Skip to main content

Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders-Run in 2016?

IF the fundamental issues that are of concern to the great mass of Americans - the collapse of the middle class, growing wealth and income inequality, growth in poverty, global warming - then (big IF), just maybe Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders will run for President in 2016. Both could challenge Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Taxing the wealthy and not cutting but expanding Social Security, could become their rallying cry.

printer friendly  
Elizabeth Warren, AP Photo/Steven Senne

Elizabeth Warren: Quiet Revolutionary Who Could Challenge Hillary Clinton in Democrats' 2016 Race

Senator's tough stance against Wall Street is attracting voters on the left who are disenchanted with the party establishment

By Dan Roberts    

November 16, 2013
The Guardian (UK)

Not many political "rock stars" inspire audience members to knit, but, even by Washington's sedate standards, the darling of America's new left is a quiet revolutionary.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard professor turned Wall Street scourge, is one of a clutch of unlikely radicals giving hope to those disenchanted with mainstream Democrats.

Hours before a rare public appearance last week, one of the largest rooms in Congress begins slowly filling up with an odd mix of groupies: policy wonks, finance geeks, Occupy activists, and, yes, the type of political conference attendee who brings their knitting in.

Warren proceeds to calmly recite numbers that could inspire even librarians to storm a few barricades. The Wall Street crash has cost the US economy $14tn, she says, but its top institutions are 30% larger than before, own half the country's bank assets and are in receipt of an implicit taxpayer subsidy of $83bn a year because they are deemed too big to fail.

"We have got to get back to running this country for American families, not for its largest financial institutions," concludes Warren, before noting how little President Barack Obama has done to achieve that.

When the same message was delivered to union leaders in September, she had them standing on their chairs. But for the first time since the banking crash, the argument is connecting at the ballot box too. Mayoral elections in Boston and New York two weeks ago saw leftwing candidates with similar messages about economic inequality win by surprising landslides.

Meanwhile, Terry McAuliffe, the former Clinton fundraiser who epitomises the business-friendly Democrat mainstream, saw his substantial poll lead in Virginia all but evaporate under attack from populists on the right.

Whereas the Tea Party has worked relentlessly since the financial crash to recast the Republican party as a perceived challenger to Wall Street, Democrats such as Obama and his potential successor Hillary Clinton rely heavily on financial donors and have veered away from confrontation. But the popularity of senators such as Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown in Ohio has combined with recent mayoral election wins by Bill de Blasio in New York and Marty Walsh in Boston to raise hopes that the left could yet exert the same pull on Democrats.

"The challenges the Democratic party has faced since 2009 have largely been a result of the public's perception that the party isn't clearly enough on their side," argues Damon Silvers, policy director for union umbrella group AFL-CIO. "Republicans have exploited that very skilfully, even though Republicans are totally owned by the financial class."

"What's happening now is the emergence of politicians - De Blasio and Walsh being recent examples - that are just not interested in that type of politics," adds Silvers. "And those people are being successful. They are stepping into a political vacuum that is all about authenticity in relationship to issues of inequality and the power of financial interests."

Though the similarity only goes so far, the shared interest of America's new left and Tea Party conservatives in challenging the economic status quo also shows how figures such as Warren might attract broader support beyond traditional Democrat voters.

One self-confessed Warren groupie is David Collum, a Cornell University chemistry professor and amateur investor, whose enthusiasm for free market economics previously led him to endorse libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul. Collum has been exchanging regular emails with Warren since before the crash and says she captured his imagination because her brand of intelligent populism transcends traditional political boundaries.

"If you look at her and Ron Paul, it's the same thing: they appear to speak from the heart," he explains. "Here you have Warren saying the banks are thugs, she supports the consumer which has a natural leftwing sound to it, but I don't think it's putty-headed liberalism, I think she is just an advocate for the small person."

The buzz around Warren reached fever pitch last week with an article in New Republic magazine predicting she could challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democrat nomination in the 2016 presidential election. Widely-read, if not endorsed, across Washington, the piece entitled "Hillary's nightmare" was followed by a similar analysis in Politico describing the prospect as "Wall Street's nightmare".

Like many eventual nominees, Warren is emphatic she does not want to run for the White House (a fact her supporters claim makes her ideal) and the notion resulted in scepticism from some Washington insiders.

But the question of whether it is Warren or one of the other emerging leftwingers who challenges the Clinton orthodoxy in 2016 may prove besides the point if even the talk of her running causes Team Hillary to reassess its rumoured dependence on Wall Street fundraising and helps pull the party away from big business.

