After several months of campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are playing very nice with each other. But the rest of us are starting to debate the differences between the two more sharply, whether thoughtfully or absurdly and dishonestly.
It should be clear from reading Jacobin’s coverage of Elizabeth Warren that she is not a corporate shill, nor an enemy of working people. She’s an actual progressive Democrat, proposing real reforms. But she is a progressive Democrat at a time when the bar has been raised (finally, thankfully) beyond progressivism.
Just four years ago, both Sanders and Warren were political outliers, and no mainstream Democrat would touch “fringe” issues like Medicare for All or a Green New Deal with a ten-foot pole. Ten years ago, vague promises of “Yes, we can” seemed enough to win hearts and minds and then sell us more of the same old “No, we can’t.” Twenty years ago, Democratic candidates refused to even admit they were “liberals,” let alone radicals or socialists.
There has been a sea change in politics. It’s been building over these past two decades alongside grotesque economic polarization, endless wars, and racist scapegoating. And it has accelerated profoundly in the last few years.
It is undeniably good for the Left — and a sign of the leftward leaning, radicalizing times that we live in — that Warren and Sanders have dominated the political debates and mainstream discussions during the primary season. Bernie’s signature “Medicare for All” proposal went from a pipe dream of leftists to the yardstick against which other platforms are evaluated, seemingly overnight. To watch Bernie and Warren team up in primary debates to destroy the pro–private insurance arguments of the moderate Democrats on national television is like a dream come true.
Yet denying that there are differences between Warren and Sanders, or that they matter for the future of this country and the building of left movements beyond 2020, makes no sense either.
On the policies themselves, Bernie’s solutions are more systemic and far-reaching. Warren’s and Sanders’s relationships to the Democratic Party and to Democratic Party donors are indicative of contrasting approaches to the political elite. And their bases of support demonstrate very unequal capacities to build the kind of movements we need on the ground to take on the billionaire class.
To raise all this is not to pettily score points for one candidate nor to nitpick the weaknesses of another, but because it actually matters which direction we go in. There are two reasons why: 2020, and 2021.