Finley: Elizabeth Warren schools Bernie Sanders on selling socialism

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Bernie Sanders can’t keep Elizabeth Warren off his lawn.

Four years ago Sen. Sanders was the lone Socialist of mainstream American politics, tramping around the nation preaching his vision of a giant, benevolent government that would nurture its citizens from cradle to grave, and free them from the grip of corporate greed.

It wowed millennials trained to view the American system as failed. These progressive youngsters flocked to the cranky Vermont Independent, and he darn near became the Democratic presidential nominee despite Hillary Clinton’s ruthless rigging of the primary process.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Sanders’ underdog run brought millions of new activists into the Democratic Party, tilting it hard to the left. But they aren't feeling the Bern as much this cycle. Sanders has lost his exclusive franchise on the far, far left vote.

Tuesday night on the Democratic debate stage in Detroit, Massachusetts Sen.Elizabeth Warren schooled Sanders in how to market socialism.

Round One of the double feature put the two southpaw heavyweights on stage together for the clearest view yet of what America might look like if it tossed away capitalism. In that regard, it didn't disappoint.

Sanders and Warren teamed to push Medicare for all and demonize corporate America, and outline a transformation away from free markets and toward collectivism. 

Sanders is the spiritual father of the New Left doctrine, but it is Warren who is carrying the torch forward. She saw Sanders' fervency and raised the bet. She appeared far more aggressive on the stage, and more articulate.

The difference between them is a matter of style, not substance. They're both true believers.

But Sanders still presents as an Old Testament prophet of doom, a zealot shouting at the immovable mountain.

Warren is the passionate whirligig, bringing an enthusiasm and intensity — and the smile the dour Sanders can rarely muster. She is as angry as Sanders, but more folksy, connecting her policies to everyday people.  

Of course, we can't afford her ideas. Nor Sanders'. Not in a nation that is already $22 trillion in debt, can't come close to balancing its budget even during a period of robust prosperity and is unwilling to tax itself to meet its obligations. 

Even with Warren’s “ultra-millionaire’s tax” on the nation’s 75,000 wealthiest families, the nation won’t be able to fund all her giveaways.

Bernie, who would tap Wall Street transactions and corporations to pay for his massive government expansion, at least bows slightly to the reality of a “modest” middle class tax hike to fund universal Medicare.

But paying the tab is an inconvenient distraction. Tuesday night was all about consolidating progressive support behind a candidate who can ultimately challenge former Vice-President Joe Biden, who takes the stage tonight to face, among others, California Sen. Kamala Harris, his tormenter in the first debate.

That progressive vote has been trending Warren's way.  As late as mid-June, Sanders enjoyed a two-to-one lead over Warren, with both trailing well behind Biden. The two came into the Detroit debate roughly even in most polls.

When it was Sanders against the Democratic establishment, he seemed fresh and bold. Now that the establishment has co-opted his agenda, he seems stale and perpetually irritable. 

Sanders is the old cheese of socialism, but it's Warren who could actually serve it in the White House.