Welcome to the race for 2020. In November of just under two years, Americans will vote for their next president. And though it's often touted to cliche, this really is the most important election we've ever had. Why? Because the list of extremely serious, even cataclysmic problems facing humanity is broad, and our time left to solve them grows thin.
For starters, the coming financial crises, the growing threats of wars & conflict, and the recently announced 11 year time limit to solve climate change and much more means there is much to be risked on this vote. Elections can be crazy and complex processes, none more so than the last one, so see my upcoming articles for a full explanation and guide to understanding the American 2020 presidential elections.
The race indeed has already begun. Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator from Massachusetts has officially revealed she is seeking the presidency in 2020. The first major candidate to announce, in a video posted on New Year's Eve she stated she's launching an exploratory committee for a 2020 run. What's an exploratory committee? It's political parlance for when candidates say they're not sure whether they have a shot at winning an election, so they put a team together as a legally registered entity to probe the factors affecting their chances. It allows them to raise money and do other efforts to scope out their presidential bid, but usually the candidate is already decided they want in.
Does she have a strong chance at winning, and would it be a good thing for her to do so? If Bernie doesn’t get in the race and Tulsi Gabbard doesn’t pan out, then yes, definitely. She’s in my top three - with her and Tulsi both a somewhat distant secondish behind Bernie. As much as a fan of her in the Senate and as a movement leader as I have been, and as much as I think she can win if she is the nominee, ultimately I would not have her as my first choice.
Let's find out why.
So firstly, who is Elizabeth Warren? Since her first election in 2012, Sen. Warren is the second most progressive US senator after Bernie Sanders, and has been a champion on important issues in the fight against America's insanely corrupt financial sector for many years. Without her leadership on many of those issues, Wall Street's grip on America would be even tighter. Her expertise in financial policy stem from her years as a bankruptcy professor, and she has a passion for helping people, especially those who've been abused and taken advantage of. Enter the financial crash of 2008. She rallied for years after against the acidic criminality on Wall Street and the outrageous corruption in America's campaign finance system that was a key part in allowing the criminals to cause the crash and get away with it. She proposed ways to deal and with the crisis to prevent other similar disasters, and indeed President Obama formed at her urging, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a regulatory body to look out for the average American consumer in the financial world. She’s always been a strong advocate for Medicare for All, a living wage, and free college (university) tuition. All excellent stuff.
In 2012 she ran for and won her senate race in the state of Massachusetts, her first time in political office. She quickly shot to fame amongst the Democratic Party as a national figure fighting for the little guy when it came to Wall Street abuse, and other issues. So great was her respect and importance in the party that she was a major factor in who won the last Democratic primary, back in 2016 (more on that later).
Her confrontation against the corruption in the financial sector has never abated, to this day.
Because of all this, she's been a hero of mine and many on the left of the Democratic Party, in the past.
So what's the problem? Well, frankly, and certainly unfortunately, she's not quite progressive enough. And that's shown more so in the past couple years.
Let's start with policy. There are a few key areas where Sen Warren has lagged behind, or has voted the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, on the rest of the major issues, she’s been excellent - just a few key policy areas that need some improvement. That’s why, policy-wise, she’s my second favourite after Bernie (we’ll get to the other reason why, later) but a great second after the reams of candidates there’ll be in this race.
On some of those need-for-improvement areas: she hasn’t yet been vocal or helped push the case for the Green New Deal, or real comprehensive criminal justice reform, and she voted in favour of this year’s massively over inflated defense budget. Among other things. Don’t get me wrong, I think she’d support these ideals as a cabinet member or senator under a progressive president, and I think she believes in them. But believing in them and working furiously to enact these policies, putting up the massive fight against the establishment that’s required to bring about those new ideas, is a totally different thing.
That leads to the second and much more important reason why Sen. Warren isn’t the right Dem choice for 2020. Anti-establishmentism - or rather, not quite enough of it. Once again, don’t get me wrong, Sen. Warren has been fantastic on fighting against the power of outside interests and corrupt money - on Wall Street, in the healthcare & pharmaceutical industries, big banks and more, and good against the corrupting effects of money in politics.
But it’s the required fight against the internals of Congress and the D.C. powerbase that leaves more to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, Sen. Warren hates the corruption, would vote and support any effort to get the corrupting money out of politics, and has done so. But she’s also shown tendencies of trusting, working with, or compromising with the corrupt system, in order for a better deal later. This is the potential problem with her candidacy.
In politics, if you want to do the right thing and affect big change, you often have to stand up to your otherwise-friends almost as much as you do your enemies. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is fundamentally corrupt. To the core. The entirety of the American political system is (again, more on that in a coming article). Simply put, on a lot of the key issues facing the US and the world today, it’s not just Republican, but also Democratic politicians that block the advancement of solutions, because they too get tremendous amounts of campaign cash from the rich people who profit off the world having its problems.
