Elizabeth Warren is the patron saint of the Democratic Party establishment. She is erudite, perceptive, articulate, wonkish, and a former Harvard professor. An indelible part of the expert class. And, she apparently has a plan for everything. At a closer inspection, however, it all falls apart: she appears to share the same ruinous flaws as Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 general election.
The popular view is that Elizabeth Warren is nothing like Hillary Clinton. At some quarters a comparison might even be deemed absurd. Hillary Clinton carried decades of political baggage going in to the 2016 election, whereas Warren only became a senator in 2012.
Before elected office, Warren helped create the popular Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) after the 2008 financial collapse. It is her work in setting up the CFPB, utilising her expertise in bankruptcy law to vocalise the needs of the average American, and her frank-honest style that appealed to many Democrats and solidify her position as one of the more popular party leaders.
Elizabeth Warren is a liberal progressive who is popular amongst both wings of the Democratic Party. In what might seem like a genius of strategy- she has managed to gain adoration of both the centrists and the progressives. It is exactly something that Clinton failed to do in 2016. A so-called centrist who saw Henry Kissinger as a mentor, Hillary Clinton was never a darling of the progressives.
So, how is Elizabeth Warren as flawed as 2016’s Clinton?
In 2016, Hillary Clinton gained a disrepute for multiple flip-flops on policies. And, this established a consensus which saw her as a disingenuous and dishonest politician who would adjust her opinions and policies in order to better her position.
Whilst Trump might have been the paragon of dishonesty, he did not pretend to be any different. He had a different shtick. His prominently white supporters -suffering from the fever of ressentiment- did not care about his character or his deeds. It was the very prospect that a Trump victory would mean a jarring defeat to the radical centrists (both Republican and Democratic elite) that persuaded them to support him.
In order to defeat Trump, Senator Warren must have a political disposition which perfectly aligns her with the sentiments of the disenfranchised average Americans whose wages have been stagnant since the late 1970’s. She must be seen as someone who is outside the centrist political mould-a politician who understands middle America’s discontents. And, has the conviction and honesty to truly shake up the system which is not working for them. It is here that the seemingly infallible senator starts to show her greatest weakness as a potential presidential election candidate.
The first problem is that Senator Warren could be perceived to be just as mendacious as Hillary Clinton. It is from her bar registration to her professorial position to her Senate run that she peddled the lie that she was Native American. In 2018, she took a DNA test to prove that she was Native American. The results found that she could have as little as 0.09% Native American ancestry. It becomes more ridiculous when one faces the fact that it is less than that of an average American. An average American has about 0.18% of Native ancestry. By this measure a significant number of white Americans could claim to be Native American. It is only after huge backlash that she finally apologised in 2019.
Warren not only lied that she was Native American, she also concocted several other dubious stories and tales to support her lie. She claimed that her parents had to elope because her mother was not accepted by her racist in-laws for being “part Cherokee, and part Delaware”. She also used this as part of a campaign advertisement for Senate elections. She provided no evidence to support her claim, and credible sources have now refuted this story. It should be noted that her mother was white, and was not a member of either of the two Native American tribes.
She asserted the idea that she had Native American ancestry by re-telling a story of her aunt’s which claimed that her white maternal grandfather had “high cheekbone like the Indians”. This story itself is problematic. (Imagine a white person claiming to have black lineage by referring to a certain facial feature of their white grandparent which supposedly resembled that of a stereotypical black person).
To make matters worse, in an interview, Warren proudly declared- “Being Indian American has been part of my story I guess since the day I was born”. This is not true. Warren identified herself as ‘white’ when she applied to Rutgers University and also while she was teaching at University of Texas. But in her registration for the bar she claimed herself to be ‘American Indian’. And, in keeping with her capricious oscillation between white and Native American identities, she put her name down as a ‘Minority Law Teacher’ on the American Association of Law Schools directory while teaching at University of Pennsylvania. Then, while at Harvard, the university hailed her as its law school’s first ever ‘woman of colour’. She did not refute this obnoxious assertion. She remained in the books at Harvard as a minority teacher even as late as 2004.
