The Difference Between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

As an Elizabeth Warren supporter, some friends have asked me why I support Warren and not Bernie Sanders? They share many of the same political positions on various issues. Both represent the most progressive voices in this field of Democratic candidates running for the presidency. What is the difference between Warren and Sanders?

I like both Warren and Sanders. The difference between Warren and Sanders is the difference between a liberal Democrat and a democratic socialist. Liberal Democrats and democratic socialists have many similarities. Both agree about the flaws of the capitalist system and both gear their policy proposals to attack the problems of economic inequality. The difference between liberals and socialists is that liberal Democrats want to reform the capitalist system while democratic socialists want to replace the capitalist system. Warren envisions a well-regulated free market in the line of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose Party platform. Sanders’ aims to model the United States on democratic socialist countries like Iceland, Sweden, and Norway.

Warren aims to reconfigure our country’s capitalist system so that it benefits all Americans and not just a wealthy minority. She aims to offer relief for middle class and poor Americans by raising the taxes of those earning more that $50 million to pay for universal childcare, student loan debt relief, and universal college. Warren also aims to strengthen the checks and balances to corporate power by allowing workers to elect at least 40% of a corporation’s board members, by strengthening unions and by enforcing anti-trust laws.

There are legitimate criticisms one can make about Warren’s proposals from both the Left and the Right. If you look at history, liberals have been right about some things and wrong about some things. But you can also say that about conservatives, democratic socialists, libertarians or any group. Elizabeth Warren’s policy agenda is well within the liberal tradition of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. FDR’s New Deal was not perfect, but it saved America’s capitalist system in the 1930s.

I’m a liberal Democrat because I think liberals have been correct far more often than they’ve been wrong.

Here is a video of Bernie Sanders explaining the difference between himself and Elizabeth Warren. Warren considers herself a capitalist while Sanders does not.

Here is a video of Elizabeth Warren paying tribute to Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights speech

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Opposing Ideological Purity Tests

In the above video, Ana Kasparian and Mike Figueredo of The Young Turks agree with Meghan McCain’s comment that she can’t have a constructive conversation with those who insist that she must agree 100 percent with what they believe. Kasparian and Figueredo comment that when rigid ideologues have these stringent ideological purity tests that they try to impose on others, it shuts off constructive debate on issues and we aren’t able to test out the strengths and weaknesses of ideas or proposals. If you demonize and disdain anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with you, how will you be able to persuade people to support the things you believe in?

I fully agree with McCain, Kasparian, and Figueredo on this. Over the past few decades, the people who have caused the most problems in my life have been people who are intolerant of differing points of view and attacked me for having the audacity to express my views. I’ve had some crazy conflicts with conservative Christians these past few years that I still struggle with. But I’ve encountered this on the Left too. In 2016, I had to leave a few Filipino facebook pages because I got into these crazy debates with leftists who were trying to justify Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings. That same year, I had some bad experiences with some Bernie Sanders supporters, even though I tried to tell them that I liked Bernie Sanders and have a deep respect for his integrity.

I don’t judge a friendship based on political affiliation or whether someone agrees with me 100% on my politics. I’m willing to be friends with people of diverse political affiliations of the Left or the Right so long as it is a healthy friendship and not a toxic relationship.

Do I enjoy being in this person’s company? Am I able to relax and be myself, laugh, and express my thoughts freely? Is there honesty, respect and mutual care in my interactions with these individuals, even when we disagree?

Or am I constantly being put down on and personally attacked for having my own tastes and point of view? Do I feel manipulated and harassed, and does that person constantly try to impose their beliefs on me? Am I always walking on egg shells when I’m around this person?

I’ve learned the hard way how damaging it is to my self esteem to be in a toxic friendship or a cult-like group. I strong believe that we can fight for what we believe in while still treating with respect and decency those that we disagree with.

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Thoughts about the Democratic Candidates in October 2019

I support Elizabeth Warren for President. Even with my support, I do think there are legitimate criticisms one can make against Warren, just as I think there are legitimate criticisms one can make about any candidate. I’ve read that some people are waiting for the perfect candidate to come before they support someone. I don’t think a perfect candidate exists. Every political candidate will have their strengths and weaknesses. Each voter has to evaluate what qualities they want in a candidate and whether the candidates can surround themselves with advisers that can compensate for their weaknesses.

We all have ideological considerations and personal experiences that influence who we decide to support. There are good reasons other people support Biden, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Klobucher and other candidates. Here are my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of some of the candidates.

