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PECK: Warren Throws Down the Gauntlet

When Elizabeth Warren was running to represent Massachusetts in the United States Senate in 2012, Michael Bloomberg endorsed her Republican opponent, Scott Brown. He not only endorsed him, but travelled to the state to fundraise for him, ostensibly to reward the Republican senator for his bipartisan approach to gun safety legislation. More likely, however, was that Wall Street’s “foremost defender” Michael Bloomberg was horrified by the imminent elevation of its staunchest adversary. 

During the Democratic Debate in Nevada on Wednesday, Warren enacted her revenge with a measured yet gritty attack. The senator repeatedly chipped away at Bloomberg’s record on wealth, on workplace harassment, and on healthcare in a slow, repetitive beating that stalled Bloomberg’s campaign. It was not, however, mere revenge. The great mastery of Warren’s performance is that her attack all but ensured Bernie Sander’s victory in the nomination contest. Warren threw down the gauntlet not only in her fight with Bloomberg, but in the broader fight over the soul of the party. 

After the results of the Iowa Caucuses were finalized three weeks ago, it was clear that Former Vice President Joe Biden’s dreams of presidential office had been killed for a third and final time. For months, Biden had been travelling around the country, waxing incoherent about the “soul of America” and stumbling through talking points given to him by his advisors. Tragically, Biden’s campaign was on life-support before he had a chance to explain what the soul of such an unequal country could possibly be. 

The highlights of Joe Biden’s time in the Hawkeye state were a fourth place finish and a video of him calling a voter “fat.” Not as an adjective, but as a noun. If it was not already clear before his time in Iowa was over, Biden proved he had neither the ideas nor the mental capacity to be an effective president. 

Following Biden’s breakdown, many in the media started to frame the primary as a battle between Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, arose among the scattered corpses of his moderate comrades to claim the party’s right-wing mantle. Propelled by his creepy and megalomaniacal craving to be president, Buttigieg slowly rose in the polls and claimed a second place finish in New Hampshire, ahead of seven more accomplished and qualified candidates. 

Nevertheless, all the megalomania in the world cannot make empty ideas more convincing to the American people. Unpresciently, Buttigieg appears to be taking campaign notes from Hillary Clinton. Not four years after Clinton’s loss, Buttigieg is on the campaign trail speaking equally empty platitudes of national unity and togetherness, completely ignorant to the realities of our post-2008 world. Like his moderate predecessor, he fails to grasp that the financial crisis seared divisions into society that will not be remedied by anything less than radical economic redistribution. The idea that kind words and good intentions will glaze over the wounds of years of economic violence is so unbelievably ignorant that any proponent of this philosophy deserves to lose the election to Trump.

Beyond Buttigieg’s white safe-spaces of Iowa and New Hampshire, he is remarkably unpopular. No candidate in modern times has won the party’s nomination without winning over voters of color. Nevertheless, Buttigieg has routinely polled in the low single digits among Latino voters and garnered little more than an extraordinary zero percent among black voters. If you want to be more popular with Democrats of color, you probably shouldn’t snub the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or fire South Bend’s first black police chief. Buttigieg apparently forgot these two rules when he attempted to copy the Obama playbook.

In light of Buttigieg’s failure, enter Michael Bloomberg. Nothing speaks to the abdication of philosophical guideposts in the Democratic Party like the relative primary success of an old, white, male, Republican billionaire. But, where Biden fails to be mentally sound and where Buttigieg fails to have any real experience, Bloomberg can at least claim to be a fully functioning former mayor of New York City. Bloomberg did not just enter the race, he opened his vault. As of today, he has spent more than $450 million on his campaign—swamping every other candidate in the race and, in doing so, has lowered the tenor of debate further than Biden or Buttigieg. Where they speak in empty platitudes, at least they bother to speak at all. By virtue of his late entrance into the race, Bloomberg has campaigned considerably less than his competitors. Instead, of engaging with the public, he has relied instead on writing checks to the tune of five thousand dollars a minute

For Warren, Bloomberg’s problem is the problem with America’s billionaire class more generally, for he “looks to the whole financial world” and asks: “How do you suck value up to the top?” The comments and practices she detailed during the Las Vegas debate—such as Bloomberg’s poor treatment of women—are a product of the rank entitlement of the wealthy. In Bloomberg and Trump’s world, human value is subordinate to financial value. The intellectual problem for the Democratic Party’s right-wing is that Bloomberg embodies the natural endpoint of the centrist politics that Biden and Buttigieg advocate. In the moderate worldview, the status-quo is preferable to radical alternatives. Bloomberg, therefore, can continue to suck value up to the top, for financial value reigns supreme. 

The failure of moderate candidates in the 2020 primary was made possible by their complete inability to recognize America’s new political reality. In 2016, Democrats played it safe by offering no concrete solutions to America’s greatest problems, and lost to the most extreme right-wing candidate of the last two decades. Clinton, after waiting her turn, followed John Kerry, Al Gore, and a string of Democratic centrists in playing it safe and gaining nothing. Buttigieg, Biden, and Bloomberg would only be additions to this painfully long list.

On Tuesday night, Warren did not strike solely at the presidential aspirations of Michael Bloomberg, but at the whole notion of moderatism. In taking down the political absurdity of nominating Bloomberg, Warren slayed the last behemoth of centrist political redundancy. It will now be for Sanders, the frontrunner, to demonstrate how radical proposals can win elections, to return the party to the party of good government, and to fundamentally alter America’s course.

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