In her long list of slips and falls, Elizabeth Warren once published recipes in a Native American cookbook called Pow Wow Chow- where she falsely referred to herself as a Cherokee. She also plagiarised the recipes from publications which included the New York Times. If it was not enough, bizarrely her partner, Bruce Mann, who is white- also contributed to the cookbook and claimed himself to be Cherokee.
It is true that this will not lead Senator Warren to lose support amongst the liberals. Justin Trudeau’s re-election in Canada reaffirms this. But it must also be understood that it will not be without consequence. As the Republicans unleash their propaganda machine in 2020, they will highlight debacles like this to the voters. It will surely turn off many undecided voters. And, it will also provide Trump with a chance to push on the ‘Pocahontas’ insult and dismiss her into the same bracket as the much-disliked Clinton.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Warren’s policy positions are as malleable as that of Hillary Clinton’s: they can be changed, reversed, and amended in accordance with the flow of the tide.
One of the top issues which has been at the centre of the Democratic primary debates is health care. Elizabeth Warren has stated that she supports ‘Medicare for all’. It is however baffling that Senator Warren, whose whole persona has been built surrounding the image of an astute policy wonk who has a plan for just about everything, is yet to provide with a plan for her ‘Medicare for all’.
Senator Warren has a history of flip-flops on this. She was for universal single-payer health care before she ran for office. Once in office, however, she never advocated for a ‘Medicare for all’ before Senator Bernie Sanders popularised it. In her 2012 campaign she mentioned a need to improve upon the existing Obama-care, but never espoused the idea of a single-payer health care system.
Warren co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill in 2017. But, she has now declined to adopt it for her campaign. The Senator from Massachusetts has promised to release a health care plan in a few week’s time. In a primary run where every candidate has intricately different health care plans-it is difficult to figure out which route she will take. It is important to ask whether her plan is going to be as progressive as Senator Sanders’s, or would it shadow the middle of the road unsustainable plan proposed by the centrist candidate Pete Buttigieg. One must not be surprised if she comes out with a plan which tries to strike a balance between the two and in the process comprise the whole essence of a single payer health care system.
Another issue is Corporate PAC money. Corporate money in US elections has become increasingly unpopular amongst Americans over the last decade. Elizabeth Warren, like Hillary Clinton, has a record of taking donations from corporations. She has previously received PAC money from military contractors like Raytheon and big pharmaceutical companies like Millennium Pharmaceuticals.
Senator Warren has already made a number of flip-flops on the matter of corporate donations since declaring her candidacy for the Democratic nomination. She has now assumed a position which essentially exposes her whole mantra of politics: take a flamboyant progressive position, and then flip back to a centrist one.
In this year’s primary, Elizabeth Warren at first decided against taking corporate PAC money. She however stated that she would take corporate donations in the general election if she is nominated. Then, she changed her position and declared that she would not take corporate donations even in a general election against Trump.
“I’m not going to go do the big dollar fundraisers. I’m just not going to do it”-Senator Warren replied to a journalist asking whether she would take corporate donations if she gets to contend Trump in 2020. The decision of course caused a Democratic establishment meltdown. Barack Obama’s former national finance director decried – “And the Democratic Party just went bankrupt”. (Barack Obama received millions of corporate donations in both his elections, and like Trump, formed cabinets with several corporate lobbyists).
Elizabeth Warren seemingly capitulated to the pressures and within hours her campaign declared that she after all will be doing ‘big dollar fundraising’ if she becomes the Democratic nominee. In an effort to salvage her from the embarrassment of all these flip-flops and u-turns, her campaign added that Warren will do big fundraisers but not for her own campaign. Such a promise can be interpreted as an insult to the voters’ intellect. The corporations of course would not be foolish enough to donate potentially millions of dollars to a political party without welding any influence over them once they get into power.
