Elizabeth Warren: America’s Paper Bag Princess

Shadia B. Drury

The United States is not a democracy but rather an oligarchy in the classic sense of the term: rule of the rich in the interests of the rich. American ideals of equal liberty and equal opportunity have become a relic of the past. As economist Thomas Piketty has argued, inequality in the United States surpasses all other advanced democracies and is comparable to the inequalities of underdeveloped countries in Africa (The Economics of Inequality, p. 15). Moreover, these levels of inequality cannot be attributed to technological change or globalization but to the political structure of the state.

Ever since the rise of Ronald Reagan in 1980, corporate interests have been hijacking American government. Corporations and their CEOs throng the public trough demanding tax cuts, subsidies, bailouts, government contracts, and other forms of corporate welfare. As economists Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, and Joseph Stiglitz have argued, the idea that inequality is a function of merit or risk is a shibboleth. Equally fictitious is the idea that tax cuts for the rich function like a rising tide that lifts all boats. In reality, these tax cuts have created huge government deficits, shredded the social safety net, and triggered the deterioration of schools, healthcare, and infrastructure—the things that make a society healthy in the first place.

No one running for the Democratic presidential nomination understood what ails America and how to fix it better than Elizabeth Warren. Her genius and her pragmatic realism are the sort of qualities that are rarely seen in a single candidate. I believe that the rejection of Warren for the nomination is a lost opportunity to rescue the nation from the quagmire into which it has descended.

Having deemed Sanders “unelectable,” the party has coalesced around the hapless Joe Biden, despite the alarming banality of his campaign to “return to normalcy.” Are Americans truly ready to return to normal levels of inequality, corruption, and warmongering? Are they willing to live in a world where CEOs make 200 to 400 times the wage of the average worker in their company? Are they willing to live in a world where corporate lobbyists can legally bribe elected officials by spending millions on their campaigns and offering them lucrative jobs when they leave Congress? Are they willing to live in a world where Big Pharma spends more money on lobbying to keep drug prices high than on research? Are they willing to keep watching their children die in America’s never-ending wars? Biden is a creature of the status quo. Wasn’t that what brought Trump to power in the first place?

Warren is not only superior to Biden, she is more “electable” than Bernie Sanders. As a self-described “democratic socialist,” Sanders is tone-deaf. He fails to realize that Americans, especially those who lived through the Cold War, have an irrational aversion to socialism. They associate it with the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and other Marxist dictatorships. So, is it any wonder that Sanders has lost the “electability” argument?

In contrast to Sanders, Warren is committed to capitalism. She understands that the essence of capitalism is competition, which requires a level playing field that only the state can provide. Warren’s position is antithetical to the Republican view that capitalism is governed by inexorable economic “laws.” When they sing the praises of the “free market,” Republicans mean that it is free from all government interference.

Elizabeth Warren understands that there is no such thing as a market that is free of governmental regulations. A “market” is a creature of politics. Otherwise it is not possible to buy and sell, enter into contracts, or own property. A market needs a state that has the power to make and enforce the rules. As Robert B. Reich has argued in the spirit of Hobbes, without government there is no commodious living of any kind, let alone a “market” (Saving Capitalism).

Warren is also more “electable” than Sanders because she does not speak the language of “revolution.” The term revolution conjures up Karl Marx, who assumed that in a capitalist economy the state would work in tandem with the capitalist class. When the exploitation of the working classes became intolerable, a revolution to overthrow the capitalist system would become inevitable. But Marx was wrong. The revolution is not inevitable. Even in a capitalist society, the government can, and has, played the role of umpire in the conflicting claims of workers and capitalists. Warren understands that only a foolish government would consistently side with capitalists against workers. But that is the government that the GOP, with the help of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, has created. The result is a state of affairs ripe for Marxist revolution. Warren’s reforms are intended to stave off revolutionary instability. Except for Medicare for all and free college tuition, her reforms are mostly cost-free—restoring regulations that level the playing field.

Warren is like the “paper bag princess” in the fairytale by Robert Munsch where the brilliant heroine, also named Elizabeth, saves the land and Prince Ronald from the ravages of the fire-breathing dragon by outwitting the monster. But when she arrives to liberate the prince from the dungeon wearing only a paper bag (everything else having been destroyed), Prince Ronald is neither grateful nor amused—because she does not look like a princess. The Democratic Party is like Prince Ronald. It has no interest in the heroine’s ability to rescue the land from the Donald. It has no desire to be rescued by a girl—even if she is the one who can do it.

Elizabeth Warren has always known that she does not fit the image that Americans have of what their president should look like. As commander of the armed forces, the American presidential image has long been more brawn than brains. If Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has accomplished anything, it has taught some Americans what a president should look like—ideas and insights, not brawn and bluster.

Shadia B. Drury

Shadia B. Drury is professor emerita at the University of Regina in Canada. Her most recent book is The Bleak Political Implications of Socratic Religion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).


The United States is not a democracy but rather an oligarchy in the classic sense of the term: rule of the rich in the interests of the rich. American ideals of equal liberty and equal opportunity have become a relic of the past. As economist Thomas Piketty has argued, inequality in the United States surpasses …

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