My earliest recollection of Elizabeth Warren, politically, was in 2012 when she ran in Massachusetts against the incumbent, Scott Brown. I recall the headlines alongside the Brown campaign alleging Warren was using identity politics as a tool to sway voters. Years later questions of her ‘heritage’ resurfaced, but at the time it was obvious the attacks on her were racially-based attacks on her assumed racial makeup. Not too long after I was made aware of who Warren was, her infamous “you didn’t build that” speech that went viral. It was truly my first recollection of a (white) politician acknowledging what we now understand as “privilege”, making economic disparities clear. That speech went on to become more famous because then-President Obama lifted (and butchered) it for his 2012 Presidential campaign. In her speech, Warren exclaims,
“You built a factory out there? Good for you, but I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”Elizabeth Warren
Warren and Wall Street
That viral speech established Warren as a crusader against Wall Street just as #OccupyWallStreet was emerging. In hindsight, it was my own liberal naivety that led me to misinterpret not just the intent of the speech, but the audience— the white middle-class.
Warren defeated Brown with 53.7% of the vote, becoming the first woman in Massachusetts ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate. An alleged “great threat to free enterprise” and an enemy of the banks, Warren was assigned committee positions taking on financial industries. However, despite proclaiming to be an advocate for the everyday person, Warren’s appointment to a congressional panel overseeing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) makes her endeavors questionable.
While she has been vocally critical, the fact remains TARP bailed out hundreds of banks (as well as insurers and automakers). Warren was appointed to the committee because of her reputation as the woman to hold banks, as well as Treasury officials, accountable for the money that TARP had allocated. She did not do that. These are criticisms Warren has made herself,
“As soon as TARP was set up, tens of billions of dollars started flowing to the giant banks … but that didn’t keep credit flowing to the small businesses, and more and more of them were shutting down. At the same time, the tide of foreclosures just kept rising … TARP seemed to be doing precious little for small businesses or families in trouble.”Elizabeth Warren on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP
TARP was one of the few federal credit programs with costs officially calculated using fair value methods, current market values as the basis for recognizing certain assets and liabilities. But, unfortunately for taxpayers, the federal government disregards the cost of market risk in most of its credit programs. The best example is the federal student loan program, which offers below-market interest rates and other generous terms to subsidize college attendance. While failing to take on Wall Street, but compromise instead, the image of Warren as a “ tough on the wealthy” politician didn’t cease.
Warren and The Indigenous Communities of Turtle Island
Much of what Warren has framed her political ‘brand’ around is suspect to suspicion because she does not “practice” what she preaches. Nothing has been more alarming than the realization that Warren’s racial identity was not what she has claimed it to be. Extremely racist (and violent) and provocative in nature, Trump began to mock Warren’s ancestry by calling her “Pocahontas” as retaliation to her attempts to lead the liberal “resistance” in calls for impeachment and investigation. In doing so, Trump reignited former speculation that Warren may not have been Indigenous at all, having no official ‘tribal’ connection. In response to this, Warren publicly announced she would be taking a DNA test to disprove all doubts.
Many indigenous communities have spoken out about this being a very real and important issue. Unfortunately, they are gaslighted by mainstream media and “vote Blue no matter who” liberal nuts who are insisting that this isn’t *that* big of a deal. On the contrary, this is a type of violence that is completely in line with the erasure of Native people. In a Rewire News article, Jen Deerinwater exclaims,
“Despite Europeans’ and Americans’ many attempts to racialize Native people, we are not a race. We are distinct sovereign nations. We have our own governments, courts, elected officials, cultural and community spaces, and so much more. It is not our blood quantum or even our tribal citizenry that makes us who we are; it is our connection to our ancestors, people, and the seven generations to come. Warren is simply not one of us, and no DNA test will ever right the many wrongs she has committed against us with her previous remarks on her alleged Native background.”Jen Deerinwater
Although Warren issued an apology to the Cherokee Nation for taking a DNA test and for falsely claiming Tsalagi, the damage was already done. What’s far more interesting is Warren has never publicly addressed what it means to lie about her identity in order to gain all of the accesses she has been given in academia because she was considered a “Native American”, accesses that actual Natives are barred from, and how that has translated to the career she has today. That’s quite a far cry from the woman who understood “privilege” so clearly in 2012. And perhaps that is why Warren has fixated her campaign on issues that affect Black communities, instead of the people she’s claimed for the better half of her life.
