Warren, Sanders, and Oligarchy

posted on Feb 23rd, 2020

I’m going to take a moment to talk about Elizabeth Warren. This post has been bouncing around my head since the Nevada debate - particularly since Warren started taking real shots at Bernie.

I want to preface this, I’m a huge fan of Warren. I’ve said from the beginning that I would enthusiastically support Warren in the general, if she were to beat Bernie. My dream outcome is Warren as Senate Majority Leader in a Sanders presidency. I want to see Warren in a position of real power in the movement.

But I don’t think Warren is the right person to lead the movement. And the more Warren goes on the attack against Bernie, the more firmly I believe that.

Elizabeth Warren - Attribution: Gabe Skidmore (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore)

American Oligarchy

In my last post, I talked about Page and Gilens - the study that showed that America is an oligarchy controlled by the wealthy. Most nationally elected Democrats are wealthy. Most nationally elected Republicans are wealthy. Most national media pundits are wealthy. Most national scale businesses are owned and run by the wealthy.

For the past several decades, these wealthy oligarchs have completely controlled policy in this country - to their own benefit. This is how we’ve wound up with massive income and wealth inequality, with wage stagnation, poor healthcare, student loan crises, mass incarceration, and decaying infrastructure. So many policies that benefit or don’t harm the wealthy oligarchs, while badly harming the rest of us.

When people refer to the “establishment” they’re talking about the oligarchy.

The progressive movement is, and always has been, about overturning the oligarchy and taking power back. It’s about a return to democracy (small “d”), equity, and justice.

In a battle between an oligarchy that has seized power in a democracy, and the people of that democracy who want to take that power back, there is no unity lane. Being willing to work with the oligarchs is not a positive trait, because the oligarchs will not give up power willingly. It has to be taken, by electoral and political force.

Progressive protest - Attribution: Alex Radelich (https://unsplash.com/@alexradelich)

This is what Elizabeth Warren has never seemed to understand, and what Bernie has understood from the beginning. When people say that Bernie doesn’t play well with others, the “others” are the oligarchs.

Carrying the Banner

In 2016, the progressive movement begged Warren to carry the banner. There was a powerful Draft Warren campaign trying to get her to challenge Clinton. I was among those who desperately wanted her to run. Bernie himself begged her to run and offered his full support.

Had Warren chosen to run against Clinton, I believe she would have won. If Bernie came as close as he did, Warren would have clobbered Clinton. The lanes of attack open to Clinton against Bernie were not available to her with Warren. It would have been Warren against Trump and she would have cleaned his clock. (Don’t think so? Did you see her eviscerate Bloomberg?)

It would have been Warren who built the progressive movement instead of Bernie.

But she declined. Instead, she lead her senate colleagues in whipping endorsements for Clinton. In that moment, she showed that she doesn’t understand the battle currently unfolding between oligarchy and democracy.

And so, it was Bernie who challenged Clinton. The progressive movement found its champion for democracy in Bernie.

Bernie rally - Attribution: Gabe Skidmore (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore)

That campaign was a tipping point for the movement. A moment when those who recognize the oligarchy for what it is saw that we were not alone. A moment when Occupy went electoral. A moment when the battle for the soul of the democratic party began.

And Warren sat on the sidelines.

In the four years after that campaign, Bernie worked tirelessly to fuel the flames of the movement that had ignited during his presidential campaign. He built Our Revolution to recruit and support pro-democracy, anti-oligarchy candidates. He personally inspired the next generation of progressive candidates to run for office, many under the Democratic Socialist label. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar both credit Bernie with inspiring them.

He endorsed. He spoke. He raised money. He carried the banner.

Warren didn’t.

Defeating Trump and Fascism

Now in 2020, she’s been trying to make the case that she should be leading the movement that Bernie’s efforts helped ignite, empower, and coalesce. But in making the case, she’s arguing that the movement should unify with the oligarchy to defeat Trump and fascism.

Don’t get me wrong, defeating Trump and fascism is of vital import, but if we do not also overturn the oligarchy and reinstate democracy, then we will have failed. And it will only be a matter of time before a new Trump emerges.

When Warren tries to run in that unity lane, she shows she still doesn’t understand this. We cannot unite with the oligarchs, we have to defeat them. It was the desire to overturn them that empowered Trump in the first place. He did the classic thing that oligarchs do when they are trying to undermine nascent movements against them - he redirected the anger and frustration at the oligarchy towards immigrants and people of color. He displaced class anger with racism.

We cannot defeat him with out giving that justified anger at the seizure of our democracy by wealthy oligarchs a true voice. And we can’t do that if we’re trying to unify and work with the oligarchs.

Which is why Warren’s attacks on Bernie for not being willing to work with the oligarchs are frustrating and reinforce my belief that she is not the right person to lead the movement.

It could have been her. It should have been her. But she missed the moment. Now we need the person who did build the movement, who understands what it takes to over turn oligarchy, and has never wavered from that goal. And that’s Bernie.