Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—Who Are They as People?

Updated on August 19, 2019
Sustainable Sue profile image

Susette's interest in government stems from working in government, being a Peace Corps volunteer, and earning a masters in sustainability.

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Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are both U.S. Senators running for U.S. President in 2020, who have been looking out for the public good since before they took office. They have a solid record of accomplishments and legislative votes that prove it. They don't need to fabricate anything on the campaign trail, because their history proves their integrity. This makes them highly appealing to the general public—people like us, who want to be able to trust their leaders.

During the upcoming campaign, the media will search for, find, and magnify any differences these candidates have. They will try to vilify one or both of them in some way. Some of what they say will be true, some will be false, and much of it will be twists on the truth.

It therefore behooves us voters to know what these candidates are like as people, so we can counteract whatever favoritism the media shows, and whatever caustic judgements the alt-right throws their way. In this article, I will cover both candidates' backgrounds and political careers, and I will post a few links that will help you better separate fact from fiction.

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I am the same age as Elizabeth Warren and younger than Bernie Sanders. I've worked in private businesses, with nonprofits, and with the government, including two stints overseas with the US Peace Corps on economic projects. I've learned the difference between a healthy, balanced economy and one like ours is now—skewed to extreme wealth accumulation. This helps me recognize candidates who will be good for our country and those who will not, based on their views and what they've accomplished.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the two 2020 presidential candidates who are doing the most to help the country right now. And, like many other candidates this round, they're both good people. Let's start with Bernie.

Bernie and Jane Sanders on the campaign trail.
Bernie and Jane Sanders on the campaign trail. | Source

Who Is Bernie Sanders?

Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941 (Virgo—the organizer). He and his older brother were raised in the Brooklyn borough of New York City—hence the accent—by Jewish American parents. Sanders' father originated from what is now Poland, emigrated to the U.S. in 1921 and became a paint salesman. His mother was a homemaker born in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents. Sanders learned about the critical importance of politics when Hitler came to power in Germany, and many of his parents' relatives were killed during the Holocaust.

When young, Sanders played basketball, ran track, and attended Hebrew school. He and his brother were well fed, but his parents' means were modest, which trend he still follows. Both parents died young—his mother at 46, his father at 57.

In 1964 Bernie graduated from the University of Chicago with a BS in political science. While there he became involved in socialist, civil rights, and anti-war groups. He was instrumental in ending segregation in housing at the university. Fellow participants described him as someone who could work well with anyone, whether he agreed with them or not.

After graduating, Sanders moved back to work at various jobs in New York City for awhile, then moved to Vermont where he lives now, having been "captivated by rural life." There he worked as a carpenter, filmmaker, and writer, before running for governor in 1972. He lost that race and the two senate races after that, so he continued to write, film, and teach a little (political science at Harvard). Those were his political prep years.

Why Bernie Got Involved in Politics

In 1980, Sanders won his first election—as mayor of Burlington—which entered him truly into politics. During his eight-year tenure as mayor, he established policies that resulted in Burlington becoming one of the nation's most livable cities.

In 1988, he married his second wife, Mary Jane O'Meara, who already had three children that Sanders considers his own as much as his own son, Levi, who was 19 when they married. She became president of Burlington College, and recently started the growing national movement "Our Revolution."

Although Sanders has more money now than he did growing up and owns three houses—two in Vermont and a one-bedroom townhouse in Washington, DC—he still drives an old car. In 2015 his total net worth was $750,000 according to Business Insider. Then sales of the books he wrote about his dreams for the country and his experiences running for office took off and earned him over a million dollars. One of those was "Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In." The books are the main source of his wealth, but he also has his senate salary, the three homes, and some investments. All told, his wealth amounts to around $2.5 million, according to an article in Forbes Magazine.

In 2016, Sanders ran for president of the United States, hoping to be selected by the Democratic National Caucus (DNC) as their candidate, but they chose otherwise. In 2017 Sanders was given an honorary PhD from Brooklyn College. That same year polls showed him to be the most popular politician in the United States.

Bernie Sanders walking to the Senate with one of his seven grandchildren.
Bernie Sanders walking to the Senate with one of his seven grandchildren. | Source

Who Is Elizabeth Warren?

Elizabeth Warren was born June 22, 1949 (Cancer—the caretaker). She and her three older brothers were raised in a lower middle class home in the Oklahoma City region. Their father had a heart attack when she was 12 that incurred heavy medical bills and had to change jobs from salesman to a low-paying apartment custodian. They lost their car. Their mother began working in the Sears catalog department and Warren started working as a 13-year-old waitress.