Warren and pandering to “the Blacks”
Each election cycle, we are confronted with on the surface emphasis on Black outreach as part of their get-out-the-vote efforts. And every election cycle we have groups of Black people supporting candidates that do this, “strategic”. Warren and her campaign have not been the exception in this effort. They’ve simply taken a different route than other campaigns, one that’s based on sincerity. That sincerity (coupled with a definitive platform) has been a great draw.
While one can argue that Warren is running Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign (i.e. free education, free healthcare, more social programs), what one can not argue is the effectiveness of her campaign, thus far. She has recently been endorsed by 100 influential Black Women, many activists in their own right. However, sincerity isn’t material. The Democratic Party— the party of pity— has proved moreover that lip service doesn’t provide sufficient resources. Offering a detailed body of policy to go alongside platitudes does not get to the root of the systemic nor economic problems afflicting Black communities. Constantly revising your policies as we approach primaries doesn’t either.
Warren, the self-proclaimed “capitalist to [her] bones”, misunderstands, or rather misleads us on class and race intersecting dynamics. One can not claim to want to solve issues caused by racial disparities while also being an advocate for “gentler capitalism”. Warren and others like her who believe that the problem with capitalism is its excesses fail to understand (whether intentional or not) that capitalism’s excesses are a part of the system of capitalism. To rid society of capitalism’s excesses that cause exploitation of workers and poverty, we have to rid the society of capitalism. Regulations are merely a band-aid on a gunshot wound.
Most recently, Warren was questioned on whether capitalism can exist without racism. While her supporters may want to fixate on her exact wording, anything short of “no” is the wrong answer. Furthermore, ignoring the implications in favor of the exact verbiage is bad praxis.
Her misunderstanding of how race and class intersect is evident in her plan to throw $50 billion at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). HBCUs, while accounting for 3 percent of 4-year schools, in comparison, are underfunded. HBCU students are leaving with disproportionately high loans compared with their peers at other schools because tuition increases have outstripped inflation across America. TARP, mentioned earlier, plays a role. Black families have the least wealth of the largest U.S. racial groups, and parents of Black college students have lower incomes and are less likely to own homes than those from other racial groups. I am not arguing that the disparities do not exist. Clearly, they do. However, it is quite shortsighted to attack this issue as solely an HBCU matter. These disparities are true for all Black college students whether they attend an HBCU or a predominantly white institution (PWI). To not address the strongholds a capitalist system has on Black communities primarily because of race, but instead attempting to regulate the harm is not effective.
Even her speech delivered at the She the People Forum last April, which outlined a plan to address the inordinately high maternal mortality rates of Black women, was shortsighted. (High maternal mortality rates are also an issue affecting Indigenous communities, yet Warren has no centered platform for them). Warren’s plan to address the high maternal mortality rates of Black women includes a financial bonus for hospitals that improve health outcomes for new Black mothers. Hospitals that fail to do so will be fined. Warren stated,
“I want to see the hospitals see it as their responsibility to address this problem head-on and make it a first priority. The best way to do that is to use money to make it happen because we gotta have change and we gotta have change now.”Elizabeth Warren
Warren’s plan, while, again sincere, will harm the very patients she seeks to help. A financial bonus enough for a hospital to overcome the structural challenges posed by segregation and an inadequate social safety net. Racial disparities in maternal mortality outcomes do not begin and end in delivery rooms. By penalizing hospitals that fail to meet certain outcome standards, Warren’s proposal could actually reinforce the very injustice she wants to solve. (Just like bailing out Wall Street). Warren is able to evade addressing how and why medicine’s inequities result in concrete treatment disparities. It also makes her early compromise on “Medicare for all” in a new three-year rollout plan more questionable.