Political pundits in the media have often been slow to capture public mood changes, ignoring the Occupy Wall Street movement for months, for example, and were also caught by surprise by de Blasio's win in New York.

The man who took America's biggest city back under Democratic party control for the first time in two decades was not even endorsed by the liberal New York Times, which opted for a more mainstream candidate, Christine Quinn.

Rupert Murdoch's New York Post was predictably blunter, calling de Blasio a pro-Cuban communist, while the Washington Post got into hot water with a column suggesting "people with conventional views" in other states would have to "repress a gag reflex" when considering him because he was married to an African-American who used to be lesbian.

In the end, de Blasio won the support of 73% of New York's voters with an unapologetically leftwing campaign: arguing for tax increases on the rich to pay for better schools and using his afro-haired son to promote a campaign against police harassment of young black men.

The scepticism among political elites that such policies will translate outside liberal bastions like New York may be warranted. Howard Dean, the last such candidate seen as a serious presidential candidate, crashed and burned when he was seen as too "shouty". Ralph Nader, who ran to the left of John Kerry as an independent candidate in 2004 arguably cost him the election that made way for George W Bush.

But what has changed is that mainstream Democrats and Republicans in Washington seem even less popular today than the perceived outsiders on the left and right.

Both Obama and the Republican party hit record lows in the polls recently after the government shutdown and botched launch of healthcare reforms exacerbated a national feeling that Washington is broken.

"I think the lesson that we have to draw from [these polls] is that the American people are not satisfied," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "[Not satisfied] that we're, all of us, focused on the things that matter to them, and we're not getting the results that they want."

In this atmosphere, anyone who doesn't appear part of the Washington mainstream is by definition a populist.

But whereas rightwing challengers in the Tea Party can lump public dissatisfaction with Washington, Wall Street and the government into one big anti-establishment message, radicals on the left have a finer line to tread, especially after Obama's botched healthcare launch led to such mistrust of their preferred public sector solutions.

Warren does it by pointing out the need for more regulation, both to save capitalism from itself and re-engage the social mobility of the American dream.

Other rising stars such as Maryland governor Martin O'Malley - also tipped as a leftwing challenger to Hillary in 2016 - have done it by marrying liberal policies with managerial success at the state level.

The former mayor of Baltimore, said to be one of the inspirations for the Tommy Carcetti character in The Wire, has introduced gun control legislation, abolished the death penalty and legalised same-sex marriages, all while successfully increasing government spending on areas such as transport.

Nonetheless, compared with Hillary Clinton, both O'Malley and Warren remain virtual unknowns on the national stage and would face a huge challenge to win the Democratic primary let alone the White House.

Warren describes her battle with the banks as a "David and Goliath struggle". Whether David can take on the Goliaths of the Democratic party is a whole other matter.

[Dan Roberts is the Guardian's Washington Bureau chief, covering politics and US national affairs. Previously, he worked as the national editor in London and was head of business.]

Elizabeth Warren: Don't Cut Social Security. Expand it!

By Greg Sargent    

November 18, 2013
Washington Post

Elizabeth Warren - 2012 election campaign
credit - SEIU Blog

If Elizabeth Warren is emerging as a kind of spokeswoman for the new economic populism that many Democratic activists want the party to embrace heading into 2014 and 2016, this speech that Warren is currently delivering on the floor of the Senate suggests the push to expand Social Security could become a key issue in the argument over the Democratic Party of the future.

In remarks Warren just began delivering, she strongly endorsed the push to boost Social Security benefits - in keeping with Senator Tom Harkin's proposal to do the same - and condemned the "Chained CPI" that liberals fear Dems will embrace in strong terms. From the prepared remarks:

    "The most recent discussion about cutting benefits has focused on something called the Chained-CPI. Supporters of the chained CPI say that it's a more accurate way of measuring cost of living increases for seniors. That statement is simply not true. Chained CPI falls short of the actual increases in costs that seniors face, pure and simple.  Chained CPI?  It's just a fancy way of saying cut benefits.

    "The Bureau of Labor Statistics has developed a measure of the impact of inflation on seniors. It's called the CPI-E, and, if we adopted it today, it would generally increase benefits for our retirees - not cut them.