Strengths- I think Warren has the most detailed and thought out policy proposals of all the candidates. As a liberal, I like how resolutely liberal Warren’s policies are, and I like how Warren can defend her policies and explain the logic behind her policies. Both Warren and Sanders are focused on tackling the economic inequality that I believe are the root of most of the problems this country faces. Warren has strategies on how to overcome the potential obstructionist tactics of Mitch McConnell and the Freedom Caucus. Warren is tough and articulate.
Weaknesses- So far, Warren’s base of support seems to be suburban white liberals and she has yet to garner a lot of support of working class white and minority voters. My biggest worry is whether she can defend herself from Trump’s personal attacks. I thought Warren did a terrible job of defending herself from the “Pocohantas” label that Trump put on her. I think she made the same mistakes that Marco Rubio (“Little Marco”), Ted Cruz (“Lying Ted”) and Hillary Clinton (“Crooked Hillary”) made in 2016. She’ll need to do a better job if she becomes the Democratic nominee.

Strengths- I am forever grateful to Bernie for his decades of speaking out for progressive issues. These past few decades, the political center of this country has moved way too far to the Right. Someone who would’ve been considered a moderate Republican in the 1970s would be considered a liberal Democrat in today’s political climate. As the political center has moved increasingly to the Right, conservatives have defined the terms of debate on most of the political issues in this country. During Bernie’s run for the Presidency in 2016, Sanders has been able to shift the political center Leftward again. That is a very important accomplishment.
Weaknesses- I see two weaknesses. Though Sanders is able to attract a broad amount of working class white voters, he has thus far been unable to attract a significant portion of minority voters. The second weakness has to do with his legislative skills. In order to pass his ambitious plans, Sanders is going to need the political skills of a Franklin Roosevelt or a Lyndon Johnson to get his ideas through Congress. Does Sanders have those political skills? Sanders has been in Congress since the 1990s. When you compare Sanders’ legislative record with other great progressives of that same period, like Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Paul Wellstone, Maxine Waters, and others, Sanders’ legislative accomplishments seem meager in comparison. This is one area where I think a Biden or a Klobucher is stronger than Sanders.

Strengths- Unlike some progressives, I like Biden. He’s a warm extroverted personality who can connect with people. He was a good Senator who developed relations with both Democrats and Republicans, knows how to build coalitions to get legislation passed. He is one of the few candidates so far who can attract both working class white and minority voters. In this time of great racial divisions, Biden’s ability to build multiracial support is very important. And Biden is deeply knowledgeable about policy, and especially foreign policy.
Weaknesses- For a major politician, Biden is surprisingly weak as a communicator. During the 3 debates I’ve seen, Biden has really struggled to articulate his points and to defend himself from legitimate critiques to his record. Biden has a history of putting his foot in his mouth, and I have a gut feeling that Biden is so worried about saying an inappropriate thing that he is overthinking when he speaks and winds up saying the wrong thing anyways. Dan Quayle had the same problem. Biden is an intelligent and deeply knowledgeable person, but that’s not coming across. If Biden can’t defend himself against a Kamala Harris or the other Democrats, how is he going to defend himself against Donald Trump? Progressives rightly question Biden’s record on the crime bill that he championed in the 1990s that led to the mass incarceration of a generation of African American and Latino men.

Strengths- When I’ve watched Kamala Harris question people at Senate hearings, she shows a deep intelligence and a no-nonsense approach that one wants to see in a President. I thought her performance in the first debate was great. She took control of the stage, and showed a fierce intelligence that outshined all the other candidates that night. Though her policy proposals aren’t as ambitious as Warren’s or Sanders’, they are well thought out and tackle the problems of middle class and poor Americans in innovative ways. She has many of the same strengths as Amy Klobucher and Cory Booker.
Weaknesses- After the first debate, the confident Harris seems to have disappeared. I don’t know what happened. When Tulsi Gabbard went after her in the second debate, Harris seemed taken by surprise and was hesitant in her answers. Harris should’ve known that the other candidates would go after her after she did so well in the first debate, and I was surprised at how unprepared Harris was. There are legitimate questions being raised about Harris’s record as attorney general of California.

Strengths- I think Buttigieg is the most well-spoken and articulate candidate in the Democratic field. When he gives an answer in the debates, they are always well-thought out and insightful. Buttigieg has a way of connecting with an audience and empathizing with their struggles that is rare among politicians. His policies are well thought, though not as ambitious as Warren or Sanders.
Weaknesses- I like Buttigieg, but I really wish he had more experience in national politics. Considering the hyper-partisanship and the obstructionism of Mitch McConnell and the Freedom Caucus of the past decade, I worry that Buttigieg is going to make the same mistakes that Obama made in the first few years of his presidency. In some ways, Buttigieg is the inverse of Biden: Biden is a deeply experience legislator who has a difficult time communicating to the wider public; Buttigieg is very articulate, but has almost no experience in national affairs.

