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Is Elizabeth Warren a Phony Progressive for Failing to Endorse Bernie Sanders?

Cenk Uygur of the online news show "The Young Turks" sees progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s decision to endorse Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination after abstaining from endorsing her natural ally, fellow progressive Bernie Sanders, as an unfortunate miscalculation based on a misunderstanding of the tactics of power.

Clinton all but has the Democratic nomination with 2,203 pledged delegates to Bernie Sanders' 1,828 after voters went to the polls in six states, including California, on Tuesday.

Many progressives suspect Warren didn’t endorse Sanders because she believed that if Clinton ended up winning, Warren would be in a worse position to pursue a progressive agenda, either in cooperation with a Clinton administration or as part of one. But that’s wrong, said Uygur (whom Guardian contributor Joe Sandler Clark earlier this year called "one of the sharpest and most thoughtful political commentators in the United States”) in a segment of "The Young Turks" on Saturday.

“If she had endorsed Bernie Sanders early on, it wouldn’t have given her less power with the Hillary Clinton campaign, it actually would have given her more power. The reason is [that] the Clinton campaign respects power. So if you bow to them, you lose that power, rather than gain that power.”

“So if [Warren] had said, ‘I’m for Bernie Sanders! We’re progressive and we’re gonna go out there and fight!” and at the end, said, ‘OK. All right Hillary. OK, I’ll endorse you’ [...] then Hillary would have said -- meaning after the fight is over [...] ‘OK. I’ll give you VP if you endorse me. I’ll make sure, Elizabeth, that progressives have a real voice in my administration as long as you switch over at the end and come to my side.’ "

"That would have been the better, more practical way," Uygur suggested, "because then, Bernie Sanders might have won. And then, even if he didn’t, she actually would have had more power, not less power.”

Uygur also acknowledged that Warren might have turned the race in Sanders’ favor had she endorsed him early on, and he addressed the question of whether her endorsement of Clinton makes her less of a progressive -- something many progressives feel strongly.

First off, for reasons that are borne out by her history, both outside of government and inside government, I do believe that she is a progressive at heart, a real progressive and not just a politician scheming for her own personal gain.

I believe that she genuinely thought that the best way to keep progressive ideals alive was to make sure there was a voice for progressives in the very likely event that Hillary Clinton won. That is a calculation that she made. Now, you could say hey, I’m being overly generous to her or I’m being naive about it, and that is possible, but that’s my sincere belief.

On the other hand… boy she could have made a big difference. So, Bernie Sanders lost Massachusetts by 1.2 percent. I think any objective political analyst looks at that and says if Elizabeth Warren would have endorsed him, he would have won. Now he wouldn’t have won Massachusetts by 20 points, but maybe he wins by one point or two points. But as a matter of optics, it mattered on that night. Massachusetts was a big, big state there, and when he lost Massachusetts, people were like ‘Oh, he can’t even win Massachusetts, and that’s in the northeast and that’s close to Vermont. Oh, he’s done, right?’ Iowa, he only lost by a point too, that was the first one. Could a powerful, progressive, female senator on his side made him win Iowa by a point or two? And then every headline has to be he wins Iowa, rather than loses Iowa? Boy it would have made a big difference.

So I actually think, giving her the benefit of the doubt, which I genuinely believe, I think she miscalculated. And I don’t mind a practical calculation. Look, we do a lot of practical calculations at Wolf-Pac, and we support people and we have carrots and we have sticks and we go after people. And there’s a lot of practical decisions that need to be made, but in that practical consideration she thought he wasn’t gonna win. A lot of the progressive senators thought, ‘He’s not gonna win. I’m not gonna put my neck out there, again, not for just personal reasons, but I gotta protect…’ But the reality is, if you all backed him, he might have won! He was really close. He might have won. Even before the California vote, it was still 54 to 46 in terms of the pledged delegates! Damnit it was close! And you could have made a difference.

If Uygur is right, then Warren is not a self-interested traitor to the public, but -- in this instance and for the time being, at least -- merely an ineffectual or, if you prefer, inadequate politician.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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