Can a Conservative Sell America on Elizabeth Warren’s Economic Plan?

Check out these choice anti-capitalist quotes from Bernie Sanders:

  • “Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.”
  • “[We need] a fair country. A decent country. A cohesive country. A country whose leaders don’t accelerate the forces of change purely for their own profit and amusement.”
  • “Republicans have considered it their duty to make the world safe for banking, while simultaneously prosecuting ever more foreign wars.”
  • “The big digital monopolies demand that we conform to their worldview and shut us down when we dissent. They have too much power. They are [a] threat to this country. Congress is doing nothing about it. It’s time to complain, while we still can.”
  • “If you care about America, you ought to oppose the exploitation of Americans, whether it’s happening in the inner city or on Wall Street”
  • “The main threat to your ability to live your life as you choose does not come from the government anymore, but it comes from the private sector.”
  • “Republicans in Congress can’t promise to protect American industry. They wouldn’t dare to do that. It might violate some principle of Austrian economics. It might make the Koch brothers mad.”

Pretty strong stuff. Except none of these quotes are from Bernie Sanders. Every single one is from Tucker Carlson.

Let’s not dwell too long on whether Carlson actually believes what he says. It wasn’t that long ago that he was just one of the many libertarian-ish talking heads that he now claims to loathe.

But do ponder this: this past week he read aloud from Elizabeth Warren’s “A Plan For Economic Patriotism” and enthusiastically endorsed it—or at least the parts he read. No mention of Warren’s emphasis on investing in clean energy sources. No mention of her policies aimed at reducing the racial wealth gap.

“There’s not a word about identity politics in the document. There are no hysterics about gun control or climate change. There’s no lecture about the plight of transgender illegal immigrants … She sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” Carlson said. “Who is this Elizabeth Warren, you ask? Not the race-hustling, gun-grabbing abortion extremist you thought you knew… [But] Elizabeth Warren is still all of those things, too. And that is exactly the problem, not just with Warren, but with American politics. In Washington, almost nobody speaks for the majority of voters.”

The word “majority” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Who makes up Carlson’s majority? Apparently, not those concerned about the racial wealth gap, or racialized immigration policies. Carlson knows who makes up his (and Fox News’s) audience—and who doesn’t.

Carlson and his fans, as well as the president they cheerlead, are displaying an old American political truth: white Americans like socialism just fine when they feel it’s working exclusively with them in mind. This was the subtext of the New Deal consensus forged by FDR, which enjoyed decades of bipartisan support and laid the foundation for 20th century prosperity—but largely excluded African Americans and other minorities. It is not a coincidence that libertarianism entered the political mainstream just as African Americans demanded their share of the opportunity, wealth, and benefits distributed by the federal government. In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran for president opposed to “big government”—and to the Civil Rights Act. As I’ve pointed out, white Milwaukeeans reelected bona fide socialists to the city council and the mayor’s office for decades—until socialists declared solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Carlson would, it seems, be happiest having to choose between Trump and Warren on November 3, 2020, assuming both espouse the “economic nationalism” he favors. Thus, he’s leaving this differentiator between the candidates: who, exactly, makes up the nation that the economy should serve?

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Joshua Alvarez

Joshua Alvarez is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal. He edits syndicated opinion columns at the Washington Post, and can be reached at joshuaalvarezmail@gmail.com.