Leftists looking for a greater chance of making desired change should rally around Elizabeth Warren as their preferred candidate. If the idea is to support a candidate that has an ideal ideology, then Sanders could be the guy. But if the idea is to get policy closest to where leftists think is ideal, Warren is far more preferable.

Sanders may present himself as passing a higher purity test – Warren has said she’s a capitalist, after all. Yet Warren has proven that she is more effective at working within the system.

Warren has been a Senator since 2012 but her biggest legislative impact may have been through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB was passed after the financial crisis as an effort to stop predatory banking practices and increase transparency in the financial industry. Her campaign is notorious for having thought of policy proposals forĀ everything whereas Sanders relies more on rallying cries that have unclear policy specifics.

Bernie’s legislative accomplishments have been sparse. He has been a member of Congress since 1991, but two of the seven successful bills he has sponsored have been to rename post offices, and one was to commemorate a Vermont ‘bicentennial day.’ With his proposed legislation being so far out there, how different is he effectively than a replacement-level average Democratic Senator? He has admirably stuck to his principles when most Democrats joined Republicans for sub-optimal things like foreign intervention, financial deregulation, or curbing civil liberties. But whereas Biden has some shady history here, Warren is no different than Bernie in this regard.

Noah Smith debated Meagan Day for Bloggingheads in what was billed as a match pitting “neoliberalism versus democratic socialism.” Something that struck me about the more than 80 minutes of conversation was the angles at which each person came at each issue. Noah was well-versed in specific statistics, compared the impacts of various incremental policy changes, and gave a sense of when certain approaches worked better than others. Meagan took a much more birds-eye view of the system, pointing out big picture shortcomings of capitalism and the injustices of many policies.

I found Meagan’s approach to be valuable in a philosophical sense – pondering big questions about systemic realities we take as given that need not necessarily be. Important questions, and true meaningful systemic change comes from the seeds of ideas that originally seem radical. But Noah’s style of analysis fit much more into the “technocratic left” approach to policy. He looks at policy impacts as fitting into the current system rather than the very most ideal system. Meagan learns more about the system and the surrounding world to figure out what the best system would be. Noah learns about the system and tries to answer questions using more incremental change.

I see Sanders operating at a level much more in tune with Meagan – creating a broad philosophical approach to politics that emphasizes theory more than the political roadmap to get there. Warren looks at the problems on Wall Street and says “I’m going to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Sanders proposes a lot of bills that, while maybe really great in principle, don’t have much of a chance of even getting out of committee.

The reality is that changes are almost always made on an incremental level within the existing system. The American system is designed to decentralize power, causing change to be slow and gradual rather than revolutionary. It’s not impossible for a Sanders Presidency to fundamentally remake the entire system, but I also consider it very unlikely.

Consider an extreme libertarian or communist that is elected to the village board of their town. The libertarian could have an ideological commitment to privatizing the local schools or removing the country from fiat money. The communist would like to abolish private property and unionize the entirety of the working class. But in these positions, the local residents just want to make sure the potholes are filled and the garbage is taken out. If the libertarian dies on a hill of “all local spending is unjustified except for maybe a small police force,” they’re going to be left out of conversations where there is actual discretion of public spending.

So the ideological difference between Sanders and Warren is moot to me when you consider that they would be President, not benevolent autocrat. They’ll be met with a resistant Congress and moderates of their own party that will not allow their most progressive initiatives to pass. The areas where President has the most relatively unchecked power – things like foreign policy and regulation – are policy verticals where Sanders and Warren aren’t very different from each other.

I should also note that I consider both Warren and Sanders to be incredibly principled and consistent in their views. They have demonstrated to be champions for their causes over a long period of time, and are not corrupt or likely to compromise their values. They are not faux-progressives, and the discussion about whether Warren previously being a Republican compromises her consistency is really stupid.

Trump has shown that people will rally around their party and its leader to an incredible extent when it comes to policy preferences. Republican voters’ views during the Trump administration have been revealed to be incredibly malleable. Suddenly, Russia is not the bad guy and tariffs are great. It could be said that a Sanders platform, by merely being the stated policy platform of the Democratic Party’s highest elected official, would shift the views of half the country. There’s some truth to this. Maybe the Overton Window would dramatically change and instead of the parties nitpicking over the nuances of the Affordable care Act, the discussion suddenly becomes between varying degrees of Medicare for All.

But I’m still drawn to an emphasis about who is more likely to cause change. Despite not passing some leftists’ purity tests, Warren would still be the most progressive President ever. The differences between her and Bernie ideologically don’t seem relevant to me compared to her success and approach at actually changing the system.

As a much more moderate person, Warren and Sanders are not my preferred Democratic candidates. But I think for people holding views on the farther left end of the spectrum, Warren should be the candidate they push.