Of the now more than 20 candidates running in the Democratic presidential primaries in the lead up to the 2020 U.S. elections, only a few can legitimately call themselves progressives on the basis of their records. Although she was a registered Republican for the first half of the 1990s, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) is certainly one of them, as even her opponent Bernie Sanders said in an interview on ABC’s This Week last Sunday. Further, in terms of policy, Warren has some of the most detailed positions of anyone in the race.
As someone who came to be one of her country’s leading experts on bankruptcy law, the former Harvard law professor and some colleagues made a then shocking discovery using an empirical approach during the late 1980s that discredited the theories of the right and center right that posited that bankruptcies are mostly the result of laziness, but rather are usually due to things like health issues or job loss.
As Keith M. Lundin, a Tennessee judge who provided Warren and her colleagues with data from his bankruptcy court later explained about what their study of his and other records showed, “The answers were unsettling. They got answers that were inconsistent with the model that the bankers and the creditors were selling us on.’’
It was probably after discovering this that the Senator’s journey to the left wing of the Democratic Party began, a journey that now sees Warren, who is also the author of some ten books, ticking up in the polls, although at present she’s still seen as a long-shot to win her party’s nomination in such a crowded field.
Amid this slowly growing momentum, Warren has also taken up the slogan that suits her somewhat wonky approach to the issues, “I have a plan for that”, a phrase that has begun to feature prominently in her speeches on the campaign trail.
It’s a slogan that seems to resonate with many of those who hear it; as Mari Urbina of the group Indivisible told Politico after the Massachusetts Senator spoke in Houston at the ‘She the People’ forum addressing the difficulties faced by women of color on April 24th,“It was audibly clear the audience connected with Warren’s ‘I got a plan,’ because they were eager to hear specific solutions to the real pain points facing women of color.”
So, as the media always asks when a politician advances bold policy proposals from the left, how would a President Warren pay for them? The Senator’s plan is to create a wealth tax of 2% on fortunes over $50 million and 3% on those over a billion. This is meant to create a large new revenue stream not dependent on making Americans pay higher taxes on their incomes.
Always more policy focused than most other politicians, during her time in the Senate, Warren’s biggest accomplishment was probably creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, an agency dedicated to protecting Americans from the dishonest practices of some lenders like credit card companies. This not only made her an enemy of Republicans and their media allies but also some in her own party like former Vice President Joe Biden, who had long standing connections to these very creditors.
In a somewhat similar vein, perhaps the proposal that sets Senator Warren apart from the other candidates in the current campaign is to offer comprehensive relief to those suffering under the weight of student loan debt, with her campaign creating a calculator that easily shows how much respite individuals could see under her plan.
As reported by Andy Kroll of Rolling Stone, who broke down some of the numbers, “Warren’s 2020 higher education plan… calls for the immediate cancellation of up to $50,000 in debt for the vast majority of the 45 million Americans who cumulatively owe $1.5 trillion (and counting) in student loans. Her proposal would also eliminate tuition and fees for undergrads at every public two- and four-year college in America, as well as invest tens of billions of dollars more into Pell grants and into funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”
While some have argued that these proposals are unfair to those who have already paid their student loan debt, besides the fact that university tuition is growing ever more expensive, by this logic something like Medicare for All shouldn’t be passed because it would be unfair to those who had to wait until they were 65 to receive benefits that would accrue to all Americans regardless of age under a universal system.
The former Harvard law professor surely understands what many of her fellow citizens are going through in terms of healthcare, as her family suffered greatly in the wake of her father having a heart attack when she was 12, creating such havoc in her family’s finances that at one point their car was repossessed. Following her mother’s return to work, a 13 year old Warren began working in her aunt’s restaurant.
Interestingly, although she’s still a co-sponsor of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, Senator Warren has introduced an alternate plan of her own, The Consumer Health Insurance Protection Act, cosponsored by, among others, Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, two of her more centrist opponents in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
While she has received some criticism from progressives for offering up this alternative and less comprehensive plan that builds on the already existing Affordable Care Act, which takes measures like limiting price increases by private insurers and tying premiums to income to ensure that citizens on these plans do not face an insurmountable burden if they get sick.
As Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein wrote as a reply to some of these critics, Warren’s reasoning in offering a separate plan is probably pragmatic, “None of these senators is giving up on single-payer as an aspiration, but they apparently recognize that ‘Medicare for all’ is a long-run goal, and that they have a serious responsibility to also have a short-term, achievable and significant plan to improve on the post-Donald Trump, post-Paul Ryan status quo.”
It will ultimately be up to primary voters to decide if this piecemeal, short term approach is enough.
As a Canadian, the most important thing for this writer when following U.S. elections is usually foreign policy as the United States and its allies, including my own country, have become increasingly wedded to a dangerous militarism that has led to the slaughter of countless innocents in south Asia, the Middle East, Africa and possibly South America if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton get their way.
engaged too much with these issues in the past and at times seemed to
have conservative instincts but in a recent Foreign Affairs essay she
penned, she explained that she wanted to create a foreign policy that
benefits ordinary workers over corporations and elites. In the last
section on American militarism she wrote, “The costs have been
extraordinarily high, but these wars have not succeeded even on their
own terms. We’ve “turned the corner” in Afghanistan so many
times that it seems we’re now going in circles. After years of
constant war, Afghanistan hardly resembles a functioning state, and
both poppy production and the Taliban are again on the rise. The
invasion of Iraq destabilized and fragmented the Middle East, creating enormous suffering and precipitating the
deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The region remains a
tangled mess—the promise of the Arab Spring crushed, Iran
emboldened, Syria devastated, the Islamic State (or ISIS) and its
offshoots stubbornly resilient, and a massive refugee crisis
threatening to destabilize Europe. Neither military nor civilian
policymakers seem capable of defining success, but surely this is not
Until now, it was unthinkable in American politics that the left-wing of the Democratic party would become such a force and Elizabeth Warren deserves at least a share of the credit for this. It will be interesting to watch her face off in the coming debates with the likes of Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and her old nemesis, former Vice President Joe Biden. While she hasn’t been getting the coverage being given to many of her peers in the race, Elizabeth Warren is a candidate for American progressives to watch.