Strengths- Along with Buttigieg, Booker is one of the most articulate candidates in the Democratic field. He has more experience than Butttigieg, so he has a more realistic view on how difficult it will be to pass his policy proposals. Booker has some innovative ideas on how to tackle economic inequality, especially his baby bond proposals. And Booker knows how to convey his ideas in personal terms that can connect with his audience.
Weaknesses- I’m not sure why, but Booker doesn’t seem to be attracting a lot of support or attention. There are legitimate questions about Booker’s time as mayor. When Booker speaks in the debates, he comes across as being very likable. But he disappears a lot in the debates. And he doesn’t seem to inspire as much passion as the followers of Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg.

Strengths- Amy Klobucher is a deeply experienced legislator who has been able to working with Republicans to pass over 100 bills in a deeply partisan time. When I watch her question individuals at Senate hearings, Klobucher shows the same fierce intelligence as Kamala Harris. And she really did a great job in the third debate, standing out after her passive performances in the first two debates. She has followed Warren in coming out with several detailed policy proposals that are less ambitious than Warren’s but are none-the-less serious efforts to attack economic inequality.
Weaknesses- Until she did so well in the third debate, Klobucher seemed rather bland. She needs to do a better job of articulating her policy proposals so they can offer a sharper contrast to Warren’s or Sanders’. Both she, Booker and Harris have a similar problem in that the intensity that they’ve shown in Senate hearings hasn’t really been seen in the campaign trails and in the debates. I think that is why they haven’t been able to attract the same passions that Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg have attracted.

These are just my observations so far and they’re liable to change as the political season goes on. It’s good to support a candidate. But even when you support a politician, you should be able to criticize that politician when you disagree with that person. One thing that I think Democrats should be careful of is not to fall into that cult of personality trap that many Republicans have fallen into with Trump. In 2016, I got into a few clashes with some Sanders supporters even though I told them that I liked Sanders and had nothing against him. If I thought the Democrats would’ve had a chance to win majorities in Congress, I might’ve supported Sanders over Hillary.

Support politicians when you agree with them and oppose them when you disagree. No politician deserves 100% loyalty. Don’t trust any political leader who demands 100% loyalty from you.

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Thinking About Ellen DeGeneres and Her Friendship With George Bush

I recently saw a news item about Ellen DeGeneres’s friendship with George W. Bush and it had to make me smile. I admire Ellen for having a generosity of spirit that I strive for but don’t always have. I posted an article recently about former black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s friendship with arch-segregationist George Wallace. Wallace eventually turned away from his racist past and tried to make amends. Liberal George McGovern was close friends with conservative Barry Goldwater. Liberal Ted Kennedy was best friends with conservative Orrin Hatch.

I’m a liberal who still has some conservative friends. What kind of conservatives can I have healthy friendships with and what kind of conservatives would make toxic friendships? I would be open to friendships with a George Bush, a John McCain, a George Will (not that I’d ever meet them) because I sense in them a healthy respect for differences of opinion. Bush, after all, is friends with both the Clintons and the Obamas. But I wouldn’t be friends with a Donald Trump or an Alt Right figure like Richard Spencer because of their intolerance of differing opinions and their extreme bigotry. I’ve had to end former friendships with conservative Christians because of their constant attempts to impose their views on me to the point where I felt like I was trapped in a cultish relationship.

My criteria for a friendship doesn’t depend on political affiliation, but on whether it is a healthy friendship or whether it is a toxic relationship. Is there a respect of differences of opinion, trust, honesty, and mutual care in that friendship? Or am I constantly being looked down on and personally attacked for having my own tastes and point of view, do I constantly feel manipulated and harassed, and does that person constantly try to impose their beliefs on me? Do I laugh and have fun and enjoy this person’s company? Or do I constantly feel put down and have to walk on egg shells when I’m around this person?

In my own experience, I’ve learned that some conservatives are really nice people and some conservatives are jerks. Some progressives are nice people and some progressives are jerks. Try to get past stereotypes and just get to know each person on an individual basis and judge them on how they treat me and others around us.

Liberal Democrat George McGovern and conservative Republican Barry Goldwater were close friends in spite of their sharply divergent political views. They formed their friendship when then began working out together in the gym, and they maintained their friendship though they had very different views on the role of the federal government and on social programs to help the poor. The Vietnam War was the defining issue of their generation, and Goldwater was a strong supporter of the war while McGovern was one of the Senate’s fiercest critics of the war.

