Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, who called this week for the break-up of America’s biggest tech companies, was challenged on her capitalist credentials on Sunday. The exchange offered a preview of how Democratic presidential candidates might handle Donald Trump’s campaign strategy of stoking fears about “socialism” in attacks on his challengers.
Asked on CBS’ Face the Nation if she might properly be described as a capitalist, Warren, a former Republican who has done pioneering academic work in the area of consumer debt, said: “Yeah.”
“I believe in markets,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Markets that work. Markets that have a cop on the beat and have real rules and everybody follows them.”
Interviewer Ed O’Keefe followed up: “So if you get labeled as a socialist–”
“Well,” the senator replied, “it’s just wrong.”
It is unclear if the “socialist” charge will gain traction with voters in a negative way as the election approaches. In Gallup polling last year, 57% of Democrats said they held a positive view of socialism, compared with 47% who said the same for capitalism. It should also be noted that 6% of all poll respondents defined socialism as “being social”.
There is no doubt, however, that Trump intends to paint his opponents red.
“We are born free, and we will stay safe,” he said in his state of the union address last month. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Two weeks later, Trump told an audience in El Paso, Texas: “The Democrats have never been more outside of the mainstream. They’re becoming the party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime.”
Warren, who among the emerging Democratic field has unique experience in designing protections for consumers against predatory lenders, credit card companies and abusive banking practices, has drawn fire for years from Republicans concerned for the wellbeing of the financial industry.
As a candidate for president, the Massachusetts senator has proposed an “ultra-millionaire tax” on the country’s 75,000 richest families, universal childcare and “a new era of strong antitrust enforcement”.
Most of her proposals would fit comfortably in the campaign platforms of her fellow Democratic contenders. But her proposal to break up tech giants Amazon, Facebook and Google has attracted a burst of attention – and attacks.
Asked about Warren’s plan on CNN’s Face the Nation, Washington state governor Jay Inslee described a need “to protect Americans in this new economy” but declined to join Warren in her call for a tech breakup. Amazon is based in Seattle.
Warren’s call could have some bipartisan appeal. Writing in the Guardian on Sunday, Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich said support for breaking up the tech giants was bipartisan. He quoted the Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, who told him: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”
Warren speaks much more directly to the issue. Explaining her proposal at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, she drew a baseball analogy.
“You can be an umpire – a platform – or you can own teams,” she said. “But you can’t be an umpire and own one of the teams that’s in the game.”
On Sunday, Warren declined to turn her proposal into the argument over “isms” that Trump is spoiling for.
“I believe in a level playing field,” Warren told CBS. “And as long as we’ve got that then we will get the best out of markets because it means the people who come up with great ideas, who work hard are the ones who will prosper, not simply those who were born into wealth.”
Rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also appeared at SXSW. Speaking on Saturday night, the New York congresswoman said that because “capitalism is an ideology of capital” and “the most important thing is the concentration of capital and to seek and maximize profit”, to her, “capitalism is irredeemable”.
The remark was duly seized upon on the right.