Warren and Warmongering
Because so much of Warren’s campaign is domestic, we’ve been given little to no understanding about her foreign policy platforms. While she has announced taking on the military-industrial complex, Warren has voted in favor of military defense budget increases—- yes, even under Trump administration. Warren is by no means on the far right of Democratic politics on war and peace, but she’s certainly no progressive.
Despite voting for military de-escalating the Yemen War and some other issues, she’s gone along with some of the most belligerent acts that have occurred under her watch on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In 2014, she championed Israel’s devastating war on Gaza and currently has no definitive stand against Israel and the recent deaths of many Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). In a June 2018 statement about the United States-North Korea summit, Warren said,
“Yesterday’s photo-op doesn’t change the fact that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a threat to the security of the United States, our allies, and the world. Generations of North Korean leaders have made and broken promises before—this Administration’s success will be judged on whether it can eliminate Kim’s nuclear weapons and verify they are gone.”Elizabeth Warren
Here, Warren is dismissing attempts at peace and a united Korea because she fears Trump, the madman in office, isn’t aggressive enough. She has vocalized her strong support for sanctions against Venezuela as well as Trump’s actions during the US-backed attempted coup in the spring and has recently expressed full support of it once again when she boasted,
“Start with the fact that Maduro is obviously a dictator; he’s terrible; he’s stolen this election; it’s a nightmare for the people of Venezuela. This notion of using our diplomatic tools, I’m all for it. I think recognition [of Guaidó], I think getting our allies to do it; it’s a way to bring diplomatic pressure. Economic sanctions? Yeah, I support economic sanctions, but we have to offer humanitarian help at the same time. We should be leading the international community to get help to those people. That puts more pressure on Maduro.”Elizabeth Warren
The “progressive” Democratic presidential candidate not only praised the Trump administration’s hybrid war against Venezuela but is expressing that when she becomes president, she intends to continue the hybrid war. Not only do the sanctions against Venezuela violate international law, but over 40,000 Venezuelans have died as a result of those sanctions, exacerbating a migrant crisis. Her preference for destabilizing Venezuela is economic warfare over military intervention.
This, however, does not mean Warren is less likely to use military intervention. In fact, she is preparing for it in a climate-friendly way. Instead of entertaining the idea of the New Green Deal, Warren has embraced a “green military”. After reports concluded that the US military is the biggest polluter in the world, Warren publicly expressed the best way to tackle this is not by closing the hundreds of bases worldwide, but by investing in making tanks with solar panels. And while this is a foolish concept, it exposes her dedication to the US military-industrial complex.
It also highlights stark similarities between herself and Trump, in rhetoric. She portrays the people of the Global South (of majority indigenous and African descent), who are most affected by climate change, as dispensable. She is most clear in depicting migration as a direct military threat. In deciding who are the deserving and undeserving victims of climate change, Warren makes her stance clear when siding with the world’s largest war machine over the victims of neoliberal exploitation making climate catastrophes more prominent in their regions. Warren sympathizes with the US military.
There’s nothing progressive about a warmonger. There’s nothing progressive about standing behind and supporting attempted coups in the Global South that usher in right-wing leaders who support privatization or being soft to speak against coups resulting in Indigenous genocide. There’s nothing progressive about imperialism. Although there is a huge failure in making the connections between international over-militarization and domestic over-policing, there is no difference in the occupation or the violence against the most marginalized in both instances. Failure to acknowledge this is not progressive. It is cowardice to avoid shaking the tables in favor of compromisable promises made to Black people during election season.
What Elizabeth Warren showcases as a sincere progressive Democratic candidate, is the many contradictions that exist within that party. Despite the rhetoric, the democratic party continuously proves there’s nothing progressive about it and will never be in the ways Black working-class communities need them to be.