Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is running into a labeling problem. The Democratic presidential candidate is trying to do her best to eschew the democratic socialist label for…something? CNN has a report of her conversation with Anand Giridharadas at SXSW in Austin:
“Bernie has to speak to what Democratic Socialism is,” replied Warren, who represents Massachusetts in the Senate.
“And you are not one?” Giridharadas asked.
“I am not. And the centrists have to speak to whatever they are doing. What I can speak is to is how I am doing,” Warren said.
She continued: “All I can tell you is what I believe. And that is there is an enormous amount to be gained from markets. That markets create opportunities.”
“Markets have to have rules. They have to have a cop on the beat,” she said, adding that “markets without rules are theft.”
Warren followed up her “not a Democratic Socialist” statement in an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation today where she proclaimed her love of capitalism – so long as strict rules were in place.
ED O’KEEFE: But you know you’re getting labeled and you’re getting coupled in with a few of your other Democratic contenders as someone who supports socialist ideas. Can we- do we describe you as a capitalist? What’s the best–
SEN. WARREN: Yeah–
ED O’KEEFE: — way to describe you?
SEN. WARREN: I believe in markets. Markets that work. Markets that have a cop on the beat and have real rules and everybody follows them. I believe in a level playing field. And as long as we’ve got that then we will get the best out of markets because it means the people who come up with great ideas, who work hard are the ones who will prosper, not simply those who were born into wealth.
ED O’KEEFE: So if you get labeled as a socialist–
SEN. WARREN: Well it’s just wrong.
Warren’s issue is the same as most populist politicians. They have to start adding other labels because populism, in it of itself, only gets politicians so far. Texas Senator Ted Cruz told TIME in 2016 he was an economic populist who believed in a less powerful government. This is the same Cruz who has taken mixed free market stances by showing interest in possibly privatizing air traffic controllers but also suggesting the government may want to crack down on Facebook and Twitter. Warren – by trying to maintain her populist credibility – is trying to straddle the line between being “for the people,” but also believing in big government. Cruz and Warren are two sides of the same populist coin – whether their supporters want to admit it or not.
It is interesting Warren is taking the “I believe in markets but with rules” strategy. She’s probably hoping her fan club will stay with her, while also trying to appeal to traditional Democrats who are worried about Bernie Sanders. Beto O’Rourke is taking a similar tact by calling himself a “capitalist,” even if he’s not running for president, yet.
Perhaps Warren’s main reason for this “capitalist with rules” motto is because the “progressive” label is becoming more and more malleable to whatever politician is using it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped found the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but progressive commentators appear split on whether she’s actually progressive. Warren’s “capitalism with rules” is in line with notable progressive Theodore Roosevelt who wrote Congress in 1901, “[The desire for government regulations on corporations] is based upon sincere conviction that combination and concentration should be, not prohibited, but supervised and within reasonable limits controlled; and in my judgment this conviction is right.”
Of course, progressives have long been influenced by socialists in their policy decisions. Roosevelt was inspired to create what is now the FDA due to socialist Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Amusingly, Sinclair didn’t want government intervention because of what it would cost taxpayers. Warren’s desire to break up Big Tech is another example of progressives being ‘inspired’ by socialists to do things for the so-called “public good.” She may claim to not be a Democratic Socialist, but she’s definitely the kind of progressive who believes the government should pick winners and losers, regardless of who is hurt in the process.
It will be up to Democrat voters to decide whether they buy Warren’s schtick or not. Her posturing definitely shows the problem with putting populism before values, and why her candidacy is currently lagging in the polls against other Democrats. Of course, the primaries are still a long way away – and voters are wont to change their mind on a regular basis. But, make no mistake, Warren may not call herself a “democratic socialist” but her ideas would more than likely hurt America, not help.