Last night was Super Tuesday, one of the most important voting events of the Democratic Primary. It was a night of decisive victories for former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who, as of this writing, have 433 and 388 delegates respectively, and a decisive night of loss for the once-frontrunner Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who only managed 36 delegates and even lost her home state. Warren, whose campaign has all but imploded over the past few months, had a stunning run for the Democratic nomination but ultimately fell far short of any type of meaningful performance on Super Tuesday. As Warren’s plans involved child care, paid family leave, and maternal mortality policies, her loss is a loss for American families.
When Warren launched her campaign in Massachusetts over a year ago, she told a story familiar to many working parents, particularly single ones. When Warren moved to Houston to attend law school, she struggled to find child care for her youngest. The only place she could find that worked, in her words, was a care center that required her daughter to be reliably potty trained. She was not. Warren said she was, however, and potty trained her toddler in five days. The moral of her story was that, if she could potty train her child in five days, she could take on anything in Washington.
With that anecdote, and all of her other anecdotes about being a working mom and fighting for families through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and more, Warren attempted to establish herself as a “Family Values Politician.” She told stories about how she could not have finished law school without her Aunt Bee moving in with her to take care of her children, about how she was pushed out of her job as an early childhood educator because she was visibly pregnant.
But it was not just about her anecdotes. The Senator from Massachusetts had plans. Plans that would help families. Just after her campaign began, Warren announced her early announcement of her universal child care plan that capped any spending for child care at seven percent of a family’s income. She published a plan to lower the maternal mortality rate for black women in the United States; a plan to provide free public college; a plan to cancel 95 percent of student debt.
At a time when federal investment in American families is almost nothing, Warren angled her platform towards the 50 million American voters with children under 18. One decade ago, when investment in American families was at an all-time high, about three percent of the GDP went towards public investment in social programs that would help kids and their parents. By contrast, Sweden spent 25 percent of their GDP on American families. Warren wanted to appeal to parents who felt squeezed on all sides, from college debt, to the costs of child care, to flattened wages. Her plan would have saved couples making a combined $ 75,000 a year more than $ 100,000 over the course of a kid’s childhood until they entered kindergarten. It was a good bet.
But bets do not always play out. Given the results of Super Tuesday, it turns out that American families do not always vote like American families. Just look at the two frontrunners. Biden, for example, has publicly supported the idea of universal pre-kindergarten (note: this is not the same as universal child care) but has not released any plans on how to do so, unlike Warren, who released funding mechanisms, plans for expanding access, plans for increasing both pay and training for early childhood educators, and investment in home-based care and in non-traditional child care. Biden has simply left the question of child care out of the equation.
Bernie Sanders, to be fair, did release a comprehensive child care plan in late February, and it’s one that goes even further than Warren’s. It’s deeply impressive. It would be funded through a tax on the extreme wealth of the one percent, would provide free child care to every single child in this country for free to the tune of $ 1.5 trillion over a decade. It would provide training for child care providers and increase their pay to a liveable wage, ensure child care programs for parents who work non-traditional hours, and increase alignment between pre-k programs and kindergarten. Sanders’ child care plan, ultimately, is significant, and an absolute improvement on 2016, when he supported universal child care and pre-kindergarten but never released a plan for it.
Even though Sanders’ plan would change the lives of working families and encourage those who have put off having children because they feel they can not afford to have those babies, making life better for parents is not the central messaging of his campaign. Taking on corruption, the ultra-wealthy, and money in politics? Absolutely. Making life more affordable and just for the American worker? Totally. Providing housing and health care? Yes. These are positions that certainly help American families. But only Warren positioned herself as the candidate who understands parenting because she did it, for the most part, alone. She positioned herself as the candidate who cared about families. And families did not seem to care all that much.
Parents voted yesterday, as they’ll vote in the general. Maybe, last night, the parents who did vote did not vote like parents who recognize the need for more child care support, more social safety support, cheaper health care options, and more. Maybe they voted for who they thought could win. Either way, it looks like parents lost. And that’s a shame.