The Left Is Lukewarm on Elizabeth Warren

Her self-description as ‘capitalist to my bones’ doesn’t warm progressive hearts.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 1.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 1. PHOTO: JOHN MINCHILLO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Progressives are having second thoughts about Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Her Indian-DNA kerfuffle added to a sense that she may not have what it takes to take on President Trump, a ruthless animal with undeniable political instincts. Her apparent victory—she does, apparently, have a Native American ancestor—quickly turned into a rout reminiscent of George Custer.

“She went for it like a mouse to the cheese,” one of my Facebook friends commented, “and SNAP!” Another remarked: “It’s like she believes in that racist ‘one drop rule,’ but only when she thinks it helps her.”

In 2011 I gave speeches at Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York, Washington and Miami. The Q&A sessions served as focus groups of the left. The only politician they trusted was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’d spent decades in the wilderness preaching the suddenly popular gospel of a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all and free college tuition. Yet some saw potential in Ms. Warren. The consensus was favorable but cautious. She said a lot of good things about corporate corruption and the trials of working-class Americans. But she used to be a Republican. Is she one of us?

At first the answer was probably yes. You could almost see wiggly-finger Occupiers cheering in 2015 when she co-sponsored a bill to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Then came 2016. Progressives expected her to back Mr. Sanders for president. But Hillary Clinton had the party, the media and the superdelegates locked up, and she was a woman. Faced with a tough decision, Ms. Warren endorsed neither.

That proved a mistake. On Super Tuesday, Mr. Sanders lost Massachusetts by two points. His supporters blamed the state’s senior senator for an avoidable defeat. Then, rubbing salt into their wounds, she endorsed Mrs. Clinton before the primaries were over.

Now new doubts are piling atop old ones. Progressives are passing around memes of quotes like “I love markets—I believe in markets” and Ms. Warren’s self-description as “capitalist to my bones.” A Facebook friend told me: “She’s still got a lot of Republican in her from the 1990s, when she was one and when I was a child and I knew better.”

Progressive commentator William J. Astore wrote Ms. Warren to complain about militarism. She wrote back that she favors “limited, targeted operations designed to deter violent extremists” and thinks “our foreign policy should be smart, tough, and pragmatic,” using “defense, diplomacy, and development” to advance U.S. interests. Such rhetoric is anathema to progressives, who tend toward a pacifist version of “America First” that prioritizes domestic spending and opposes foreign intervention.

Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, proposes a Sanders-Warren ticket. He argues that Mr. Sanders has “spent his life supporting and has recently helped revitalize” progressivism, whereas Ms. Warren is a mere “ally of many progressive causes.” She “can be an important part of a broad coalition for change, but we need a democratic socialist leading that coalition.”

Mr. Rall is a political cartoonist and author of “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies.

Appeared in the November 7, 2018, print edition.

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