SETTING THE PACE
Elizabeth Warren Is Running for President. The Other 2020 Democrats Are Just Jockeying for Position.
Her proposal to break up the tech monopolists is only the latest example of a campaign that’s pointing to a better way forward for Democrats.
Yes, I’m bummed out Sherrod Brown decided not to run. I thought he had, potentially, the most persuasive argument by far. One, I can retake Ohio and those Rust Belt states Hillary lost. I can win. Two, even as I’m electable, I’m not a mushy centrist. I was talking populist economics long before most of these people.
But, he’s out.
Of the ones currently declared, then, I have no horse, and if you’re a regular reader you know I’ve vowed to try to keep it that way until we’re much, much farther along. So count this as a mere observation and nothing close to an endorsement:
From what I see, Elizabeth Warren is running the best race so far by miles.
Warren is doing something none of the rest of them are doing. She’s running for president. The others are just positioning. I suppose that’s not necessarily true of Bernie Sanders, who has one gear and we know what it is, and we already know from last time what his positions are (although he has added a wealth tax, which I endorse heartily). But all the others are running for wokest progressive. Warren’s running for president.
What do I mean? She’s put out a bunch of tough, meaty proposals. They mean something. They communicate: “This is what I will do, and it will constitute serious change.” Last week’s proposal to break up the tech companies was ambitious and brave. Most Democrats are afraid of tech money. The Democrats have taken back the House, and they’re going to be holding dozens of good and necessary hearings. But here’s one hearing I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to convene: a panel on regulating Facebook.
But Warren went right at it. Monopoly power. It’s (yet another) huge and under-discussed crisis in this country, a grotesque distortion of the market that hurts consumers in a hundred ways every day. If you want to learn more about monopoly power generally and the tech giants specifically, go visit the website of the fine people at the Open Markets Institute. But suffice it to say for present purposes that Warren has laid out a plan that the anti-monopoly experts say is intelligent and practical.
That’s just the latest example. She’s made a bold proposal to limit shareholder power, and another one calling for universal child care. And of course there was the wealth tax, which my Beast colleague Jonathan Alter praised to the heavens a few weeks back. She’s putting the meat on the bones of new Democratic economic message, and no one else is even a close second so far.
There’s one other thing she’s been doing well. She knows how to handle the socialist question. This is important, because “socialism/Venezuela” is going to be a good chunk of the Trump-Fox campaign. She knows what to say. I’m a capitalist “to my bones,” as she once put it. What I’m doing is fixing capitalism.
Boom. Easy answer. That John Hickenlooper disaster on Morning Joe last week was jaw-dropping. Dude! It’s not hard. Here’s what you say: “I’m not a socialist. I’m a capitalist. What Democrats want to do is fix capitalism, just like Franklin Roosevelt did. Because what we’re living under now isn’t real capitalism. Real capitalism provides opportunity for working- and middle-class people, not just the ones at the top. We’re in the business of saving capitalism. It’s the Republicans who’ve been distorting and destroying it.”
That is the spirit of what has been saying, and it’s just right. Some people on the left won’t like it, but they’re a small group, comparatively speaking. And while they might not like the word “capitalism,” they’ll be perfectly fine with Warren’s specific ideas.
As I said, this column is not an endorsement. Warren has her downsides. She hasn’t only mishandled the Native American thing, as it's kept reemerging; the fact that she described herself that way on her 1986 Texas state bar registration seems really hard to defend. She’s also uniquely hated by corporate America and Wall Street. Lots of those people don’t like Donald Trump and would back a Democrat, even a fairly leftish one, I think. But if Warren’s the nominee, they’ll be all-in for Trump. This is not a moral judgment. If anything, it speaks well of her. I’m just saying it would make winning harder. And finally, well, the Democratic Party is one-for-three on Massachusetts liberals, and the one who won the presidency wasn’t really all that liberal, and he won 60 years ago.
So she has her weak points. I’m not at all sure she could beat Trump and Fox (since Fox News will be an arm of his campaign, I’ll try to remember to always say “Trump and Fox,” and everyone else should, too). And the latent sexism in the vote that helped sink Hillary Clinton hasn’t gone anywhere. In the Trump era, it’s probably gotten worse, if anything.
Who knows about all that? Not me, not you, not nobody. But this I do know: Elizabeth Warren is defining what the Democratic Party ought to stand for and do so far. Her proposals are strong and smart. They’re not “radical” or “anti-business.” They are anti-multi-millionaire. To that, I say it’s high time.