Warren excelled in high school and won a debate scholarship to George Washington University, where she majored in education. In 1968, she married and moved to Houston, where her husband worked for IBM. There she obtained a BS in speech pathology. Her husband then transferred to New Jersey, where Warren bore two children and acquired a law degree from Rutgers Law School. Two years later they divorced (although she kept his name) and two years after that she married again—a fellow law professor this time. Her children are now grown and she has grandchildren.

Elizabeth Warren's Heritage

Like many of us (myself included), Warren grew up believing she had Native American ancestry. Following a challenge by Donald Trump in 2018, coupled with a promise to donate a million dollars to her favorite charity (did he do it?), she obtained a DNA test that proved she did, indeed, have such ancestry. She has since been in touch with Cherokee tribal elders, with whom she agreed that DNA tests don't make tribal citizens. In February, 2019, she dropped unexpectedly into a Native American conference and was given a standing ovation.

Before running for Massachusetts state senator in 2012, Warren taught law at several universities. Her specialty was bankruptcy law (which makes me wonder what she thinks of Trump's multiple bankruptcies). She also became involved in public work with bankruptcy protection and consumer regulation. She and her second husband, Bruce Mann, eventually settled in Massachusetts where they both taught law at Harvard University.

Although she considered herself Republican for many years, by 1995 Warren had realized that Republicans were migrating from supporting the general marketplace to promoting the success of big financial institutions. That went against her personal commitment to strengthen the middle class, so she switched parties.

By the time Warren decided to go into politics, herself, she was one of the most quoted professors in commercial law. She has written three books and coauthored six more, plus parts of other publications. Here are some of them:

As with Sanders, Warren's income took a boost with the writing and sales of her books. She also has an annuity and other investments, plus the $1.9 million house she owns with her husband. And she has his salary to combine with hers (which is less than what she was making as a professor), making a total net worth between the two of them of around $8 million, according to her tax returns and this article from Celebrity Net Worth.

Because of her background, she is well aware that poverty lies just around the corner for most people, and is willing to do whatever she can to help relieve the fear. In addition to donating money for various causes, she has detailed economic plans for the rest of the country that will make the playing field more fair.

During her tenure teaching at Harvard Law School, Warren was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Harvard's Dean described her as a "visionary scholar doing work that addresses some of the most critical issues we face."
During her tenure teaching at Harvard Law School, Warren was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Harvard's Dean described her as a "visionary scholar doing work that addresses some of the most critical issues we face." | Source

The Importance of Political Experience

The personal background of a politician is not enough to show how they are likely to carry out their campaign promises. In order to function efficiently as president of the United States a candidate needs some kind of political experience—something that shows their understanding of the issues faced by the public, their ability to lead and influence others, their knowledge of how the legislative process works, and how they will likely function within the governmental structure.

It's therefore important, when evaluating a candidate or officeholder's integrity, to check their professional and political history for understanding, and their past performance for consistency. Here are the political histories of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, so you can get an idea of how they got to where they are today.

Bernie Sanders' Political History

Until Sanders ran for president in 2016, he campaigned for all of his political offices independently from any political party. He remained unaffiliated so as to remain outside of partisan politics—which made it much easier to hold to his values, work for the benefit of his state, and negotiate with other legislators, uninfluenced by party politics. It worked and worked well. He became one of the nation's legislators most skilled at negotiating bipartisan agreements.

Sanders' first successful campaign was his election in 1981 as mayor of Burlington. He held that office for eight years—each reelection gaining a higher percentage of the vote. During those eight years he established policies that, combined together, resulted in Burlington becoming one of the most livable cities in the nation.

  • He started cooperative business ownerships
  • Developed an affordable housing policy (now adopted worldwide)
  • Nurtured local businesses (Seventh Generation grew up there)
  • Converted the town's publicly owned utility to 100% renewable energy

Under Bernie Sanders' leadership, the city completely revitalized its economy . . . which would be really sweet, if he could do the same thing for us, nationwide.

From the position of mayor, Sanders ran for U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 and won eight times, again reelected each time with a higher percentage of Vermont votes. Then he ran in 2006 for U.S. Senate, defeating Vermont's richest man, where he has served ever since. Sanders has become the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history.

In the Senate, Sanders serves as a prominent member of the Senate Budget Committee and heads up the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Subcommittee for Primary Health and Retirement Security.

In 1991 he founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus—which represents the progressive faction of the Democratic Party—to counteract what he saw as the timidity of the Democratic Party establishment, and its gradual movement toward the right. The caucus now has 98 members and is the second largest caucus within the party.

