The rising visibility of avowedly “socialist” politics in America is creating a divide within the Democratic Party. Some Democratic politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have followed Bernie Sanders lead in taking up the mantle of what they call “socialism,” while presenting what in fact is closer to mild democratic socialism or a strong welfare state. More traditional Democrats, meanwhile, are wary of the label. “I don’t think we have to change from capitalism,” House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi told a town hall in 2017. “We’re a capitalist system.”
Interviewed by Jim Harwood of CNBC, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren found a way to thread the needle between Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi. Asked if capitalists are bad people, Warren responded, “I am a capitalist. Come on. I believe in markets. What I don’t believe in is theft, what I don’t believe in is cheating. That’s where the difference is. I love what markets can do, I love what functioning economies can do. They are what make us rich, they are what create opportunity. But only fair markets, markets with rules. Markets without rules is about the rich take it all, it’s about the powerful get all of it. And that’s what’s gone wrong in America.”
When Harwood raised the point that she was seen as a polarizing figure by the business community, Warren responded:
I get that there are a lot of folks who like having the power and the riches they have, they like being able to tweak their little pinkie and the United States government does just what they want. They like being able to get regulations rolled back or not enforced. I totally get that. And I get that I push hard against that, that I may be a threat to them on that. But my view on that is, don’t call me the polarizing figure; they’re the ones who want to take advantage of this country. They’re the ones who want to cheat. They’re the ones who want to say that their personal wealth, their power is more important than building an America that works for everyone.
This interview demonstrates the election strategy Warren is likely to follow if she makes her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Warren won’t take up the flag of socialism, but she’ll lean heavily on the critique made by the left-wing of the Democratic Party of the excessive power of big business. The gambit is that this will allow Warren to unite behind her both the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party and the Nancy Pelosi wing.