Tag Archives: American democracy

Endorsing Warrenism

Wil Wilkinson had an interesting column in The New York Times a while back.His general thesis is pretty well summarized in this paragraph:

Democrats are hungry for reform, not revolution. To oust Mr. Trump and especially to govern effectively, Democrats need a fighting creed that avoids both Mr. Biden’s blinkered complacency and Mr. Sanders’s quixotic hand-waving. She may be gone from the race, but Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. Democrats should pick up the fallen flag of Warren-ism and run.

Wilkinson points to the uncomfortable truths that sentient Americans now recognize–our government is increasingly corrupt, and that corruption isn’t confined to the Trump crime syndicate ensconced at the White House.  It has been building for many years.

A self-reinforcing spiral of regulatory capture, self-dealing and influence-peddling has led to intensely concentrated power that is at once economic and political. That concentrated power has rigged the rules that define the structure of America’s democracy and economy to the advantage of the powerful at the expense of ordinary Americans. This has deprived us of our most vital means of collective self-defense: meaningful democratic control over the institutions that shape our lives. Unless we fight to unrig the system, millions of us will continue to live and die on the terms of unaccountable power.

Wilkinson notes that while Warren’s “I have a plan” approach is seen as less revolutionary than Bernie’s inflexible socialism, it is for that very reason more threatening to the plutocrats who benefit from our systemic distortions, because it’s much more realistic about the way things actually work– the political and economic incentives that ultimately determine who gets what and how much.

I personally support what Wilkinson calls “Warrenism”–especially her hostility to the gerrymandering, voter-ID laws, felon disenfranchisement and the filibuster that rig the system and make a mockery of equal representation.

Warrenism grasps what many other Democrats (like Mr. Biden) don’t: Liberalism is on the ropes because it became complacent about power. We liberals got ahead of ourselves and began to take the institutions of inclusive, liberal-democratic capitalism for granted — despite the fact that our first serious strides toward full democratic equality were taken well within living memory. The collapse of Communism made us think we’d won for good, and we became fixated on tweaks to liberal institutions to enhance economic efficiency or make them better conform to academic ideals of distributive justice rather than tackling their deep-seated structural and procedural flaws.

Read that paragraph again, because it identifies our greatest challenge: our inability as citizens to recognize the dangers of complacency, and our obligation to consistently participate in the political process. No political contest is ever won or lost for good. Apathy is always dangerous, not least because when people finally wake up to the mischief done to democracy while they were “checked out,” they too often respond by over-reacting (what we used to call “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”)

That’s why I hope Elizabeth Warren stays in the Senate, where she has been so effective and can move that body (hopefully, under new leadership) in the right direction. I know many fans want to see her as Vice-Presidential candidate, but as John Nance Garner reportedly said,” being Vice-President isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Elizabeth Warren’s great talent is her ability to offer studied and calibrated solutions to the complex structural problems that bedevil us. She has produced what Wilkinson calls a “tough-minded agenda for returning control to the democratic citizenry,” and he says that while we are arguing among ourselves about whether the rise of populist nationalism is due to economic or racial anxieties (or both), whether we need a universal basic income,  or whether the fine print of Bernie’s Medicare for All Plan is the best way to achieve universal health care, we haven’t been doing the most important thing–“rallying for a dogfight.”

The fat cats who currently benefit from our structural distortions won’t simply retreat from the field, even if–as I fervently hope– there is a massive “blue wave.” It’s important to know where we want to go–but it is equally, if not more, important to have a plan for getting there.