I can hear it in my head like it was yesterday—the sobbing, angry phone calls from my daughters from their respective college campuses at 11 pm on November 8, 2016.
“We’re never going to have a woman for President–America is just too sexist! Hillary was a million times more qualified, but people just hate women! If Hillary wasn’t a good enough candidate compared to a disgusting piece of garbage like that, how could any woman ever hope to become President?”
In hindsight, maybe these angry rants were a slight oversimplification, but millions of women across the country felt this same pain—and marched around the country in protest on Inauguration weekend to say just that.
So when Elizabeth Warren’s name started to be seriously considered for 2020 (she’d actually been asked to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016, but declined), we threw our dark cynicism and hopelessness back into the storage closet, and started to look forward to 2020. She had already showed herself to be willing to take on Trump anywhere (even on his “home turf” of Twitter), willing to call him out, to resist at every turn, so she was clearly ready to run to replace him.
Warren grew up in Oklahoma with her three older brothers, in a middle-class family that struggled economically after her father suffered a heart attack. Her brothers all served in the military, while she wanted to be a teacher. But when she had to leave teaching after she became pregnant, she enrolled in law school, ultimately teaching at numerous law schools, including Harvard. She ran for Senator from Massachusetts in 2013 after Republicans decided to block her nomination to head up President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency which she herself had been instrumental in creating.
As Senator, she made headlines, and was the source of a new feminist mantra during the nomination hearings for Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, when she allegedly violated a Senate Rule, and Mitch McConnell stated, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” This resonated with women everywhere who had been warned not to do or try things, not to speak up or demand their rights, but who had nevertheless persisted.
There are many things to like about Warren, and about her campaign. She’s a no-nonsense, “what you see is what you get” kind of candidate, always on message, speaking directly to the voters, in a language that really hits home her message. She’s raised $60 million for her campaign, 53% coming from small donors, second in both numbers only to Bernie Sanders. She’s famously been making thank you phone calls to randomly selected donors, making the point that financing campaigns with small dollar donations allows a candidate to spend less time calling big donors begging for money. She’s held two town halls in Virginia this year–one in NoVA and a second in Norfolk. Additionally, she recorded video endorsements of Delegates Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, although she herself doesn’t have any endorsements yet from Virginia electeds. (She also endorsed Tom Perriello in 2017.)
And then there’s Bailey, the beautiful golden retriever Warren and her husband adopted as a puppy last June, who is 100% ready to be First Dog. Bailey was there when Warren announced she was considering running for President, Bailey has his own Twitter account, his own giant inflatable balloon, and supporters can get updates on Bailey by text message (text “Bailey” to 244-77). Even when Bailey misbehaves, public support remains steady.
Warren’s catch-phrase throughout the campaign has been “I have a plan for that.” This is a fairly new phenomenon in American Presidential politics, candidates releasing specific, detailed plans for policies, one which all the candidates seem to be following now. In one way, it’s helpful to primary voters, enabling them to delineate between ideologically similar candidates with more depth than labels like “progressive,” “neo-liberal,” or “moderate” provide. At the same time, it opens candidates up to more targeted criticism—and unnecessarily, because these plans aren’t road maps; much of what is written in them relies entirely on complete cooperation from an as-yet-unknown Congress, and even the Supreme Court in some instances.
In fact, it’s something that has tripped up Warren in the race. She initially supported Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, but after being repeatedly asked to clarify how a Warren Administration would pay for such a plan, she released a $52 trillion, ten year plan, paid for by targeted spending cuts, new taxes on large corporations and the richest 1% of Americans, and by reducing tax evasion and fraud. No sooner had she released the plan, then pundits (and her Democratic opponents) began to criticize the plan, arguing that the math didn’t add up, that it wasn’t possible to raise enough from those sources to pay for the plan, and that even if taxes were levied on big corporations, the costs would ultimately be passed on to workers and consumers. Further, Warren began hearing from voters and focus groups that they didn’t want to give up their private insurance, or that they didn’t trust the government to administer a system as critical as their health care. More, she began hearing that a hard stand on Medicare for All might cost Democrats the general election. So she added a new plan, promising a public Medicare option within the first 100 days of her administration, and a transition to full Medicare for All within the first three years of her administration. It’s not progressive enough for the hard-core supporters of Medicare for All, and still not moderate enough for those who want to improve on Obamacare, which may explain why her national polling numbers have leveled off, or even fallen.
