Home / General / Is Bernie Sanders’s Left-Liberalism Categorically Different Than Elizabeth Warren’s? [SPOILER: No]

Is Bernie Sanders’s Left-Liberalism Categorically Different Than Elizabeth Warren’s? [SPOILER: No]


The faction that crosses the line between “Bernie is my first choice” and “the Democratic Party must become a Bernie personality cult” insists that the use of the label “socialist” makes him different than Elizabeth Warren in not merely degree but kind, even if Warren’s actual agenda is if anything to Bernie’s left because, er, MASS POLITICS something something. One inconvenient problem for this faction is that Bernie himself keeps defining his “socialism” as…New Deal/Great Society liberalism:

His latest big speech was a case in point. Only if Bernie is a New Dealer, this puts him not only in the same tradition as Elizabeth Warren, but as…Barack Obama, America’s most neoliberal president ever! This is very disturbing.

How does one maintain the fiction that Bernie is offering something categorically different that the other candidates seeking to expand the New Deal/Great Society tradition? Well, you can’t, but you can try:

For Warren, the solution to our economic ills already exists in well-regulated capitalism. “I believe in markets,” she said in a recent podcast interview. “I believe in the benefits that come from markets, that two people coming together, or two companies, or a company and a person coming together to exchange goods and services, yay.” Warren believes today’s socioeconomic ills are the result of high concentrations of power and wealth that can be resolved with certain regulatory tools and interventions. If corporate chief executives and financiers behave badly, she says, we should jail them — no special rules for the rich. If companies grow so large that they exert undue control over our markets and our lives, the government should break them up. If companies ignore consumers and employees to benefit shareholders, eliminate their incentives with regulatory curbs.

But for Sanders, those solutions come up short. For a number of reasons — alienation and disengagement among the electorate, and the extraordinary power of big business and finance over government — he doesn’t believe that even the cleverest, most uniformly applied regulations will solve what he views as a political and economic crisis. Instead, he aims to transfer power over several key segments of life to the people — by creating a set of universal economic rights that not only entitle citizens to particular benefits (such as medical care, education and child care) but also give those citizens a say in how those sectors are governed: in short, democratic socialism. And that means building a movement, not just a presidential campaign.

Except that not only does Warren support all of these policies, she has a more detailed plan to give “the people” more say in their economic life than Bernie does. And both Warren and Bernie believe in “well-regulated markets”; Bernie is not in fact seeking to nationalize the means of production. (I wonder what Breunig thinks, say, the Securities and Exchange Commission as envisioned by FDR did.)

For Sanders, the programs he’s advancing — Medicare-for-all, free public college tuition, universal child care and pre-K — aren’t just meant to help struggling Americans; they’re designed to bring millions of disaffected citizens back to politics and mobilize them to protect what Sanders calls their “economic rights.”

Again, Warren favors all of these policies and she has explicitly tied them to economic rights.

None of that will be easy, especially when Sanders is no longer in a two-person race and others are borrowing his policy ideas, if not his overall goals. But for those who see our political moment as a crisis greater in breadth and content than a few unenforced or misbegotten laws, Sanders’s wide-ranging, historical approach may have greater appeal on its second try than its first.

To implicitly characterize Warren as seeing no greater crisis in American politics than “a few unenforced or misbegotten laws” is the most intelligence-insulting bullshit imaginable. Indeed, she has a much more comprehensive vision for addressing the crisis created by the anti-democratic elements of American politics than Bernie does.

Which of these candidates you prefer is a question of judgment, but the idea that using a magic word makes Bernie’s politics fundamentally different is just abject nonsense that can’t be supported by Bernie’s own agenda and description of his intentions.

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