October 16, 2011
Elizabeth Warren’s Appeal
For a few years now, politicians straining against all of the
antigovernment demagogy have been searching for a way to energize
public interest and remind voters of the essential government services
and protections they rely on and all too often take for granted.
President Obama has struggled to find that language, only recently
beginning to draw a clear contrast between his goal to revive the
economy and put Americans back to work and the stagnation that is the
inevitable result of the Republicans’ antitax, antispending policies.
While most other Democrats are afraid to talk about the need for
higher taxes and are running away from the problem, Elizabeth Warren,
the leading Democratic candidate for a Senate seat in Massachusetts,
has engaged the fight and is beginning to rally supporters.
Ms. Warren talks about the nation’s growing income inequality in a way
that channels the force of the Occupy Wall Street movement but makes
it palatable and understandable to a far wider swath of voters. She is
provocative and assertive in her critique of corporate power and the
well-paid lobbyists who protect it in Washington, and eloquent in her
defense of an eroding middle class.
It is an informed and measured populism, and it helps explain why she
immediately became the leading Democratic contender in the race to
challenge Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who is up for
re-election next year.
Ms. Warren, a law professor at Harvard, helped to design the new
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Because of her fierce advocacy
on behalf of consumers, Senate Republicans and the financial industry
made clear they would never allow her to run it.
She is a remarkably eloquent and appealing Senate candidate.
“Washington is well wired for big corporations that can hire armies of
lobbyists,” she said last month, soon after joining the race. “But
it’s not working very well for middle-class families, and that’s what
I care about.”
She is both knowledgeable and accessible when she explains the
destructive credit-swap and subprime mortgage games that created the
financial crisis. She draws a detailed map back to the early
deregulation of the 1980s that began to rip the nation’s economic
fabric — the same deregulatory fervor the Republicans are preaching
Her larger appeal, though, comes from her ability to shred Republican
arguments that rebalancing the tax burden constitutes class warfare.
In a living-room speech that went viral on YouTube last month, she
pointed out that people in this country don’t get rich entirely by
themselves — everyone benefits from roads, public safety agencies and
an education system paid for by taxes. And those who have benefited
the most, she says, need to give back more.
“You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great
idea — God bless!” she said. “Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the
underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward
for the next kid who comes along.”
Democrats should not be cowed by conservative taunts that the speech
advocated “collectivism,” and use this argument to push back against
the Republicans’ refusal to raise the taxes of people who make more
than a million dollars a year — sometimes far more. Senate Democratic
leaders say they plan to employ poll-tested phrases like “Tea Party
economics” and “Tea Party gridlock” in their campaign for a jobs bill
and beyond. They would be better off listening to Elizabeth Warren.
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