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KAO: Democratic hopefuls differ in their views

Column: Left on Red

It is easy to think that Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are the same. They are the two most Left candidates in the Democratic primary field, and they have many similar policies. That does not mean they are interchangeable as candidates.

Sanders has a theory of power that is premised on mobilizing a popular movement of working people, to exert power both in and out the halls of government. Among other things, he has used his influence to encourage his supporters to stand in solidarity with striking workers on picket lines. With his campaign slogan, “Not Me. Us,” Sanders makes it clear he wants to build a coalition centered on the people instead. 

As an insurgent candidate, he knows all too well of the pitfalls that can befall a president not rooted in a popular movement. In Washington, D.C., campaign promises are often smothered by an entrenched ruling class.

Warren approaches power another way. A lawyer by training and an expert on bankruptcy, she is well-versed in the nuances of the state bureaucracy. Warren derives much of her legitimacy from her fluency in bureaucracy, with which she is able to formulate a wide range of policies. “She’s got a plan for that,” is one of her campaign slogans.

But Warren is a technocrat. It is obvious once she is in the White House, the affairs of government will be conducted by the members of the policymaking caste. The public will be left outside the gates of 1600 Penn. 

There is not as much of an emphasis on building and maintaining a popular movement that will continue to operate after the election cycle for Warren. As far as mobilizing the people goes, Warren does not see beyond Nov. 3, 2020. 

The differences between Sanders and Warren become even starker on the question of political philosophy. Sanders is a Democratic socialist, whereas Warren has declared herself a “capitalist to (her) bones.” She stood up and applauded when President Donald J. Trump attacked socialism in his State of the Union address. 

Though it can be said Sanders is more akin to a social Democrat in the Nordic vein, he belongs to a Left-wing tradition that is critical of capitalism. He has no qualms about fighting the rich. 

But Warren believes in capitalism. Though deeply critical of the actions of large corporations, Warren thinks the contemporary savagery of capitalism is merely the result of “corruption,” and that a capitalist system that has rules to ensure fair markets — a good capitalism — can exist. This is a myth.  

This philosophical contrast shows why Sanders has led Warren in championing the working class. Sanders is a tireless exponent of Medicare for All. It is his core issue. Sanders will fight tooth and nail for Medicare for All, and it is a cause he is absolutely committed to. He also wants to cancel every penny of student loan debt and healthcare debt, which would free the working class from a crushing regime that only enriches the wealthy. 

Warren wants to cancel student debt too, but her plan is far less generous than that of Sanders, canceling only up to $50,000 worth of debt. While she has expressed rhetorical support for Medicare for All, she does not seem as committed to it, and she has waffled multiple times when questioned on whether or not Medicare for All would raise taxes (it likely would, but Medicare for All would be less expensive than the current health insurance system, so people would end up saving money overall).

Foreign policy is where their differences are most apparent. Sanders is rightfully suspicious of U.S. power abroad. To illustrate, Sanders led a legislative effort to suspend U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Warren did support Sanders’ effort on Yemen, but she seems much more comfortable with U.S. hegemony. 

An egregious example of this attitude was in a series of tweets, where she said the existential crisis of climate change was a threat to U.S. military readiness (besides wreaking havoc worldwide, the U.S. military is a huge producer of emissions).

There is also the controversy over Warren’s claim of Native American heritage. She has incensed many Native Americans, who have criticized her for what they rightfully deem as an offensive act. While Warren has apologized, what she has done shows disrespect for one of the most marginalized minority groups in the U.S. It does not reflect well on her judgment or character. 

I am a staunch supporter of Sanders. He is the only candidate who has taken an unapologetic stance against the ruling class and is willing to confront the ravages of capitalism. That being said, I could live with Elizabeth Warren as president, as she could still advance a progressive agenda that would improve the condition of the working class. But Sanders is better.

Samuel Kao is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in history. His column "Left on Red" runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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