I have spent my entire career at the messy and vital intersection of movement-building, electoral politics, and governance. And for the past three years, I’ve done that work under the debilitating weight of ALS, a deadly neurological illness that’s robbed me of my ability to do almost all the things that most people take for granted: hug my son, go for a walk with my newborn daughter, or speak to my wife. I was diagnosed three weeks before the 2016 presidential election, and I vividly remember wondering, on that tragic November night, whether I was going to die under President Donald Trump.
Whom would I like to see replace him? Of the hundreds of elected officials, activists, and policy wonks I have worked with over the past two decades, Elizabeth Warren is the individual who I believe would make the best president. I believe that she, more than any other person in America, has the skills, the temperament, and the knowledge to lead us toward a more just and equitable future.
Please keep reading, especially if, like me, you’re an admirer of Bernie Sanders. Because I have no intention to diminish his incredible work building our progressive movement or the ways in which his historic campaigns for president have shifted American political discourse. This is, rather, a declaration of how I plan to vote in the California primary, and why.
I believe in Warren because during her whole career, she has fought to put economic and political power in the hands of working families. I’ve seen up close how she confronts a problem: She listens to the people most affected, does her homework, and then comes up with a plan. A brilliant, workable plan.
I’ve worked with Warren since before I was sick. She was a key partner for the Fed Up campaign, an effort I led to demand that the Federal Reserve use monetary policy as a vehicle for good, instead of as a handout to Goldman Sachs. And here are the characteristics of hers that make me believe she would be the best president in modern history:
- Moral clarity. Warren understands that the central challenge of our time is the unequal distribution of power in America, and the grave human consequences of that imbalance. From climate change and unaffordable housing to police brutality and the health care crisis, the major issues of our day feel intractable because of the vicious feedback loop between racial, economic, and political inequality. She has spent her career studying and describing and fighting against against those inequalities, putting the lived reality of working families first.
- Policy chops. Warren is the wonk’s wonk. Beyond her deep expertise in many policy fields, she has a track record of surrounding herself with creative thinkers who dream big and reimagine what is possible. It is a crucial skill set for this political moment, and will make her especially effective at using executive action to accomplish progressive goals.
- An eagerness to listen and learn. In their endorsement of her, Black Womxn For commended Warren for being “willing to learn, open to new ideas, and ready to be held accountable by us and our communities.” Warren is the polar opposite of Donald Trump: self-confident enough to seek out and thrive upon constructive criticism. And out on the campaign trail, you can see something special when she holds a little girl’s hand and looks her in the eye: Warren actually views herself as a public servant, working for us and our children.
- The courage to fight. Over 10 years ago, as the economy collapsed, Warren seized the political moment and proposed creating a consumer financial protection bureau that would deliver for working families every day. Wall Street spent millions lobbying against it. The insiders said that she should give up. Nevertheless, she persisted. She marshaled a grassroots movement. And she won. That kind of determination, married with the powers of the presidency, is what we need if we are to defeat the modern-day robber barons driving our political economy into the ground.
- A mastery of leadership. Leading the federal government well requires serious management skills. Setting a vision, assembling the right leadership teams, deciding what to prioritize and how, inspiring action, demanding and obtaining the results you want… Sorry, I’ll stop, since I’m starting to sound like a terrible book jacket. But this stuff actually matters, and Warren can do it.
Since my diagnosis with ALS three years ago, I have spent much of my time advocating for Medicare for All. Warren shares that goal. And über-wonk that she is, Warren has recently articulated in detail how to pay for and transition to a single-payer health care system. I’ve written previously about why I think her funding plan is smart policy and even smarter politics. Now, I want to explain why I think the same is true of her transition plan.
The plan begins on Day 1 of her presidency, with some important executive actions to lower prescription drug prices and constrain the political power of big health care companies. Then, in her first hundred days, she will ask the Congress to pass a massive expansion and enhancement of Medicare, including a generous Medicare for All option. Here’s what that law would do:
- Radically improve Medicare so it fully covers long-term, dental, vision, hearing, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.
- Lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 50, giving 57 million people the ability to enroll immediately.
- Create a Medicare for All option that offers totally free, comprehensive health care to 135 million Americans—every child under 18 and every person making at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (roughly $51,000 for a family of four). Everyone else would have the option to enroll at low cost, capped at 5 percent of income with costs automatically going to zero over time. Giving people the ability to buy in to Medicare immediately ensures that the insurance companies won’t game the system. We know that they, seeing they are getting pushed out of the marketplace, will likely raise premiums for the sickest people and kick many off their existing insurance plans. The buy-in—which is in both the House and the Senate bills—allows us to make sure we protect everyone.
We can and should talk about our strategy and our tactics. But what matters most to me is that Warren is all in for Medicare for All. Her plan says clearly that by the end of her first term, everyone will have comprehensive guaranteed Medicare—whether you are rich or poor, young or old; that there will be no co-pays, premiums, or deductibles; and that we will bring down the costs of health care because private insurance companies will no longer be able to put profit over patients.
There are two facts about the Warren proposal that I especially like. First, it lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 50 immediately, getting even more people onto Medicare in the first year than Sanders’s bill, which has an eligibility age of 55. Second, Warren also adds in full long-term care, which matches Representative Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All bill in the House. That is an enormous addition for our seniors and people with disabilities. I know firsthand just what this will mean for millions of people across our country to have this kind of care available to them.
Warren’s proposal boldly states that she will use budget reconciliation to get many of the changes in her first and second year. This is important, because budget reconciliation requires only 51 votes in the Senate. Republicans use this all the time, and used it for the tax scam they passed last year. But unfortunately, even past Democratic presidents have balked at availing themselves of this simple tool. Warren makes clear that she will use all the tools available to provide Medicare for All–type care to as many Americans and as quickly as she can—and then she will complete the final part of her plan in the last two years by transitioning the remaining people into that same comprehensive care.
Across the country, people are dying because they do not have the health care they need. And we need to keep focused on achieving universal health care for everyone. Our movement is making so much progress, with over half the Democratic caucus signed on to the House version of the bill, three hearings in major committees in the House for the first time ever, and three more upcoming hearings also in major committees. More than three dozen labor unions, a powerful racial justice coalition, and hundreds of businesses across the country have said this is the necessary step for the richest country in the world to take. That’s what we are all ultimately fighting for.
For progressives like me—and maybe you—the choice in this primary is between Warren and Sanders. It is a difficult and wonderful choice to have. The two of them are close allies in the Senate, with deep admiration for each other. Sanders himself said that Warren “blew me away with her ability to deal with complicated economic issues in a language that people could understand.… So I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Warren.” I believe that either one of them would be the best, most progressive president in modern US history. (Neither’s record, I am confident, would have flaws as devastating as LBJ’s atrocities in Vietnam and FDR’s acceptance of Jim Crow.)
Inside the progressive movement, some of the most sophisticated and effective organizers have endorsed Warren and others Sanders, some organizations Sanders and others Warren. I admire and love Bernie. I have schemed with him, worked with him, and campaigned by his side. He has done more than anyone else to build the movement for Medicare for All. He is a human being, with human shortcomings—just like Warren. But I don’t want to highlight those or criticize him, because I think he, like she, would be a transformative president.
I believe it is healthy for progressives to get involved in the campaign now and start building our muscles for the general election. In 2020, we face a battle with fascism for the future of our democracy and our planet. Before that, we must fight a corporate establishment for the soul of the Democratic Party. I believe that Warren is the leader we deserve for those battles. You may prefer Sanders, and I have deep respect for that choice. But during the primary, I think we should keep perspective. We are, ultimately, on the same side. When the dust settles, Warren will enthusiastically endorse Sanders, or vice versa, and then we will need to all struggle together, as one progressive movement.
Ady Barkan made this endorsement in his personal capacity