Any good presidential candidate has an go to answer for the inevitable question “Why are you running for President?” Donald Trump wanted to Make America Great Again, Hillary Clinton wanted to be the first female president. Given this, is there any doubt why Trump won? Trump talked about the country, Clinton talked about herself.
Fast forward to the present and Democrats are trying to answer this question. Joe Biden is the guy who can beat Trump and end our long national nightmare. Tulsi Gabbard is the candidate who wants to end “forever war.” Bernie Sanders is the one fighting to end a rigged economic system and Elizabeth Warren is the woman with “a plan for that,” whatever “that” means.
To Warren’s supporters, these plans are evidence of seriousness, especially in the age of Trump, who is a fundamentally unserious man. It shows that the candidate is committed to big ideas and bold visions for the future. This is what America wants. But is it? After all Mitt Romney at a 59 point, 160 page plan for the economy back in 2011, but by the time the election rolled around the following year he was giving a concession speech in an election that Republicans thought they had a real chance of unseating the incumbent.
Ultimately there are four types of voters. There is the wonk or the nerd who care deeply about policy and long term visions. Those of the left-wing persuasion who fall into this camp are natural Warren supporters. Unfortunately for Warren, they are the smallest voting bloc. The other three which could be described as your typical party loyalist identifies with one wing of the party, but whose main concern is keeping the other team out of power and the low information voter who really only starts to pay attention to the election after the conventions. Then there is the fourth group, the voter who is neither liberal nor conservative, but who is informed about the issues and keeps their options open. Warren has not appealed yet to any of these other three groups.
Ultimately, electoral politics is an emotional game where facts and logic don’t matter. Mitt Romney had a plan for the economy, but the Obama campaign spent that summer tarring him as the worst kind of racist and misogynist one could find. If you were not a party loyalist with a clear socio-political worldview and your choices were an incompetent fool, but who cared about people or a competent technocrat, but who keeps women in binders and wants to throw grandma off the cliff, who would you vote for?
Most Republicans didn’t learn this lesson, but one who did was Donald Trump. During the primary, Trump was criticized by free trade wonks, deficit hawks, and foreign policy nerds, but none of it stuck, even though their critiques of protectionism and other things were and are factually correct. Trump was able to raise above all the other contenders who were campaigning more in the Romney mold. Obama rode the vague “Hope and Change” slogan to victory in 2008 and Trump did the same with the equally vague “Make America Great Again” because it fed into people’s emotions and what they wanted on a more spiritual level.
It is not hard to hard to imagine a debate between Trump and Warren, where Warren goes into some complicated plan for health care or the banking industry and Trump responds with “That’s nice. Now tell me, how are you going to pay for it? You’ll notice she hasn’t, because she doesn’t know,” followed by list of Trumpian adjectives to describe the current situation that is a result of his actions, followed by a Fauxcahontas remark.
Which leads nicely into the second problem with Warren and her plans. Warren has a lot of plans. That does not mean they are good plans. Some of them are wildly unconstitutional and if they are not unconstitutional they are awful plans of which she has not thought through the details or lying about them, because the truth about them would be politically inconvenient. A wealth tax, attacking charter schools, declining to say if her health care plan requires middle class tax increases, and the constitutional abomination that is The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are just some of Warren’s plans, past and present, that show that plans for the sake of plans are not sufficient.
Anybody can propose to “do something.” Warren is try to combine the wonks with the party activists, and it may work for her as “do something” is a common refrain from progressive activists from health care to guns, but when politicians promise everything, they inevitably fail.
Not only can they not get their whole agenda passed, what parts of it they do pass may not live up to the lofty expectations, so resentment builds, which leads to the rise of populism. You said you would take on the X lobby, but X is powerful or You promised to fix Y. When Warren talks about her plans, she doesn’t talk about how she’s going to get them through a Congress that is populated, in part, with Republicans. She doesn’t explain how she’s going to implement her plans when that pesky little Constitution gets in her way. None of that matters for Warren, what matters is “thinking big.”
It is easy to quip that the Soviet Union also had politicians that liked to plan things as well and that the only thing missing from Warren’s plans is the term “five year.” But, while Warren may not be dictating how many tractors the local manufacturing plant must produce this month, all of her plans would end up empowering, not “the people,” but government, which of course would be led by Elizabeth Warren.