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Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Bernie's Consistency

A fighter for the most vulnerable Americans his whole life, Sanders' history is undisputed.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders participate in the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential hopefuls Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders participate in the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In what is currently a four-way race for the Democratic nomination—featuring Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg—the recent war of words between Warren and Buttigieg has done little for them.

But it has highlighted contrasts with Bernie Sanders. 

As Sen. Warren and “Mayor Pete” heatedly question each other’s career history, they put Sanders’ strongest suit into the spotlight: his remarkably consistent history.

In case you missed it, Warren said this about Buttigieg last Thursday: “The mayor should be releasing who’s on his finance committee, who are the bundlers who are raising big money for him.” She added that Buttigieg should “open up the doors so that the press can follow the promises he’s making in these big-dollar fundraisers.” Earlier, Warren had complained that Buttigieg had “not released the names” of his corporate clients when he worked for three years at the controversial McKinsey and Company consulting firm.

Warren was completely correct here. In the face of demands for transparency, Buttigieg had declined to name his corporate clients, claiming he was bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement.  On Monday, after the sustained public clamor, McKinsey released him from the NDA.

Meanwhile, big money continues to flood into Buttigieg’s campaign from corporate executives, lobbyists and billionaires. While Warren and Sanders don’t hold high-dollar events for wealthy donors, Buttigieg and Biden do. Unlike Biden, Buttigieg had refused to allow reporters into those events.  On Monday afternoon, the Buttigieg camp gave ground to Warren, announcing that it would name its bundlers and allow reporters into his numerous big-donor fundraising events.

Counterpunching at Warren last week, the Buttigieg campaign labeled Warren a “corporate lawyer” and demanded that she release her pre-2008 tax returns, during years she earned outside income representing corporations while a law professor.

Yes, Professor Warren represented some big corporations, while also representing consumer interests—and on Sunday, she provided details about her legal work, including compensation. Warren has been far more transparent than Buttigieg. But it wouldn’t hurt for her to further discuss her legal career, including when she was a registered Republican (until 1996).

While I’m impressed by Warren’s campaign and supportive of her far-reaching proposals to tax the wealthy to fund programs benefiting poor, working-class and middle-class people, Buttigieg highlighted—in a hypocritical  and overheated fashion—the main question I have about Warren: Her Republican past and years as a legal scholar who supported the “Law and Economics” movement that preached a corporate-friendly, free-market ideology.

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Which brings me to Sanders and Biden—who both have longer and more consistent histories than either Warren or Buttigieg.

That’s Bernie’s strongest suit.

And Biden’s weakest.

Biden’s history is as pro-corporate as Sanders’ history is progressive. Biden was among the minority of Democrats in Congress who supported the devastating NAFTA trade pact, while Sanders was a leader of the opposition. Biden voted for media conglomeration via the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and supported Wall Street deregulation that led to the 2007/8 financial crash. Biden has long served the interests of banks and credit card companies, and was key to passage of the notorious 2005 bankruptcy bill that continues to harm those with student debt—a measure that was vigorously opposed by then-Professor Warren.

Biden’s civil rights record is spotty at best. He has proudly referred to the mass-incarceration-intensifying 1994 crime bill as the “Biden Crime Bill.” (In Congress at the time, Biden and Bernie widely diverged on the bill, as this video shows.) In 2002, Biden was the most important Senate Democrat in enabling Bush’s disastrous Iraq invasion, while Sanders helped lead the antiwar forces in Congress.

Bernie Sanders’ history is undisputed. He’s been a fighter for the most vulnerable Americans his whole life, and a champion of civil rights since his college days. He’s defended the environment and unions 100%—from his days as a mayor in Vermont to today. He’s resisted corporate greed and corporate-friendly trade deals that undermine workers and our environment. Over the decades, he’s strongly opposed immoral, adventurist U.S. wars from Vietnam to Iraq.  

And although Sanders has made history as the longest-serving independent in Congress, he’s been a skilled legislator in getting important amendments through Congress, as acknowledged in a New York Times article originally headlined “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years Via Legislative Side Doors.”

Establishment Dems may attack him as “not even a Democrat,” but it is Bernie’s independence that attracts many young voters, disaffected voters, and those who don’t identify with either party.

With progressives focused on defeating Trump as mission number one, the finger-pointing by Warren and Buttigieg over their histories has helped showcase the one frontrunner whose history is consistent and progressive.

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen was associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media - and a cofounder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is here: http://jeffcohen.org

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