Though both have used the label of progressive, Warren has yet to call for radical change.
In the 2020 Democratic primary race, two candidates seem to have made a name for themselves as the most progressive: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Many media outlets seem to treat these candidates as practically identical, both representing the same progressive movement in America.
Before recent developments, Warren and Sanders indeed formed a sort of coalition due to their natural allyship as the furthest left of the candidates. However, as the candidates continue to outline their policy and people have begun to ask more questions, the differences have become more apparent.
Healthcare has become one of the key issues of this primary race, and many different options have been given for handling this massive issue. Sanders’s policy, outlined in his “Medicare for All” bill, supports a single-payer system of healthcare, meaning no out-of-pocket expenses for any healthcare (a policy almost all other industrialized nations have). Warren, while claiming to support Medicare for All, makes no mention of a single-payer program on her official policies. As recently as 2012 she has disavowed single-payer, citing the Affordable Care Act as a more realistic solution. In the 2020 campaign, Warren has not vocally disavowed single-payer, but refuses to identify it as the focus of her plan. Both candidates may have sympathy towards single-payer, but Sanders has clearly placed himself as the only candidate willing to fight for it.
On the issue of foreign policy, the senators seem to have different goals for the role of the U.S. in the world. Warren prioritizes “American interests first and foremost.” Sanders sees how this line of thinking has led to disastrous American intervention in places all across the globe. In places like Palestine and Venezuela, he prioritizes the will and wellbeing of the people, not the invested capital that American interests want to protect.
Beyond these important policy differences, there is a glaring difference in the candidates’ attitudes towards how progress ought to be attained in America. Sanders recognizes that organizing, protesting and striking are the only real ways justice has been obtained historically. He says he wants to be an “Organizer-in-Chief,” indicating his desire to spur on these movements to push for the change he wants. Warren focuses her campaign on “having a plan”, meaning a legal policy, for all problems. The reality is that these plans will never be able to achieve fundamental change in the American system, they will only slightly reform the injustices.
There are also incredibly important differences in the candidates’ political histories. Warren was a registered Republican until 1996. Sanders was arrested in 1963 for participating in a civil rights protest. In congress, Warren supported budget proposals that increased the military budget. Sanders opposed all of them. Warren supported Israel vocally in the 2014 Gaza conflict, citing its “right to defend itself.” Sanders spoke against Israel’s use of force and called it “indiscriminate.
Sanders’s progressivism was recently recognized by three of the representatives in “The Squad”: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement represents an approval from America’s struggling middle class and millennial generation. Omar and Tlaib’s endorsements represent an approval of Sanders’s progressive views on foreign policy and geopolitical relations.
Many may argue that Warren is willing to occupy a stance closer to the middle ground in order to pass legislation through a tough senate. The reality is that this “compromise” approach has already been failing at achieving progressive reforms for decades. Democrats continue to allow themselves to slip closer to the center with a vain hope that Republicans will do the same. It is time for a true progressive to pull the democrats and the American people towards demanding these reforms.
The fundamental difference between the candidates was shown quite recently when Sanders was directly asked about the differences between himself and Warren. He cited Warren calling herself a “capitalist to [her] bones,” which Sanders said he is not. This ideological distinction is what creates the true rift between the senators. Warren favors small reforms while retaining the exploitative nature of American capitalism, whereas Bernie recognizes its fundamental injustice and seeks to change the system at its core.