Politics

The Case for Elizabeth Warren

The former front-runner is still the best candidate for Black Americans.

Elizabeth Warren in a purple jacket against a background of red stripes on white, next to a blue badge reading "2020 VEEP STAKES 2020"
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

This is an installment of Veepstakes, Slate’s series on who Joe Biden should pick as his running mate.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign vision for America covered all the bases.

Where most of the Democratic presidential field supported racial justice and progressive ideals in general terms, palatable to a mainstream audience, Warren offered a platform specifically and explicitly designed to aid Black Americans in overcoming the consequences of racism. Alleviating inequality, particularly as experienced by Black people, was at the root of Warren’s policy proposals, in a way few of her well-meaning opponents could match.

Speculation about Joe Biden’s choice of running mate—guaranteed, by the presumptive nominee, to be a woman—has focused, rightfully so, on questions of demographic representation. But Warren, in her unsuccessful run for the presidential nomination, demonstrated a focus on and commitment to Black people’s political and economic interests. With a self-described old-fashioned politician at the top of the ticket, Warren could be the advocate the country needs in the White House.

Let’s take mandatory minimum prison sentencing as an example. Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar all advocated for the end of mandatory minimums in the case of nonviolent drug crimes while calling for overall reductions in sentencing. But Warren was one of three candidates who wanted to fully eradicate mandatory minumums for all crimes, ending a practice rooted in racist, tough-on-crime ideology.

“Low-income individuals end up with criminal records or jail time because they can’t afford bail or hefty fines and fees,” she wrote in a 2019 policy brief for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Young people who commit low-level, nonviolent crimes spend too many years behind bars. Struggling parents, domestic violence survivors, opioid users, and individuals with mental illness are hauled off to jail without treatment or assistance. And after they return to their communities, too many former inmates are locked out of jobs, housing, and any chance to rebuild their lives and support their families.”

Her criminal justice platform didn’t stop there. Her marijuana proposals acknowledged the racist policies that targeted Black and brown communities pre-legalization, and the subsequent convictions that bar them from entering the cannabis industry in states where it’s now lawful. She even backed sovereignty for Indigenous communities, which would allow them to establish their own drug laws.

And criminal justice reform is relatively low-hanging fruit for politicians who wish to rectify racial inequity in America. It’s the system where necessary changes are most obvious, and great swaths of people can be convinced that prison populations should be reduced, and that it’s worth ending money bail and defunding police departments. But every institution is structured by—or, at best, steeped in—racism, and sweeping, progressive policy plans are needed to begin adequately addressing it.

What made Warren’s presidential candidacy most compelling to me as a voter, and her dropping out most disappointing, was the breadth of her interest in eradicating racism. Her campaign cared about targeted solutions but didn’t restrict them to the usual narrow areas. When I walk up to the voting booth, my priority is to support harm reduction for my community—through robust policy initiatives, not lip service. It isn’t just about bail reform; I want to know how candidates will be addressing the fact that Black people are less likely to own their home, or be forced to take out predatory loans, or attend segregated schools. Warren embodied these principles by offering nuanced remedies for those issues as well as environmental injustice and health disparities.

I don’t see why she wouldn’t bring this same energy to the vice presidency. She could serve as a counterbalance to the more retrograde policies revered by Joe Biden, and, maybe, she could push him a bit further to the left. In the event something happened to Biden, she would be the person most prepared to succeed him and get to work. Organizers have mentioned that liberation efforts would be a bit less taxing in a country where someone like Warren was setting the stage. Her clear dedication to mitigating the impact of racism on communities of color—along with a willingness to be held accountable for any missteps—is what won her the support of Black women and gender nonconforming activists.

If we’re going to start working toward creating an anti-racist society, the people in power have to share that vision and their policies have to match it—and Elizabeth Warren’s do.

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