The most progressive candidates are not as similar as you think
By Collin Billings
On Tuesday, January 14, CNN and the Democratic National Convention hosted the 7th Democratic presidential debate. The event took place in the desolate wastes of Des Moines, Iowa; America’s favorite place to watch old, white people duke it out. Of the six candidates that participated in the debate, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were by far the most heavily featured. However, it wasn’t their policies or rhetoric that resonated with the audience, it was the uncomfortable tension that arose between them. In fact, the only memorable thing to come from this two hour circlejerk was the forced confrontation between their differing progressive ideologies.
For many, the conflict between the two came as a complete surprise.
Historically speaking, the relationship between Sanders and Warren has been nothing but cordial. Ideologically, they appear quite similar, both occupying the progressive wing of the democratic party. Even when the two candidates have disagreed on a specific course of action to take, they’ve found ways to compromise. They’ve routinely cooperated on legislation and supported each other politically. For example, in 2013 when Warren attempted to pass the Student Loans Fairness Act, Sanders endorsed the bill saying, “The only thing wrong with this bill is that [she] thought of it and I didn’t”. Warren even welcomed Bernie into the 2016 presidential race by saying, “I’m glad to see him get out there and give his version of what leadership in this country should be”. Warren and Sanders were like a geriatric version of Bonnie and Clyde, an iconic partnership in Washington.
Warren and Sanders should be natural allies. Both candidates have championed grassroots campaigns, primarily obtaining funds from individual donors rather than cyphoning them from corporations and billionaire donors. Additionally, both have consistently attempted to implement a wealth tax and have worked to combat climate change. Although Bernie is decisively more progressive than Warren, both have been classified as extremists in the Democratic party, making them the perfect duo to fight the establishment. So what happened? How did these two ideologues of progressivism fall out of love?
It seems that the intensity of the presidential race took its toll on their relationship. The tension originated from a private conversation between Sanders and Warren back in 2018 where he allegedly expressed concerns that a woman would be unable to win the presidency. While the validity of these allegations are spurious considering there are countless videos of Sanders literally arguing the opposite of the claims dating back more than 30 years ago, they were treated with the utmost seriousness during Tuesday’s debate. About halfway through, CNN correspondent Abby Phillip called attention to the allegations, asking Sanders, “In 2018 you told [Warren] that you believed that a woman could not win the election, why did you say that?” Sanders responded with, “As a matter of fact, I didn’t …”. Immediately after finishing his response, Phillips turned to Warren and asked, “what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” prompting an uproar of laughter from the audience. The whole exchange reads like a joke from The Office, but with better timing.
While admittedly hilarious, the incident highlights the fundamental difference that lies at the heart of the Warren-Sanders divide. Warren harbors the support of affluent and powerful individuals while Sanders’ supporters are primarily working-class. This means that Warren maintains the support of the media while Sanders is often vilified or blatantly ignored. In particular, MSNBC has consistently left Sanders out of their media coverage. This trend seems to indicate that the wealthy individuals who own the media outlets would prefer that Sanders be left out of the conversation. For many, Bernie’s campaign represents a radical break from establishment politics which lies in stark contrast to Warren’s comparatively moderate views. For the casual onlooker, it may appear that Warren and Sanders are ideologically similar, but their differences are tough to ignore.
Ideally, Sanders and Warren would be on the same team, but January’s debate indicates that this is no longer possible. At the end of the event, Warren approached Sanders and said, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” to which he responded with, “Let’s not do it right now. You want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion. You called me a liar.” Basically, the politcian equivalent of “Go fuck yourself”. For many on the moderate left, the conflict between Sanders and Warren feels like watching your friend’s parents argue, uncomfortable and wholly unnecessary. However, just like your friends parents, it might be best for them to split up. The irreconcilable differences between the campaigns make compromise improbable, a campaign centered around the working class can not reconcile with a campaign sympathetic to wealthy elites and the establishment. It doesn’t seem as though their relationship will improve anytime soon. But, if maintaining their partnership means compromising their respective campaign goals, they may just have to go it alone.