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Q: Wondering if you could compare/contrast Warren and Bernie in a meaningful way? Specifically how different their policies would look (if at all) and your opinion of their respective rhetorical styles.
- Nick, Philadelphia, PA.
Tangle: This is a fantastic question and it’s one that has huge implications for the upcoming election.
Let me start by saying that Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders are, obviously, aligned on a lot of issues and goals for the country. They both want free college, Medicare for all, more taxes on the wealthy and policies to address climate change. They’re both decidedly liberal and pro-choice. They’re also great friends. But our political punditry does suffer from a habit of discussing them as a monolith when they have real, tangible differences.
Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr
First and foremost, Sanders doesn’t shy away from the “socialist” label (he self-describes as a “democratic socialist”) while Warren is a former conservative and an enthusiastic capitalist. This is the biggest, most important difference between the two: the writer Elizabeth Bruenig described it as Revolution (Sanders) vs. Regulation (Warren). Warren’s campaign is built on regulating Wall Street, bringing forward policies and government agencies that oversee banks, lenders, and credit card companies to prevent fraud and crony capitalism. Her brainchild is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has returned $12 billion to 29 million consumers since 2011, mostly over scams and predatory lending practices. Sanders wants to upend the structures of capitalism as we know them. He’s hoping to re-distribute wealth to the middle class through government programs, tax the top one percent, and make sure big corporations are paying their “fair share.” His economic language is a lot more about burning down the house and re-building it, while Warren has an ingrained trust in capitalism but wants to put good guys on the corner of Wall Street to make sure America’s wealthiest are playing by the rules.
The two also differ on some more far-left policy ideas. Sanders has rejected the idea of abolishing the Senate filibuster, which requires a 60-vote minimum to pass a law (there are only 100 Senators, so this means 41 Senators can stop any bill from becoming law, giving the minority party in the Senate lots of power). Warren, on the other hand, has said she’d support abolishing the Senate filibuster, claiming it is “used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.” Warren has supported reparations for descendants of slaves while Sanders has opposed any legislation that would give out direct payments. Sanders has spoken for decades about the need to pull America out of wars overseas, while Warren more recently began trumpeting anti-war rhetoric and has sometimes walked the line of the defense contractors (like Raytheon) who employ thousands of people in her state of Massachusetts. Warren has also supported expanding the number of Supreme Court judges, while Sanders seems ice cold on the idea.
It’s also fair to say that they differ on how they address some of the country’s biggest social justice issues. Warren is an intersectional feminist; she often talks about the way women of color are most impacted by America’s failings. She talks a lot about native people both here and abroad. She doesn’t shy away from race, religion, LGBTQ issues, and so on. Sanders, on the other hand, is more comfortable centering those conversations around economics. He has a storied history working as a civil rights advocate but was criticized in the 2016 race for not talking enough about racial justice issues, intersectionality and for having a predominantly white staff. He’s doing his best to change that this time around. While Warren might propose a federal grant for minority entrepreneurs, Sanders will discuss the importance of addressing the criminal justice system, which has disproportionately impacted minorities, and giving felons the right to vote.
When it comes to the cost of schooling, their plans also differ. Despite Sanders being known for his calls to make college tuition-free, Warren was the first to detail a plan to eliminate student loan debt. Sanders followed suit two months later and has presented a clearer picture of how he’d racially integrate K-12 schools, “freeze federal funding for all new charter schools and ban for-profit charter schools,” according to The New York Times. Warren hasn’t yet presented a plan for K-12 schools or how they’d change during her time as president.
Then, relevant to today’s leading news, there’s the issue of guns. In the 2016 race, Sanders was clobbered for his record on gun control. In his home state of Vermont, there are a lot of gun owners and the second amendment is an important part of life. Sanders has supported expanding background checks and bans on assault rifles, but he also voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993 that set up background checks at the federal level. Warren, on the other hand, has mostly taken a more far-left stance on guns. Shortly after the shootings this week, she promised to do everything she could on gun control by executive order. Sanders’ record on guns is viewed by the left as a bit shaky, while Warren is seen as a reliable anti-gun candidate.
All in all, the Warren vs. Sanders debate is a lot more nuanced than people seem to think. The next debate is their first time sharing the stage, so it will be interesting to see how these contrasts come out. But there’s also the possibility the two end up as running mates, so don’t be surprised if they pull some punches.
This breakdown is part of Tangle, an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter where I answer reader questions from across the country. If you want to receive content like this in your inbox, press the “Sign up now” button below. You can ask your own questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or replying to a newsletter.