Warren lied about her support for Medicare for All

Warren critics have made this point ad nauseum, but since these things have to be periodically rearticulated I'll do it once again: I believe that Elizabeth Warren lied about her support for Medicare for All. This is not the thing where I am looking at ambiguous statements and behavior and simply interpreting everything in the worst way possible. My case rests on a few distinct points:


"Medicare for All" means what everyone thinks it means at any given moment. It does not mean anything we want it to mean now, and you cannot just logic your way to some inherent meaning by parsing the phrase. This is a question of etymology, not a question of grammar or semantics. This is why, for example, we say that Andrew Yang's health care plan was not Medicare for All, even though he called it that.


For most of last year, Medicare for All was understood with direct reference to Bernie Sanders' plan. Even when candidates called other plans Medicare for All, reporters went out of their way to specify "[this] differs from Bernie Sanders's proposal," or to offer belabored clarifications:

To review, Bernie Sanders' single-payer health plan is called "Medicare for All," and Kamala Harris is a co-sponsor on that plan (along with several other presidential candidates, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren). His plan would cover all Americans with a government-administered health care plan...While Harris has co-sponsored Sanders' plan, she has also diverged from Sanders' vision on the campaign trail, most notably on the role of private insurance.

You had to do this because if you did not, people would understand "Medicare for All" as a reference to Sanders' plan. Similarly, consider the coverage of Pete Buttigieg's health care plan:

Pete Buttigieg is billing his new health-care proposal as a riff off Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan. It’s called “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it.”

Time and time again, coverage of Medicare for All during the 2019 primaries referred us back to the Sanders plan.


This default understand of Medicare for All clearly governed the public's understanding of Warren. At a June debate when Warren declared "I'm with Bernie on Medicare for All," the Observer reported that

Warren reaffirmed her committment to a Medicare for All bill sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while lambasting private insurance companies.

Note the phrasing: this was not merely a specific commitment to the Sanders bill, it was one that Warren was understood to have made repeatedly. CNN, using similar language, made the point quite explicitly:

the Massachusetts Democrat is running on a bill that she first signed on to in 2017: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" single-payer legislation. "I'm with Bernie," Warren has said more than once in recent months when asked about her vision for the American health care system...she's made clear that she has no intention of authoring a comprehensive health care plan of her own during the Democratic primary contest.

This was also how other Democratic candidates understood her position:

Warren confirmed her support for Sanders's Medicare for All bill during Wednesday night's debate..."Sen. Warren...has outsourced health care to someone who isn't even a Democrat," [Rep. John] Delaney said in a statement Thursday.

Joe Biden:

“I know the senator says she’s for Bernie,” he said of Warren’s support for Sanders’ Medicare for All healthcare plan. “Well, I’m for Barack. I think the Obamacare worked.”


From here, the argument is straightforward. For most of last year, people typically understood "Medicare for All" as a reference to Bernie Sanders' plan. And whenever anyone meant something else, there was a general understanding that you needed to specify this. Warren did not. She repeatedly associated herself with Bernie's plan, and when everyone explicitly interpreted her this way for months on end, she let them believe it. It is true that on various occasions she contradicted herself on this, as when she made a "many paths" argument about single payer over a year ago. But these narrowcasted footnotes were not the dominant message that was broadcast for months on end in the media; Warren knew this; she did not take simple measures to stop it (like releasing a timely plan); and on occasion, she encouraged it.

This is called "lying", and as noted, it's a big reason why our healthcare discourse is so incoherent today. Pundits who ridiculed Sanders supporters for their skepticism of Warren have now been backed into the position of either owning up to their mistake or doubling-down on it and insisting that Warren somehow meant something all along that's directly at odds with the historical record. Predictably they've picked the latter,