Elizabeth Warren's video is a YouTube hit, viewed over 600,000 times last I looked. It makes liberals cheer and conservatives fume, and all are telling their friends to check it out. What are your opinions on the video?
The picture is grainy and the lighting is bad, but Elizabeth Warren's video is a YouTube hit, viewed over 600,000 times last I looked.
It makes liberals cheer and conservatives fume, and all are telling their friends to check it out. The reaction is a window on our polarization and a commentary on the state of our social contract.
Warren is a professor, author, consumer advocate and former Obama administration official running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. The video, which wasn't produced for the Warren campaign, shows the candidate talking to voters in a living room in Andover, Mass.
At one point, she takes up the "class warfare" charge, with great passion.
"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own," she says. "Nobody!
"You built a factory out there –– good for you! But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory ... because of work the rest of us did."
The folks in the living room applaud. The conservatives watching at home start to get irritated.
"Now look, you built a factory, and it turned into something terrific –– God bless," Warren continues. "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."
More applause from the liberals. MoveOn.org calls it "the quote every American needs to hear."
Commentators on the right feel the same way, because they want everyone to hear the crazed voice of left-wing extremism, or something. Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby said the clip reflects "infatuation with government and condescension toward private initiative."
A colleague on my Holmes & Co. blog calls it "demagoguery." An email correspondent of mine accused Warren of advocating "confiscation."
Brown's campaign manager linked to the video in a fundraising email, charging that Warren "argues for higher taxes on employers because of her belief that entrepreneurs and business people –– 'factory owners,' as she puts it –– don't share enough of their wealth with the state so that it can be redistributed."
But if you read it on paper, Warren's quote doesn't seem radical enough to deserve either the applause or derision. Not long ago, even the most successful entrepreneurs routinely acknowledged their debt to the country where they made their fortunes.
If Donald Trump said no one gets rich on their own, that all have an obligation to the generations that come, would anyone be upset?
It's a sign of the age. Ideas that were considered platitudes not long ago –– the rich should give something back, the government should stand up for the little guy, those who are helped should "pay it forward" –– are today treated, in some quarters at least, as heresies.
It tells you how far to the right the Right has slid. They have absorbed Ayn Rand's myth of the courageous individual entrepreneur, the virtuous "job creator," the sole source of goodness and wealth, who we should all be thanking, not taxing.
Warren reinforces this myth, even as she explains the rationale for expecting the entrepreneur to pay taxes, by having her hypothetical factory built by an individual. In real life, the "entrepreneur" might be named ExxonMobil or Merck or General Electric –– global corporate giants who buy lobbyists and politicians to get tax cuts and subsidies out of Washington.
In the mythology of the right, the private sector is invariably good and government is always bad. What resonates in Warren's video, I think, isn't her words. Rather, it's the passion with which she speaks them and her affirmation of the much-maligned government.
Warren is not talking about government in terms of politicians and bureaucracies and legislatures. Barney Frank defines government as "the things we choose to do together."
To Warren, government that builds roads and educates children and provides for the common defense is the heart of "the social contract." It's a contract to support common needs through fair policies, to sustain a country where everyone has the opportunity to succeed, and to bestow those opportunities on generations of Americans yet to come.
There's no Republican or conservative I know who is hostile to those values. I don't want to think support for the social contract has become so eroded that its very existence is now controversial.
What's more likely is that Republicans see in Warren's video a populist message and a passionate candidate who is a serious threat to Brown. It's going to be a long and interesting campaign.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News in Massachusetts, blogs at Holmes & Co. He can be reached at email@example.com.