Nothing frustrates a political writer more than a cry of, “What’s the difference between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders?” At a glance, yes, these candidates are easily the farthest to the left in the entire field. However, they’re hardly carbon copies of each other. Both have defined their campaigns using different rhetoric, provide alternative solutions to economic issues, and employ different backgrounds of experience in an attempt to become the Democratic nominee.
Economics is the most drastic disagreement between the two candidates, as both support fundamentally different economic systems. Warren is a progressive capitalist, believing that firmer regulation of big business and tech will fund her large, progressive policy proposals. This is in line with her background in studying family bankruptcy; by receiving more funding in tax capital from the uber wealthy and large corporations, the government can provide Medicare services, college education, and preschool services for those in the lowest income brackets, keeping American families out of the red. Sanders, however, is a socialist through and through. He believes the system of capitalism is inherently corrupt, and is not suitable for a society that wishes to enact plans like Medicare for All. Sanders advocates for the direct delivery of capital from the vaults of the richest billionaires to the average, working class American. In his mind, only a political revolution, not even the firmest regulation, can enact the change required to save the working class. In simpler terms, Warren supports regulation, while Sanders is calling for a revolution.
To further define differences, some specific policy proposals may help potential voters understand which side they lean toward if they are currently stuck between these progressive reformers. For example, both candidates support some form of free higher education. Warren has proposed debt relief of $50,000 for families whose income are below $100,000 annually. This number decreases until income reaches $250,000, at which point families who make more money are not allowed any relief. Warren argues this plan provides debt relief to those who most need it, with 75% of all American students fully canceling their debt under her plan. She claims to pay for this using her “Ultra-Millionaire Tax”, taking two cents off every dollar of net worth above a $50 million threshold, and three cents on every dollar above $1 billion, generating a whopping $2.75 trillion over a 10-year period, funding this plan and more. Sanders speaks in more broader tones; his plan will cancel all $1.6 trillion dollars of student debt using a stock market trading tax to generate $2.2 trillion over ten years. Sanders plan circumvents the difficulty of evaluating each applicant’s background to determine their level of assistance, however, this is at the expense of government money being used to fund the education of America’s most wealthy families.
Both policies are more in depth than shown here, as both candidates love to get in the weeds with their complex policies, but the point has been made; Warren is focus on getting the most value out of each dollar spent, while Sanders is more idealistic with his proposals. There is a benefit to the Sanders plan; it is easier to say “Free College for All” than “Completely to Partially Eliminated Student Debt for Families Within a Specific Income Bracket”. Flashier plans also get more coverage, as both political factions relish the chance to argue the logistics of progressive reform.
Don’t label Warren the more conservative of the two yet, though. In terms of purely political policy, Warren is miles more progressive than Sanders. She supports reparations for the families of former slaves, a system in which the government would provide capital to support disadvantaged minority groups (she has not clarified whether this would be in the form of direct payments or proposals like expanding public housing), and the elimination of the filibuster, the measure in the Senate requiring sixty votes for a law to pass. Sanders has been vocally opposed to direct payments as a form of reparations, and has refused to eliminate the filibuster should he become president. Both stances are highly controversial in the greater political world, but Warren has unequivocally voiced her support for them. Sanders, often labeled as the most progressive candidate in the field, has not followed suit.
It all comes back to regulation versus revolution. Warren wants to work within the system to balance it for the working class, taxing the uber wealthy and providing education for disadvantaged families as a means of social mobility. Sanders believes a political revolution is necessary, adopting socialism to even out the class structure in the United States as much as possible. Those who cross the lines between the Warren and Sanders camps have the potential to upend the Democratic primary. It remains to be seen who will win the battle of ideals in the court of public opinion.