Aside from her plans to achieve universal health care coverage, Warren truly does have a plan for everything else too. It’s not clear which parts of these plans rely on the outcome of control of the Senate, and also which ideas might be held up by the courts even with a Democrat-controlled Congress. But what is absolutely clear is that Elizabeth Warren really gets it–she sees every injustice and inequality in our economy and our society, and sees how “the corruption in Washington that makes our government work for the wealthy and well-connected, but kicks dirt on everyone else,” is the root cause of most of these problems. I’ll focus on just a couple of her other plans here, but I really encourage anyone who’s interested to visit her website and lose yourself for a few hours dreaming of a better America.
Warren would tackle climate change by investing $1.5 trillion over the next ten years to purchase renewable, emissions-free energy products for governmental use, all produced in America, and $400 billion in clean energy research. She incorporates Jay Inslee’s challenge for a ten-year plan to reach 100% clean energy by attaining 100% zero-carbon pollution for all new commercial and residential buildings by 2028; 100% zero emissions for all new passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and buses by 2030; and 100% clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy in electricity generation by 2035.
She wants to ensure universal access to child care by creating a network of local child care providers that meet national standards for quality, and which the federal government will pick up a huge chunk of the cost of operating, allowing access to free child care to any family making less than 200% of the federal poverty line and access to any family over that 200% threshold at rates capped at no more than 7% of that family’s income.
Warren’s Housing Plan for America would invest $500 billion over the next ten years to build and rehabilitate affordable housing for low-income families. States will only qualify to receive funding through the plan conditional on adopting tenant protections such as a right to lease renewal, protections against constructive eviction, and tenants’ right to organize.
A Warren Administration would invest an additional $450 billion in Title I funding over the next ten years to schools, conditional on states chipping in more funding, adopting more progressive funding formulas, and then on allocating state funding consistent with these progressive formulas. This type of incentivizing state governments subject to conditions is a common thread in Warren’s plans. She would also cancel up to $50,000 of student loan debt for 42 million Americans, and make all 2-year and 4-year public colleges tuition free, plus add an additional $100 billion to the Pell Grant program over the next ten years to help low-income students with additional costs of attending college.
Finally, but certainly not the least: Elizabeth Warren has a large set of structural changes to the way that Congress, lobbyists, corporations, and the White House itself operate. These include mandatory disclosure of tax returns for elected officials, divesting from assets that might provide conflicts of interest, prohibiting Congress from serving on public boards or trading stocks while in office, judicial oversight and ethics reform, banning lobbying for foreign interests, prohibiting campaign donations by lobbyists, taxing excessive lobbying, and a 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act.
Several of Warren’s plans, including Medicare for All, would be funded by a wealth tax—something that has never been attempted in the United States. A wealth tax would be a federal tax paid not on sources of income or on purchases, but on the wealth or assets that a person holds. It would levy a 3% marginal tax on wealth in excess of $1 billion, and a 2% tax wealth between $50 million and $1 billion. That currently applies to about 55,000 ultra-wealthy individuals in the United States.
While taxing billionaires more is a very popular idea, it’s very difficult to estimate the amount of additional revenue this would actually provide the government to help run programs like Medicare for All or a free college tuition plan. One reason is that we cannot just assume that the wealthy will not make any changes in response to the new tax—in fact, they can move assets to other countries (which would hurt the US economy), they can split up their wealth by divorcing from a spouse or giving more to their children, they can give to a charity of their choosing. Additionally, the implementation itself is complicated, and it’s not at all clear that the same emaciated IRS that has seen a 20% cut in funding since 2010 and has halved its audit rate would have the capabilities to take on a difficult challenge of properly assessing the value of billionaires’ assets and ensuring compliance. Lastly, legal experts disagree as to whether such a wealth tax is constitutional or not (the arguments hinge on requirements that federal taxation be apportioned to the states in proportion to their population, which a wealth tax might violate). This means that in addition to Warren needing a Democratically-controlled House and Senate to enact a wealth tax, she can also expect such a plan to be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Big structural change is big…and scary. Upending the status quo is frightening to those who’ve worked and lived for decades under its wings. Small, incremental changes to the edges of the status quo are much less frightening. And this is the resistance many Democrats have to Elizabeth Warren. People worry that she’s “unelectable”—that her ideas are so big and so scary that they will drive moderates and Independents to the polls to vote for Trump. In part, this is just due to a limited imagination or a small-c conservatism innate to lots of people. But there are some genuine reasons to hesitate too, to ask how much of candidate Warren’s plans can be accomplished in a Warren Administration, and how she will adjust if she hits a brick wall in Congress or the Supreme Court.