In this Oct. 13, 1988 video, former Senators George McGovern and Barry Goldwater dropped by the MacNeil/Lehrer Report to discuss the 1988 presidential race, the divisive politics of their parties and the legacy of conservatism and liberalism.

In this video conservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch speaks at the memorial service for his friend, the liberal Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy were close friends in spite of their political differences and they collaborated on many bills, including the Ryan White AIDS Act, the American With Disabilities Act, the The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Serve America Act.

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Groupthink and Hyperpartisanship

With the rise in authoritarian governments around the world, I’ve become very interested in the qualities that make for a healthy and functioning democracy. Our democratic republic functions best when the Left, the Middle and the Right have a constructive debate on the issues facing the nation. And when the debate reaches an impasse, all sides should be willing to find areas of common ground and compromise for some progress. Each side of the political spectrum has been right about some things, wrong some things. Liberals have been right about some things, wrong about others; conservatives have been right about some things and wrong about other things; and the same can be said about democratic socialists, libertarians, moderates, radicals. No one has a monopoly on truth.

Right now many Republicans are caught up in a groupthink mentality right now, with a fervent cult of personality surrounding President Trump and a rigid ideological purity test that tries to denigrate or silence anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with them. But that sort of groupthink is just a dark side of human nature, something that we’re all vulnerable to, whether one is to the Left or the Right of the political spectrum, if we are not careful to guard against it.

That is one of the reasons why I admire independent minded leftists, individuals to the Left of the political spectrum but who are willing to go against the Left if they think the Left is wrong on a particular issue. Leftists like George Orwell, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr, Muriel Rukeyser. These leftists were often criticized by their own side for being insufficiently left wing or for not towing some sort of party line. They were leftists who valued their right to their own independent point of view.

In the late 1960s, there was a growing rift in the Left between two groups over tactics. One group of leftists, including Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Day, and Pete Seeger, held fast to their belief in nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of increasing opposition from leftists like Stokely Carmichael, Bernardine Dohrn, Huey Newton, Mark Rudd, who believed that peaceful protests were ineffective and that violence was the only means of achieving lasting social change. Several years ago, I watched the documentary “The Weather Underground” about a group of radicals who began bombing federal buildings in a desperate attempt to highlight their political concerns. The documentary interviewed former Weathermen Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd and David Gilbert, who maintained their leftist beliefs but voiced deep regret about adopting terrorist tactics to try to achieve their goals.

I think many in the Right today are caught up in the same sort of extreme mentality that the Weathermen were caught up in during the 1970s. The Alt Right and white nationalist elements of the Right are trying to take over the conservative movement, using the Republican Party to advance an agenda of scapegoating vulnerable minority groups for problems they aren’t responsible for, denigrating people who disagree with them as unAmerican, and rolling back the gains in civil rights that women, minorities and LGBTQ people gained these past few decades.

I think it’s important for principled conservatives to fight to regain control of the conservative movement from the Alt Right, the Trumpists, and the white nationalist elements. Conservatives like Jeff Flake, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Liz Mair, David Brooks and others have been fighting for a conservative movement without the racism, religious intolerance and anti-immigrant bias of the Alt Right. Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said in a speech to the National Press Club last year:

“…never has a party abandoned, fled its principles and deeply held beliefs so quickly as my party did in the face of the nativist juggernaut…

…If my party is going to try to pass off the degradation of the United States and her values from the White House as normal, if we’re going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we are going to refuse to live in the world that everyone else lives in and reckon with the daily reality that they face, including their very real and understandable anxiety that they feel, then my party might not deserve to lead…

…To restore leadership that is aware of and cherishes our constitutional framework, which by design is meant to force compromise. It shouldn’t be hard because it is basic. But it will be hard.

To once again have a leader that assumes that Democrats and Republicans are not intractable enemies, but competing friends, leadership that recognizes the once seminal American notion of the common good. It shouldn’t be hard because it is basic. But it will be hard.

To swing the pendulum away from the toxicity of our current moment, we must recognize the good in our opponents.”

Here is the trailer to the documentary “The Weather Underground”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke to the National Press Club audience on March 15, 2018 about his criticisms of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s acquiescence to Trump

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Thinking About Rodrido Duterte and How to Oppose Authoritarian Leaders

I’ve been increasingly horrified at the rise of authoritarian governments in the Philippines and around the world, as authoritarian leaders have attacked democratic institutions and chipped away at civil liberties. Because of this, I’ve been reading books about how authoritarian governments consolidate power and how artists and other individuals can resist authoritarian governments. Right now I’m finishing reading Carolyn Forche’s book “What You Have Heard Is True”, a memoir about her experience as a poet traveling in El Salvador learning about the rise of death squads in 1979 just before the country’s civil war. I just reread a few months ago Erik Larson’s book “In The Guardian of Beasts”, about the experiences of William Dodd, American ambassador to Germany, and the Dodd family in the early 1930s as they witness Adolf Hitler consolidate power in Germany and escalate the Nazi persecution of the Jewish population.

