a candidate’s belief on whether prisoners deserve the right to vote. Bernie believes that voting is a fundamental right. He understands the ties between suppression of the Black vote and mass incarceration in America. He is the only candidate who believes all individuals should be able to vote while incarcerated. Warren believes you earn the right to vote once you are released. Her “plan” does not prioritize the rights of Black men and women who have been unjustly incarcerated. 

The Fundamental Difference

I believe that capitalism is broken. I believe it is the root of poverty, the cause of the extreme income inequality in the United States, the motive for war, the justification for mass incarceration and deportation, the reason college is so expensive, and the reason Amazon workers go into cardiac arrest on the job and are told to “get back to work.”

As a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders agrees with me. As a socially-minded democrat, Elizabeth Warren wants to preserve this broken system. We use similar language to talk about the two candidates, and they can both be seen as leaders of progressivism in the Democratic party. But only one is truly here for a political upheaval. Only one places emphasis on grassroots movements over oligarchical politics. Only one has the establishment terrified. Only one has an effective plan of change that involves empowering an enormous and diverse coalition behind him. Sure, Elizabeth Warren has a plan to try to change things behind the scenes and compromise with Republicans. Bernie Sanders is all about rallying the people, putting pressure on elected officials, and supporting young politicians (like AOC). How did women earn the right to vote without being able to vote on that amendment? Protests and organization. How did the Civil Rights movement gain any sort of leverage? Protests and organization. While I hesitate directly compare him to these legendary historical champions of social justice, I also recognize that Sanders is the first leader of this archetype that we’ve seen in a long time. The (often intense) dedication of his following speaks to this power, and he openly expresses his desire to use the power of the presidency to further grassroots efforts. His people-focused rhetoric (“Not me. Us.”) is unique among candidates.

As activist Assata Shakur says, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” The time for centrism and concessions to moderates is over. Sanders is our best shot at actually changing the class system in America. If he does not win the primary, I will gladly campaign for Warren (or whoever wins the nomination) with everything I have. But when given the rare opportunity to vote for a candidate who truly represents my principles, I’m going to take it.

4 Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s worth debating the “socialist” issue, but I do think it’s odd how much emphasis is put on Bernie’s endorsements in this article. What I find even odder is that Joe Rogan’s semi-endorsement of Bernie is taken to be evidence that Bernie has conservative supporters. First of all, Joe Rogan could best be described as a socialist libertarian, and I don’t think he’s ever voted Republican. Second of all, the author does not name a single conservative who supports Bernie. He might be able to pick up the libertarian vote, but social conservatives… that’s quite unlikely. If you’re voting for Bernie, you’re making the bet that not only will ALL Democratic voters have his back, but so will a good number of regretful Trump voters. Is there evidence this is safe? Probably not, but vote how you will.

  2. Well, as a socially conservative Democrat, I’m voting for Bernie because I agree that the time for systemic change is now. Trump is a symptom of larger problems. I’m convinced Bernie has the support of our youngest generation, the ones whose futures most hang in the balance. More voters will turn out and get involved in the movement if he wins the primary. I’m betting on inspired grassroots action.

  3. I’m really concerned with the the political spectrum moving over leftword. I don’t believe capitalism is the root of the problems you described. I believe it is in fact big government that implements systems that contradict capitalism — causing strain for those affected by businesses and leading those companies to conduct inhumane actions. Our economy is capitalist, yet our government institutes socialist policies. Every civilization under socialism has ended in poverty and ruin for all, except the few oligarchs in the government. I hope this doesn’t happen to the United States, and I hope we can instead solve issues by mobilizing individuals to take action, and lessening the extreme control and contradicting beaurocracy of our government.

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