lizabeth Warren, the candidate with a plan for everything, certainly has a masterplan for her campaign. Thus far she has vaulted to a clear #2 preference among Democratic primary voters, summoning a “grassroots movement” for "structural change." It's built on the same income inequality/fairness argument that propelled both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in 2016. And it’s working for her.
Eventually the honeymoon phase of her campaign will end—even if that's still a few months off. What will ultimately confront her are three threats she'll have to navigate in phase two:
(1) Straight talk. While she’s previously sought to stay above-the-fray in reference to rival Democrats, she clearly referenced Biden when she told a crowd, “we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in because we’re too scared to do anything else.” When asked directly by Rachel Maddow whether that was a knock on Biden, she lied and said, “No.”
Of course it was! So why not just come out and say it? It's got to happen eventually. Instead, it was an attempt to have it both ways—dog whistling an assertion and then denying its intent. Remind you of anyone? She can’t afford to look too slick to her purist followers. She can't afford to have the media obsession with Biden’s “gaffes” replaced with scrutiny of her “evasions”--or worse.
(2) Bernie Sanders. Politically, and so far rhetorically, Sanders and Warren are joined at the hip. The one proposal Warren doesn’t have on her website is her own health care plan--because she just supports Bernie’s. So there’s no reason for their truce not to continue until a few primaries are in the books. But at some point, one is going to have to start criticizing the other. In all likelihood, that’s going to be Sanders, looking up at Warren’s advantage. Does he just bow out gracefully, surrendering the progressive wing and sincerely urging his supporters to ardently throw full support behind Warren? That’s certainly not his history; and many of his supporters want no one but him, anyway. On the other hand, if Bernie decides to fight, he would deeply wound her in battles against both Biden and/or Trump.
(3) The numbers. Do hers add up? Her call for a wealth tax on the richest Americans (rather than simply adding to their income taxes) makes a lot of sense, both from a revenue and a philosophical standpoint. But the suggested bonanza from such a tax—as well as all the programs she says it will pay for—are at least borderline fantastical. How much wealth do those folks really have? How many IRS agents—and how much time—to find out? How many loopholes will they invent to avoid paying? And even beyond this quixotic quest, there will be an initial challenge as to whether the very idea of such a tax is constitutional. Those ultra-rich will pay for the best lawyers (and spend as many years as possible) to take this all the way to the Supreme Court--which is not exactly unfriendly to wealth and power.
And this all stands aside from the cost of the proposed Medicare For All. Warren has thus far talked past every question about whether such a plan would result in a middle-class tax hike. She won’t be able to do that forever. She needs better answers.
Elizabeth Warren’s call for a “restructuring” of parts of American society are, in my mind, absolutely correct. I support the goal. But ideas are almost always easier than their execution, and so far she hasn’t convinced me she’s got a handle on how to get things done—or even how to honestly talk about them.
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