For the first few years of Sen. Warren’s tenure, she did a lot of work on battling Wall Street in the wake of the financial crash, and she rightly gained notoriety for it. But when the 2016 election rolled around, it was time for everyone to talk about all the issues, and for Democrats to self assess as a party. Going forward with Barack Obama leaving office, they had to see whether they were going to continue serving the moneyed special interests (as the vast majority of the party’s established officials had been since the early Clinton days), or whether they were going to evolve and return to their desperately needed role as a warrior for the working person.
This fight was the central issue that defined the 2016 race on the Democratic side, and frankly, the entire election.
For Sen. Warren, this is where these cracks started to show.
Going by her very positive record up till then, you’d think she’d emphatically push for the pro-worker, pro-social justice path for the party. It matches with her political profile perfectly, and she’d gained enormous respect from ordinary Democratic Party voters and members for how hard and passionately she’d fought for her agenda. In fact long before Bernie announced, major activist groups were urging her to run for president in that election to push for that exact platform. She’d gained such importance in the party, that after she made it clear she wasn’t running, everyone was waiting with baited breath through the entire primary as to which campaign she’d support - Bernie’s or Hillary’s. Knowing her endorsement alone would swing an enormous amount of dedicated voters and trust that candidate’s way, and pretty much guarantee them victory, everyone on the progressive side was excited for her to support Bernie, her partner in progressivism in the Senate.
No endorsement came. Throughout the whole primary, she declined to make a show of support for either side, till Hillary had won the final state. There were several things that meant Bernie and the progressive movement didn’t win that primary - and he would have absolutely crushed Trump in the general, no question - and one of them, unfortunately was Elizabeth Warren.
Why didn’t she go with Bernie and the progressive wing of the party? She’d worked so hard to fight for it for years? No one officially knows outside her inner circle, but my hunch is that she (like most Washington insiders) made an unfortunately totally erroneous assumption that Bernie had no chance of victory, and that Hillary was always going to win from the start. The Clintons are well known in political circles to have literal friends and enemies lists, to whose members they dish out rewards/punishments for their support, or lack thereof.
Not wanting to put herself in the bad books and sink chances of her affecting real change, she didn’t give Bernie her aid. But, in respect to her political background, she didn’t campaign against the progressive wing, either.
That was a big mistake. Huge. To put it short, the centrist wing of the Dem. Party have absolutely no intention of working with progressives and enacting policy that’s good for America but bad for their donors. As Jimmy Dore says, they would rather lose to a Republican than win with a progressive. So to abandon your political roots for their favour is absolutely folly.
Everybody understands her hopes in trying that tactic - you decide to begrudgingly play ball because you think it’s the only way you can affect meaningful change.
It continues. Since 2016, we’ve had a Democratic minority at every level of government. This really has been the time for Democrats to self-assess, and for the old guard to realise their donor led politics is destroying the party and the country. But those old guard, Establishment politicians won’t give up their donor led, corporation serving, ordinary-people-betraying way of doing things.
It’s what keeps them in power. So since the last election, a growing and energetic grassroots movement has sprung up from the wings of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign to fight back against the corrupt Democratic officials, kick them out of office, and take the party back. Sen. Warren has been absent from this fight. Whilst she’s been great on calling for campaign finance law to be passed, she’s done very little on actually fighting against and calling out the other Democrats who push the donor agenda. Don’t get me wrong, she hasn’t been backing those Democrats up, she’s just been rather mute on it all. And there have been plenty of opportunities to make noise.
Understandable perhaps if you are a rank-and-file member of the party - you might not want to jeopardise fellow Dems around you. But that’s not the correct view for someone looking to be the leader of a movement, whose whole theme is saying ‘enough is enough - no lesser of two evils anymore. We want rid of anyone who’s not for change.’
The Democrats, now the Party of Platitudes, whilst whaling on TV about Trump this and Russia that, have been falling over themselves to continue to pass the corporate, right wing policies that have crippled America, made the country despise Congress, and that helped loose the Dems the last election.
Sen. Warren has not pushed back enough against the Democrats doing this nearly enough, and has on rare occasion joined them in wrong votes (the military budget, for example).
Now, 2016 may have been a grave mistake that gave warning bells that the senator might not have the right strategy to properly fight the insider corruption. But the years since then signal conscious decision not to fight them. You cannot work with this corrupt Democratic (let alone the Republican) establishment and expect to pass a powerful, progressive platform. You have to vote them out, out, out!
There’s no appeasement here. This is key issue that severely criples Sen. Warren’s credibility to be the next Democratic leader, it pains me to say. If you’re not ready to anger blue dogs and cable news, or you’re nervous you’ll weaken the party as a whole in the wake of inevitable Republican attacks (which you absolutely won’t) by criticising Democrats, then unfortunately you’re just not the right person to lead this party, in this movement, at this critical time. Even if you’re the joint-second best on policy, and a very strong second to whomever would be third, fourth, etc.
Senator Warren has been a fantastic leader in her most progressive years, but we need someone who’s going to take this power-at-all-costs establishment head on. An FDR or LBJ style of political maneuvering. To do otherwise would tank the movement.