    "Social Security isn't the answer to all of our retirement problems.  We need to find ways to tackle the financial squeeze that is crushing our families.  We need to help families start saving again.  We need to make sure that more workers have access to better pensions.  But in the meantime - so long as these problems continue to exist and so long as we are in the midst of a real and growing retirement crisis - a crisis that is shaking the foundations of what was once a vibrant and secure middle class - the absolute last thing we should be doing is talking about cutting back on Social Security.

    "The absolute last thing we should do in 2013 - at the very moment that Social Security has become the principal lifeline for millions of our seniors - is allow the program to begin to be dismantled inch by inch.

    "Over the past generation, working families have been hacked at, chipped, and hammered.  If we want a real middle class - a middle class that continues to serve as the backbone of our country - then we must take the retirement crisis seriously.  Seniors have worked their entire lives and have paid into the system, but right now, more people than ever are on the edge of financial disaster once they retire - and the numbers continue to get worse.

    "That is why we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits - not cutting them. Senator Harkin from Iowa, Senator Begich from Alaska, Senator Sanders from Vermont, and others have been pushing hard in that direction.  Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day."

As Noam Scheiber detailed in his big cover story on why Warren is a threat to Hillary Clinton in 2016, many of the issues that Warren has been championing for years now - Wall Street accountability and oversight of the big banks; stagnating middle class wages; the need for financial reforms designed to address the ways the economy is rigged in favor of the financial sector and against working Americans - are emerging as central to a larger argument over what the Democratic Party should stand for and who it really represents.

By planting a flag on the need to expand Social Security, Warren may have just added this issue to the pantheon of preoccupations that are driving those who want to see the party embrace a more economically populist posture going forward. Liberal bloggers such as Atrios and liberal groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, have been pushing for a Social Security expansion, arguing that Democratic priorities should be centered on the idea that declining pensions and wages (and savings) are undermining retirement security, and that the party should above all stand against undermining the social insurance system.

The focus on Warren's championing of these issues has led to a lot of chatter to the effect that she will run in 2016 and mount a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton in the process. But she has adamantly denied any plans to run, and at any rate, the real story here may go beyond the question of whatever presidential ambitious Warren harbors, if any. Her popularity with the Democratic grass roots suggests that they will want to see these issues addressed no matter who enters the 2016 Democratic field. Indeed, as Ned Resnikoff notes, liberal groups are pushing her issues not necessarily out of a desire to see her run, but because they want to "demonstrate the popularity of her anti-austerity, pro-financial reform message in the hopes that other Democratic politicians will begin to emulate it."

Add the push to expand Social Security to that list. With the possibility emerging that entitlement cuts could be on the table in coming budget talks, the existence of a small progressive bloc of Senators, backed by liberal groups, pushing in the other direction could make things more complicated for Democrats, both for those who have an eye on 2016 and for those who don't.

[Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call "opinionated reporting" from the left. He joined the Post in early 2009, after stints at Talking Points Memo, New York Magazine and the New York Observer.]

Bernie Sanders Might Just Have to Run for President

By John Nichols

November 19, 2013 Blog

Bernie Sanders speaking in 2011.
credit - The Nation / AP/Rich Pedroncelli

Bernie Sanders is not burning with presidential ambition. He doubts that he would consider bidding for the nation's top job if another prominent progressive was gearing up for a 2016 run that would provide a seriously-focused and seriously competitive populist alternative to politics as usual.

But if the fundamental issues that are of concern to the great mass of Americans-"the collapse of the middle class, growing wealth and income inequality, growth in poverty, global warming"-are not being discussed by the 2016 candidates, Sanders says, "Well, then maybe I have to do it."

This calculation brings the independent senator from Vermont a step closer to presidential politics than he has ever been before. With a larger social-media following than most members of Congress, a regular presence on left-leaning television and talk radio programs-syndicated radio host Bill Press greeted the Sanders speculation with a Tuesday morning "Go, Bernie, Go!" cheer-and a new "Progressive Voters of America" political action committee, Sanders has many of the elements of an insurgent candidacy in place.

But the senator is still a long way from running.

In interviews over the past several days, Sanders has argued with increasing force that the times demand that there be a progressive contender in 2016.

"Under normal times, it's fine, if you have a moderate Democrat running, a moderate Republican running," the senator told his hometown paper, the Burlington Free Press. "These are not normal times. The United States right now is in the middle of a severe crisis and you have to call it what it is."

So, says Sanders, there must be a progressive alternative to the conservative Republican politics of cruelty and cuts and the centrist Democratic politics of compromise with the conservatives.