Platitudes and promises in politics are just as old as politics itself. On the other hand, the courage to take tough and unpopular positions while in office is rare. At a time when this rare courage has become imperative, unfortunately Senator Warren is absolutely devoid of it.
Senator Warren has shown her ineptitude and cowardice by failing to take stance on certain important issues; issues which she apparently cares dearly about. For a person who claims to be Native American and cares about the environment, Senator Warren did not support the Dakota Access Pipeline protests- which formed part of one of the biggest Native American movements in recent history.
Senator Warren has recently come out against the mistreatment of migrants at the borders by the Trump administration. In a somewhat reactionary move, she has called for the border laws to be changed in order to decriminalise illegal border crossings. In her previous elections, her position on the same issue was that any immigration reform “must uphold existing laws, protecting our borders and enforcing our laws against recruiting, hiring, and exploiting undocumented workers”. She now also wants to eliminate abusive enforcement of these existing laws. These laws and their enforcement were just as harsh and abusive under Barack Obama as it is under Trump in 2019.
She failed to vocally condemn the treatment of migrants by the Obama administration. That administration also caged migrants, and carried out mass deportations which stranded children from their parents. One can reasonably deduce that her sudden vigorous support for migrants’ concern has to do with her opposition to the Trump administration and political expediency rather than any genuine concern for the wellbeing of migrants.
Senator Warren’s positions on foreign policy are just as hawkish as Hillary Clinton. It must also be noted that despite all her apparent opposition to Trump, she voted in support of Trump’s expansionary military budget.
Elizabeth Warren has all the right positions that a supposed progressive must have. She is for: more banking regulations, breaking up big tech, workers’ rights, tackling climate change, better health care, immigrant’s rights, Native American rights, and everything progressive that can be conceived by anyone. However, as her records show, she is as much a dishonest opportunist as Hillary Clinton. She will only take up a cause if it becomes politically expedient at the time, but abandon it at first chance- in the name of pragmatism.
She is supported by the liberal centrists and big donors because she is “more pragmatic” and “very different in a conversation than when she’s on the stump”. She is known to let her supposed standings be heard and then go along with her establishment colleagues without creating much disruption.
The 2020 Presidential Election is a long way away from now. A lot will change between this November and the next. As the Trump impeachment process goes ahead the Republicans will try to frame it as an attempt to repudiate the people’s vote in 2016. There have even been absurd invocations of a possible ‘civil war’. The Trump spin-machine will try to push a ‘people vs establishment’ narrative in the 2020 election.
Elizabeth Warren will undoubtedly secure the liberal vote in a general election against Trump. But as it was witnessed in 2016, that is not enough. And, it will be a grave mistake to believe that people will rush to vote against Trump. As the polls show, in most swing states, Trump is neck and neck with all the Democratic candidates. And, in Iowa, Trump beats Elizabeth Warren and all the other Democratic candidates except for Bernie Sanders.
Elizabeth Warren, in these early days of the campaign, has not yet had to face aggressive personal scrutiny. But, if she becomes the nominee, all her past records will be brought into the open and closely re-examined. Every past mistake and flaw will be magnified sevenfold.
Senator Warren already lacks support amongst the minority population, and if all her lies surrounding the Native American debacle is weaponised by the Republicans, it is unlikely that she will be able to win over their vote. The Republicans will also try to dissuade Bernie Sanders and non-party affiliated voters from voting for her. If Senator Warren’s flip-flops, past courtship of corporations, inactions, and hawkish foreign policy are presented to those voters it will most definitely influence them. The Republican strategy will not mainly be to persuade those voters to vote for Trump, but to discourage them from turning up to vote. In 2016, most Bernie Sanders supporters voted for the third party or abstained from voting. And, 1 in 10 even voted for Trump. All of these factors might have potentially swung the election in Trump’s way.
If Senator Warren becomes the nominee, given her past records, it will not be difficult for the Republicans to draw similarities between her and Hillary Clinton. And, if they can establish her as Hillary-lite, the Democrats will have a much tougher election on their hands than they anticipate.