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Editorial: Sen. Warren’s message still matters

  • FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2020 file photo Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the National Action Network South Carolina Ministers' Breakfast in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Published: 3/11/2020 10:10:20 PM
Modified: 3/11/2020 10:10:09 PM

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren ended her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last week, the hopes of millions who thought this finally was the year a female candidate would be elected president of the United States were dashed. The disappointment was all the more bitter because that milestone did seem well within reach, with capable and credible candidates such as Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris also in the field for a time.

Dispiriting as the outcome is for many women (and men, too, we suspect), the consolation prize of the vice presidency is not to be deprecated. Both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have hinted they would select a woman as running mate, which is both the right thing to do and smart politics. Women have been excluded for far too long from the highest offices the nation has to confer; and a dynamic female candidate would galvanize women to rally behind a ticket that will almost certainly he headed by one of two septuagenarian white males.

Before that moment comes, though, Warren’s singular contribution to this year’s campaign deserves to be recognized. That contribution consists of two strands of her message that were inextricably intertwined.

One was her critique of capitalism, which she embraces. In fact, she has described herself as “capitalist to my bones.” But her insight here is that there is no such thing as a “free market.” All markets operate according to rules, and they become dysfunctional when the rules, as they do currently, disproportionately favor one socioeconomic group over another. And when capitalism operates for the benefit of only a tiny segment of society — the 1%— at the expense of all others, the rules need to be rewritten by government to promote equity and, yes, in the long run to save capitalism from its own worst excesses.

Her proposals in this realm included worker representation on corporate boards; revising laws to foster unionization; curbing the private-equity industry; reviving the Glass-Steagall Act’s requirement that investment and commercial banking be kept separate; and breaking up the tech behemoths such as Facebook and Amazon that have a stranglehold on important markets. Anyone who truly believes in the power of capitalism as a force for good — fostering innovation, opportunity and broad-based prosperity — should applaud Elizabeth Warren for pointing to reforms that would allow it to achieve that potential.

Warren also understands that vast inequality in wealth, and the problems it has created, didn’t just happen. Instead, it resulted in large measure from a series of political choices made in recent decades that, for example, deregulated the financial industry, provided massive tax breaks for corporations and the ultrawealthy, promoted globalization and shattered unions.

She views the consequences of those choices as related and believes they must be treated together in a comprehensive way, through the political process. Yes, she was sometimes derided as the candidate who had a plan for everything, but those plans were designed to work together to redress the balance of power in an economy and a society tilted dangerously in favor of the wealthy.

Her solution is to proceed from a different set of assumptions and make a different set of policy choices. A wealth tax and other progressive tax changes, universal health care, big investments in affordable housing, child care and green energy, student debt relief, and an anti-corruption drive can all be seen as foundational elements of a better life for millions.

In all this, Elizabeth Warren can lay claim to drawing together these threads and articulating an agenda that is a coherent response to the politics of selfishness and greed that have produced a new Gilded Age in America. We hope that her efforts and those of Sanders will lead sooner or later to a new Progressive Era of structural reform.

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