"[The] major issues of this country that impact millions of people cannot continue to be swept under the rug," Sanders told Politico on Monday. "And if nobody else is talking about it, well, then maybe I have to do it. But I do not believe that I am the only person that is capable of doing this."

The independent senator has high praise for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has recently been talked up by some progressives as a prospective primary challenger to the front-runner for the party's 2016 presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Unlike Clinton, Warren has a reputation for taking on Wall Street, big banks and corporate CEOs, and Sanders hails the Massachusetts senator as a "real progressive." But Warren says she is not running.

So what happens if Warren stands down? And what if other liberal and populist presidential prospects, such as Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, fail to gain traction?

Then, says Sanders, he'd consider a run.

That sounds casual. But it isn't. Sanders has stipulations regarding a candidacy.

Though he is a proud independent, he would not run as a November "spoiler" who might take away just enough votes to throw the presidential election to a right-wing Republican.

And he has little taste for "educational" campaigns that seek to raise issues-either on an independent line or in a Democratic primary dominated by a Clinton juggernaut-but do not seriously compete for power.

If Sanders were to run-and that remains a very big "if"-he says he would do so with a strategy for winning.

That strategy, whether the senator were to mount a presidential bid as an independent or as a Democrat, would not be built around insider ties or connections; Clinton already has much of the party establishment locked down. And it certainly would not rely on raising the most money, explains the sponsor of a constitutional amendment to overturn the US Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and get big money out of politics.

When we spoke recently about the challenges facing progressive candidates, Sanders said what most politicians will not:

    "This small handful of multi-billionaires control the economics of this country. They determine whether jobs stay in the United States or whether they go to China. They determine how much we're going to BE paying for a gallon of gas. They determine whether we're going to transform our economic system away from fossil fuel. Economically, they clearly have an enormous amount of power. And, now, especially with Citizens United, these very same people are now investing in politics. That's what oligarchy is. Oligarchy is when a small number of people control the economic and political life of the country-certainly including the media-and we are rapidly moving toward an oligarchic form of society."

Sanders actually likes the prospects of taking on the oligarchs, saying: "And I think you can bring people together to say: Look, we may have our disagreements, but we don't want billionaires deciding who the next governor is going to be, the next senator, the next president of the United States. As someone who believes in that type of grassroots organizing, I think it's a great opportunity."

So any presidential run by Sanders would rely on small contributions and grassroots support. But the core of the strategy would be that challenge to oligarchy, with its focus on values and ideas that have been too long dismissed by prominent presidential contenders and the media that covers them.

In effect, say Sanders, he would run only if he thought that he could fill the great void in the American political discourse, and in so doing inspire voters to reject old orthodoxies in favor of a new populist politics that would have as its core theme economic justice.

When we spoke about what is missing from American politics, Sanders told me that the president America needs would begin the discussion, as Franklin Roosevelt did, by calling out the plutocrats and their political and media minions.

Imagine, explains Sanders, if Americans had a president who said to them: "I am going to stand with you. And I am going to take these guys on. And I understand that they're going to be throwing thirty-second ads at me every minute. They're going to do everything they can to undermine my agenda. But I believe that if we stand together, we can defeat them."

The senator explained the concept that would, necessarily, underpin a presidential bid:

    "If you had a President who said: `Nobody in America is going to make less than $12 or $14 an hour,' what do you think that would do? If you had a President who said: `You know what, everybody in this country is going to get free primary health care within a year,' what do you think that would do? If you had a President say, `Every kid in this country is going to go to college regardless of their income,' what do you think that would do? If you had a President say, `I stand here today and guarantee you that we are not going to cut a nickel in Social Security; in fact we're going to improve the Social Security program,' what do you think that would do? If you had a president who said, `Global warming is the great planetary crisis of our time, I'm going to create millions jobs as we transform our energy system. I know the oil companies don't like it. I know the coal companies don't like it. But that is what this planet needs: we're going to lead the world in that direction. We're going to transform the energy system across this planet-and create millions of jobs while we do that.' If you had a President say that, what kind of excitement would you generate from young people all over this world?"

Whether Sanders runs or not, the prospect of such a speak-truth-to-power presidency is an appealing one. And the senator from Vermont is right: Americans do not just deserve such an option. In these times, they need a serious progressive alternative the ugly politics of austerity -- and the empty politics of compromise.

[John Nichols, has written the Beat since 1999. He writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers. Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues.]