If you look at history, authoritarian leaders, whether from the Left or the Right, have the same playbook when it comes to consolidating power: they attack the free press and any institution that can act as a check to their power; they scapegoat vulnerable minority groups for the problems of the society; they demonize opposition parties or anyone who disagrees with the authoritarian leader; they promise prosperity and security for those who follow an exclusive nationalist ideology; they glorify militarism and the empowerment of the police to use extrajudicial means to control rampant crime. I look at Duterte and see him use a lot of those tactics: he’s tried to close down or intimidate news sites like the Catholic radio, Rapper, the Philippines Daily Inquirer; he has jailed opposition Senator Leila de Lima and had judicial supporters vote out Supreme Court justice Maria Lourdes Sereno after she made some rulings against Duterte’s policies; he’s attacked lawyers, activists and clergy who have spoken out against the Duterte policy of extrajudicial killings.

Two years ago, I had to leave a few Filipino American facebook pages when I got into arguments with some Filipino leftists who were trying to defend Duterte’s extrajudicial killings. While most authoritarian leaders around the world appeal to the political Right in their countries, Duterte is different in that he initially tried to co-opt the Philippines Left. Some of his policies, like controlling mining companies that have been the source of much human rights abuses against the indigenous people, and the increase in social services to the poor, have been good. Two years later, I’m glad to see that more and more leftists are speaking out against Duterte as they see the devastating affects of his drug wars are having against the poor and as leftists activists are starting to get targeted for killings and intimidation. This is a pattern in history: before authoritarian leaders have consolidated power, they form temporary alliances with groups who see the authoritarian leader as a means to achieving some of their goals. Once the authoritarian leaders consolidates power, however, the leaders turns on those groups because of their potential to challenging the leader’s power.

When I read that 80 percent of Filipinos support Duterte, I see them making the same mistake that many Republicans are making in this country in supporting Donald Trump. In exchange for the tax cuts, business deregulation, and Supreme Court nominees, too many Republicans are willing to ignore Trump’s scapegoating of vulnerable minority groups and his attacks on democratic norms. They are ignoring Benjamin Franklin’s warning that if you trade your freedom for security, in the end you will eventually lose both.

I’m glad that leftists in the Philippines are speaking out against Duterte’s drug war. Any opposition needs the support of the Left if it is to succeed in checking Duterte’s power.. Looking at history, the first groups to usually oppose authoritarian governments are leftists, the Church, students, human rights activists, civil libertarians, and journalists. The opposition starts out in the fringes, and only gain in strength when they can persuade the middle class to join in opposing the government.

I don’t think the Philippines opposition has gained enough strength yet to effectively challenge Duterte’s more anti-democratic policies. But if the Duterte government tries to enact more anti-democratic measures to consolidate power, I think the opposition movement will grow.

In this video poet Carolyn Forché talked about her latest novel, “What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance”

In this video Erik Larson spoke about his book “In the Garden of Beasts,” which chronicles the experiences of William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Nazis Germany in 1933

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Philip Dray and Capitol Men, the First Black Congressmen

On February 24, 2009, Philip Dray spoke at Boston University as part of the African American Studies Program’s Spring 2009 Lecture Series, presenting research from his book, “Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen.”

Dray’s book chronicles the sixteen black Southerners who were elected to the U.S. Congress during the Reconstruction era of the 1860s and 1870s. These black legislators collaborate with their white Radical Republican counterparts to pass legislation to protect the rights of the newly freed African American slave population, advocating reforms such as public education, equal rights, land distribution, and the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan. From the 1860s to the mid 1870s, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1875, were passed to try to insure equal rights for African Americans.

After the Reconstruction era was over and Union troops left the Southern states, however, Southerners began to harass their African American communities and roll back the legal protections that insured black equality. As Jim Crow laws were enacted across the South, black citizens lost the rights that they had gained in the Reconstruction era and the black legislators were gradually voted out of office.

This holds important lessons for today. As Republicans have enacted voter suppression laws in the Rust Belt and the South, as the Trump administration has tried to roll back laws protecting the rights of women, Muslims and LGBTQ people, and as President Trump has scapegoated immigrants and Muslims, it’s important to remember that the rights that we have achieved can always be reversed unless we stay vigilant and defend those rights.

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