In 2014, I gave a slight nod to Senator Elizabeth Warren over Senator Bernie Sanders in a widely read column on Common Dreams that went viral and was shared on social media by more than 100,000 people.
My analysis five years ago accurately predicted the impact a populist primary campaign from the left would have on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment. I was also right about the jump start such a campaign would give to social movement organizing and the progressive agenda after the election was over.
But Bernie wasn’t yet a proven star all the way back in November of 2014, and I incorrectly called Warren “far more charismatic and popular” when I argued she should lead the hypothetical populist dream team ticket.
After Sanders announced his candidacy six months later, in April 2015, the democratic socialist from Vermont quickly proved me wrong. I reported on his campaign in places like Madison, Wisconsin, Iowa City and Des Moines, Iowa and watched from the front row as his insurgent campaign caught fire while Warren sat on the sidelines, seemingly unwilling to cross paths with the Clinton machine.
The Sanders campaign and its popular slogans of “political revolution” against the “oligarchy” and the “billionaire class” moved the goalposts of what is politically possible to the left by several football fields. Sanders inspired millions of people to stand up and speak out as part of a “grassroots movement” that has largely pushed on independently of him ever since. It’s been Bernie’s world ever since, the Democratic party is just living in it.
In fact, the ascendancy of Bernie Sanders and the democratic socialist movement is only really paralleled in this political moment by the ascension of Donald Trump and alt-right neofascism. Elizabeth Warren has already made her place in history, but it's not clear yet that she can build a winning campaign.
That’s why, with all due respect to her, the 2020 Populist Dream Team Ticket in 2020 needs to have Bernie Sanders at the top. He's earned it, and the differences between Sanders and Warren matter. Joe Biden is already wooing Beto O’Rourke to join an establishment/centrist dream team. If the Left allows itself to be fractured over Sanders or Warren, a joint Biden/Beto ticket could win the Democratic primary and spell doom for the planet no matter what happens in the general election.
Sanders has a proven track record and a battle-tested brand that brings everyday people into the movement. His 2016 campaign mobilized millions of people, just like the last successful Democratic president, Barack Obama did. Bernie raised six million dollars from 225,000 people in 24 hours after announcing his 2020 campaign earlier this week. He’s already signed up almost a million new supporters.
Bernie would have won in 2016 – and he is the strongest and most credible candidate to beat Donald Trump in 2020. Sanders is independent of the two-party system in the eyes of most Americans. Only those seen as establishment outsiders win presidential elections in this country.
Unlike Elizabeth Warren, Sanders has proven he’s not afraid to go up against the Democratic Party – and he also appeals to a huge cross-section of Trump voters in battleground states like post-industrial Michigan that Clinton lost. An October 2018 Gallup poll showed Bernie has consistently been the most popular politician in America for the last two years.
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Polling data also shows Sanders has strong support with key voting blocs outside the so-called “white working class.” According to a December Quinnipac University poll, Bernie Sanders is even more popular with women than he is with men, and with people of color more than with white people. A January NPR/PBS NewsHour Marist poll found Sanders had 59 percent support among black voters compared to 48 percent for Warren.
Another December 2018 CNN poll showed that Sanders has a higher favorability rating among people of color in early battleground state Iowa than any other Democratic candidate.
The rest of the presidential candidates are just playing follow the leader. The Sanders campaign put bold ideas like Medicare-for-All back on the table and gave a playbook for people like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to grab on to and run with. The other Democratic presidential candidates are only giving lip-service to the original Bernie Agenda out of political expediency. We shouldn’t trust them to see real progressive legislation through when the going gets tough. Democrats always pivot to the center in general elections, and on the rare occasions they win, they all pivot rightward a second time after taking office. There is no evidence a Warren White House would be any different.
Sanders can separate himself from the pack of lookalikes this time around by pledging to enact a Green New Deal within 100 days of taking office, as the #1 priority of his administration. Every urgent social issue from health-care to housing to human rights can be accomplished as part of a comprehensive package to mitigate catastrophic climate change.
But American presidents typically only have enough political capital to achieve one or two major legislative victories. The opposition party historically makes huge gains in midterm elections, and second-term presidents are both rare and, almost always, lame ducks.
That’s why a Green New Deal has to come before everything, even Medicare for All. Single-payer, progressive taxes, ending the wars, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, abolishing ICE and the prison system, busting up Big Ag and the big banks, and more can all be accomplished as part of a Green New Deal framework that tears down the entire economy and rebuilds it on a more sustainable, just, and democratic foundation.
If we try to tackle each issue one by one, it will take a generation to accomplish and may never get done.
The only way Elizabeth Warren or any other presidential candidate could ever prove they deserve the keys to the country more than Bernie Sanders is if they were able to somehow articulate this fact on the campaign trail and he could not.
But holding our breath for that to happen is a big gamble with an even bigger opportunity cost. The smart money is to throw in all of our chips now and Bet Big on Bernie with the great and formidable talents of Elizabeth Warren as vice president.