The senator was once heralded as the future of the party. How has her party-internal gloves-off approach left her support amongst the progressive base?
It’s bad. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of warmth for her out there amongst ordinary Democrats, but not as much as before, and there’s not nearly as much excitement and energy amongst the core grassroots base, particularly the young. Those voters who get out there and organise for you. They’re the folks who volunteer to knock on doors, to canvas voters, and convince independents to come vote for you. They’re key, and they want someone who’s going to fight the internal corruption of politics at every level.
In fact, the more towards the left of party go, the more towards disliking or even some anger towards the senator you get, for things like the 2016 mistake, or her couple bad votes. Again, ordinary people are demanding utter change, and someone to deliver it. They’re angry at people who have the opportunity to do so, but have decided not to use it, letting the corrupt get away with it.
So, given the fact that she’s somewhat lost the image of the all-out progressive & anti-Establishment crusader, her chances of winning the primary are weakened. Combine that with the fact without fighting to be a leader on some of the other issues of the time that have grown in prominence since 2016, she’s taken a bit of a backseat in voters’ minds from where she once was. Further still is the recent faux pas she made with the Native American DNA test, which damaged her image in the eyes of the progressive base in this era of desperately needed social change.
A few months ago, the senator released the results of a DNA test she undertook to show she had a small percentage of Native American ancestry, to rebuff the continuous vile comments made over the years by Pres. Trump about her claims to that heritage. However, this was seen by many on the left and in Native communities as an attempt play identity politics and win unearned favour, particularly after not having done anything extraordinary to fight for Native peoples in America, at a time of crisis for them. As a key example, though she supported the Sioux tribe in their fight against the pipeline construction at Standing Rock two years ago, she never went there, never put her full force behind it, never made it an election issue with her weight amongst voters in the party in an election year, or did much else to help. And on the many other issues facing Native populations in the Americas, few in power really work to help them.
I myself think that she probably also released the test results to make a right and needed stand against the unfettered and unchallenged lie train from Donald Trump, who seems to have carte blanche on bullying whomever he chooses, so to put him in his place. That objective was certainly a noble one. But the accusations of identity politics I think unfortunately also still stand.
This analysis then is a tale of two halves. I really liked Sen Warren as a progressive hero from the beginning, and I’m still largely a fan. Before Bernie announced in 2016, I was one of those people who was really gunning for her to jump in and lead the way. She’s a strong, very intelligent, truly caring and compassionate person, who in many ways would be the inspiring first female president that history has been waiting for.
I think she’s a force to be reckoned with in the Senate on the issues she cares about, and she will continue to shine in that roll as part of a progressive administration. But with the disaster of the 2016 primary, and her chosen and ultimately ineffective strategy in dealing with the powers that be, she’s picked up a lot of anger and cost herself a lot of key support and core progressive energy for a presidential race.
Don’t get me wrong, though - she could turn all her negatives around. For sure. If she pushes her progressivism and shows a new cutting edge set of tactics in fighting for those policies, she'd leap forward in everyone’s minds. I would absolutely love to see her pull that off.
And I believe she can do it. She absoblutely can. She has the heart and the intelligence. The worry is that the grip of consultants and pundits and establishment thinking on her campaign - as it has been on a couple of key decisions in her work - will misdirect her. That's a big worry.
I don’t think thus that she’ll win the Democratic Primary, if Bernie or another strong progressive also enters the race. Early polls are in fact showing this. If other progressives don’t hop in the race, she stands a much better chance, and could definitely win.
In the general election, I think she stands a wildly better chance at beating Donald Trump than any centrist candidate, and if I were American, I’d certainly vote for her there. But with Trump’s base being as insanely loyal and ever energetic for him as they are, I don’t think Sen. Warren would excite the American people enough to come out and stop him, unless she really ramps up her progressivism. Which I truly hope she does.
The final point is an important one - with the senator now in the running, if other big real left wing figures join the party, those who have a better chance at winning the general election, namely Bernie Sanders, the chances of those candidates winning the primary is considerably lessened, given that the progressive vote is split with Senator Warren in the field. That is very dangerous.
Talking of all the likely candidates by the way and who I’d support? Well, firstly certainly is Bernie Sanders - he’s not announced he’ll run yet, and honestly Sen. Warren’s decision to do so may convince Bernie not to (namely for the final reason listed above). But if he and all the other likely candidates decide they’re running too, then I’d rank Bernie as my first choice, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the House of Representatives and progressive powerhouse from Hawaii, and Sen. Warren as a good second.
I'm a big fan of the senator, always have been. I hope she corrects the record on a few key things, and progresses forward at full power. The rest of the base thinks similarly.
So that’s our first major candidate in the race. Whether or not Senator Warren goes on to win the primary to face Trump in the general, I think she’s done some great things for the party and America since she’s been in office. Though she has dropped the ball a few times in some key areas, if she gets her anti-establishment strategy right, then I think she’ll be a key player in the coming progressive wave.