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Elizabeth Warren's Political History

Although Elizabeth Warren won her first political office in 2012, she'd already had plenty of experience before then as a political advisor. From 1995–2012, she worked with congressional representatives on several projects:

  • to help them understand consumer bankruptcy rights and needs (she opposed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention Act that was eventually passed)
  • to monitor how the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act was working in helping industries, homeowners, and banks recover from the depression
  • to determine the impact of the Troubled Asset Relief Program on financial and other markets
  • to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—promoting, designing, and advising President Obama throughout its inception.

In 2012, when Warren ran for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, she won with 53.7% of the vote. She was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from that state. Warren immediately joined the Senate Banking Committee where she started pressing government regulators about their lax practices in overseeing the banking industry, and questioning the heads of big banks regarding illegal acts like opening unauthorized customer bank accounts.

Elizabeth Warren marching in the 2018 Boston Pride Parade.
Elizabeth Warren marching in the 2018 Boston Pride Parade. | Source

In 2014 the Senate created a new committee and asked her to be its strategic advisor—the Democratic Policy & Communications Committee. In 2016 she earned a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee—one of the chamber's most powerful committees.

During the debate opposing Jeff Sessions' appointment to Attorney General in 2017, Warren read a quote about him by Coretta Scott King that had Mitch McConnell crying foul. He chastised her saying, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted," which Warren's supporters immediately turned into a rallying cry.

In 2018 Warren ran again for U.S. Senator and won with 60% of the vote. After several years of being urged in this direction, Warren finally declared her candidacy for U.S. President in February 2019. Warren is listed by the United Kingdom's New Statesman magazine as one of the U.S.'s top 20 progressives.

Elizabeth Warren with of her daughters and a granddaughter just before announcing her candidacy for US President.
Elizabeth Warren with of her daughters and a granddaughter just before announcing her candidacy for US President. | Source

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

–Senator Mitch McConnell

Professional Offices & Websites

As with most Congressional officeholders, Sanders has a residence in downtown Washington DC, but his professional office is located in Burlington VT. His professional website shows news about his latest legislative activities, lists the services he can provide to his Vermont constituents, provides key information about federal government services, and gives details about legislation he has sponsored.

Elizabeth Warren calls herself a "consumer advocate" on her website, which certainly matches her history. She lives in Cambridge MA and works hard to support her constituents. In the Senate she generates bipartisan legislation that positively affects people all over the country. Her website shows her accomplishments, credits, the services she provides, several ways to contact her, and articles that show the work she is doing.

Public Speaking on the Campaign Trail

Many of you have already heard Bernie Sanders speak. He's been stumping around the country for several years now, holding town hall meetings and giving campaign speeches.

Elizabeth Warren is just starting to make herself known to the general public. It turns out she's a great speaker too, although a different kind. Her speaking is more refined and practical, whereas his is more forceful and visionary. Each of these approaches appeal to different types of people.

In person they are both highly congenial. Here are two interviews that will help you compare their personal speaking styles, and learn something about their influence on the political scene, as this election season progresses.

Questions & Answers

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      • Sustainable Sue profile imageAUTHOR

        Sustainable Sue 

        2 months ago from Altadena CA, USA

        Thanks Cynthia. Your description of them is right on, from what I've seen, both in researching them and also seeing them (Bernie, anyway) in public. In fact, researching this article has brought me hope.

        I hope the DNC also looks at the needs of the public when they choose their candidate after the primaries. If they choose a status quo candidate, we'll lose again.

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        2 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Hi Sue,

        I appreciate this insightful article on the personal backgrounds of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As a Canadian, I imagine it doesn't matter much about what I think. On the other hand, as someone who was a University student in the 1970s, I believe that there are likely a wealth of people like you and me-- regardless of our countries of origin-- who resonate with the concept of the personal being political. Both of the people you describe appear to be compassionate, dedicated, family-loving, intelligent, well-educated, respectful individuals who have diverse experiences and success in their fields. They also each appear to have a dignity that really stands out in these days where it is almost hard to remember what that looks like in the political arena. The personal attributes, beliefs, and accomplishments that you have highlighted would, in my opinion, provide the information that sincerely-engaged voters need before reading about their various political platforms. Good work!

      • Sustainable Sue profile imageAUTHOR

        Sustainable Sue 

        4 months ago from Altadena CA, USA

        That's coming in different articles—one for each. It was too much information to put in one. As soon as I've written the others, I'll add links to this one.

      • bradmasterOCcal profile image

        Brad 

        4 months ago

        None of this article really has their political platform and its details of how as president the will handle the current issues of today.

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