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Bernie Sanders And Elizabeth Warren Can’t Both Be President

There seems to be some well-meaning confusion on that point.

Posted on January 19, 2020, at 7:08 p.m. ET

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Let's open by saying: We all tire of horse race BS — the inevitable four paragraphs in a story that explains two polling cross tabs relevant to the policy/region/race/gender/age/religion, and what concerns Mr. Biden's senior advisers about the cross tabs, as though you need proof that this story matters before you're allowed to continue reading.

But, eventually, there is a point at which voters — literal voters — congregate in the cafeterias and conference centers of Iowa and, over a period of hours, select a Democratic candidate, and then this moves to the next state and the next. This whole exercise is actually attached to a contest in which people vote, for a winner, in real life.

And we're here. It's now.

If Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren does not prevail over the other, and they split even some vote in stately dignity, then neither will be president.

Now, obviously, the last two weeks have run a lot hotter than stately dignity, ending with Warren telling Sanders onstage that he called her a liar on TV, and he responding in kind, followed by the two gloomily declining to comment. Coverage of this dispute has largely operated in two ways: First, what reads like a WWII tactical synopsis that begins with a violation of sub-section 2(b) of the Nonaggression Pact. Second, an emotional "hear no evil" response that chalks everything up to a distraction, driven by the media's capricious need for interpersonal drama, and one that will ultimately harm the progressive interests.

Either way, in these tellings, Sanders and Warren end up reading like robots, operating on some higher hyperrational plane for the purposes of drama or academic furtherance of progressivism.

It is possible for their stories to be compatible: Sanders could have said that a woman will face the obstacle of Donald Trump's sexism, and Warren could have heard that to mean, in the context of their meeting, that she would lose. It is also possible that, despite their campaigns ostensibly favoring a Return To The Nonaggression Pact on this particular topic, the candidates themselves do not, against their more rational impulses. (They certainly seemed to care when they were yelling at each other onstage!)

And either way you cut it: We obviously all care a lot about discussing gender in American life in more complicated ways so you can go deep with this one if you want to. And there's a deeper interpersonal dimension for two candidates with a long history, operating in loose concert, but essentially alone in American politics, finally facing the inevitable conclusion.

Because at the end of the day, it is actually a real-life exercise in choice. And truly, this is not to say that The Reason to decide between them is their dispute about a meeting 13 months ago — just that people should stop acting like they’re shocked there’s any dispute between two different individuals with overlapping policies in a presidential primary.

Last fall, Sanders campaign cochair Nina Turner told a Queens crowd, "There’s only one. There’s only one. There’s only one. There’s only one. There’s only one. There’s only one."

She meant to argue that Sanders is a singular force in American politics, a true member of the movement left on the verge of national success. You could argue the same unique nature about Warren, who's steeped in the tradition of US progressive reformers.

But Turner's point conceptually strikes upon the operating premise of an election: There can only be one.

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