This is part of my voter guide for the March 3, 2020 San Francisco election.
I will preface my choice with a few observations:
- I will support whichever candidate becomes the nominee as I think any of them are better than having Donald Trump in office.
- I think the candidates are more similar than they are different, especially compared to Trump. The agendas of all the major candidates are progressive, compared to Obama’s 2008 platform. A Democratic president would face tough challenges to get legislation passed through the (likely Republican controlled) Senate. Where the President will have the most leeway is in executive action and foreign policy.
- I think each of the candidates has a message and a strategy to win in the general election. The strengths/weaknesses of a candidate in the party primary are not the same as in the general. Head-to-head polling matchups give some directional guidance, but there is still a large section of “undecided” voters and the messaging for the general election is not yet shaped.
Vox released four articles detailing the cases why each of four candidates should be the nominee (these were the top polling in national polls in January). After reading these articles, I felt that I could accept and support any of the candidates if they became the nominee.
- Joe Biden has a strong case for electability with high name recognition from the Obama years and moderate politics. Democrats in purple districts trust Biden the most to hold and win contested seats in Congress. He has good match-ups against Trump in swing states.
- Pete Buttigieg balances a progressive agenda with big-tent messaging. Similar to Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, he is a young, charismatic leader who carries a message of hope, transcending differences and bridging divides. At the same time, he is clear-eyed on the structural political reform necessary to break gridlock and advance the Democratic agenda.
- Bernie Sanders would bring energize young leftists and bring them into the Democratic Party. His anti-establishment, principled messaging can sway disaffected voters. He is more pragmatic and practical than his persona would seem. He would pursue a very different US foreign policy than the norm.
- Elizabeth Warren has a deep understanding of the nation’s problems. She can manage and lead the large federal bureaucracy to advance policy goals. She can get things done in government and push systemic reforms to make the government function better.
I plan to vote for Elizabeth Warren. She has a history of understanding complex systems and causes. She knows how to successfully make change in government. She is extremely qualified to run the federal government and use executive power. She knows how power and change works in Washington, and she can change the rules of the game to improve the function of government.
Understanding the issues
Elizabeth Warren has the deepest background in policy research. For 30 years she researched financial matters and bankruptcy law. Elizabeth Warren’s background is as a professor, a teacher and a researcher. I am impressed by her knowledge of the financial system. In the 1980s as a law professor, she researched why people suffered personal bankruptcy. She asked questions, gathered data, and published conclusions that contradicted her initial assumptions. Initially Elizabeth Warren thought people went bankrupt because they were morally irresponsible and intended to cheat creditors. But her research found that people fell into rough times that they didn’t foresee: divorce, expensive illness, losing a job. She advocated for policy changes based on her research starting in the 1990s . I admire that Elizabeth Warren relies on research and data to inform policy. None of the other candidates have that sort of experience of being on the front line of research or educating the public. In 2005–2012, Elizabeth Warren went on TV with Jon Stewart to explain how a lack of regulation led to the financial crisis.
Elizabeth Warren’s tagline is “She has a plan for that” and I think it shows in how she and her team have researched issues and proposed plans of action to make things better. Not only does she have a deep understanding of systems, but she also thinks about how to make things work better. You can see this in her record as a professor and a senator. To make the finance industry work better for consumers, Elizabeth Warren advocated for and then helped run the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. When students were defrauded by for-profit colleges, Elizabeth Warren persuaded the Department of Education to forgive the student loan debt. She did it with a multi-pronged approach: First, Elizabeth Warren used her platform as a Senator to amplify the message of activist groups and pressure the Obama administration to take action. At the same time, Elizabeth Warren worked with the establishment. She gave the Department of Education a well researched, legally bulletproof strategy. She lobbied the Obama administration intensely that the plan was possible and worth doing. Elizabeth Warren has used this playbook of combining inside and outside power; the urgency of grassroots activism with the details of a policy think tank. I think Elizabeth Warren is unique in bringing both talents to the table.
Elizabeth Warren has the strongest record of being an organizational government leader. Of all the standing candidates, only Elizabeth Warren has direct experience in running a federal agency, and doing it well. In 2009, Barack Obama brought Elizabeth Warren on to help start up the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. For a year, Elizabeth Warren worked hard to build an institution. She recruited talented people with similar vision. She laid down grounding principles and processes for the bureau. Now, even detractors admit that the bureau is effective. I think her record on managing an effective agency speaks well to how she would manage the federal government. The President oversees a huge bureaucracy and is able to make policy changes through executive order and personnel appointments. Even if a Republican-controlled Senate blocked all legislation, Elizabeth Warren would be very capable of making change through government departments. The agencies in charge of regulation, for example, would be stronger under a Warren presidency.
Systemic government reform
Elizabeth Warren thinks hard about tackling systemic problems — what she calls big structural change. It has become more difficult for the government to federal legislature to get things done. You need the House, the Senate and the Presidency to pass legislation — and that has only happened for 8 out of the past 20 years. The Supreme Court’s influence on legislation & policy means that any vacancy is a high-priority crisis. Democrats have a structural disadvantage in the Senate, where low-population Republican states have outsize influence. The candidates differ a lot here in how they would get legislation passed through these hurdles. For example, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg propose ending or limiting the Senate filibuster, so that a 51–49 majority in the Senate could pass legislation. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar want to keep the filibuster. I admire Elizabeth Warren’s proposals to reform these systems to make majoritarian governance possible again; to curb corruption where government officials can profit at the expense of the people; to limit the influence of lobbying; to expand voting access and make the electorate more representative. Some of these things can be done without a Democratic Senate majority; others can only be done with more power. Elizabeth Warren comes with plans to make the government more functional and more accountable to the people.
Elizabeth Warren’s Journey From ‘Pro-Business’ Academic To Consumer Advocate — NPR Asma Khalid, 2019–12–10
Elizabeth Warren’s book, The Two-Income Trap, explained — Vox, Matthew Yglesias, 2019–01–23
Talking Teaching With Elizabeth Warren, the Most Professorial Candidate Ever — The Cut, Rebecca Traister, 2019–08–06
Elizabeth Warren Took On Obama Over Student Debt Forgiveness. How She Won Is Central To Her 2020 Campaign Buzzfeed News, Molly Hensley-Clancy, 2019–08–14