Commentary Magazine


Elizabeth Warren Sells Out

The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) asked big Wall Street banks to disclose financial contributions to think tanks, a request that came several days after a centrist Democratic think tank blasted Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” on issues including Social Security.

Tim Carney had the appropriate reaction: “Warren sits on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. She’s basically telling the entities whose livelihood her committee controls to stop criticizing her. This is bullying — and it’s the best argument for allowing companies and individuals to anonymously criticize politicians.”

Indeed it is bullying. And it’s worth remembering that this sort of thing began, in one form or another, almost as soon as Warren made the transition to politics as a candidate. When she ran against Scott Brown, she would out-fundraise him while the Democrats would accuse Brown of taking Wall Street cash. So Warren wasn’t taking Wall Street cash? Well, she was–but not that kind of Wall Street cash. Jim Antle responded with the headline: “Elizabeth Warren Wants Good Wall Street Cash.” Antle noted Warren’s reaction to the charge of hypocrisy:

“There are people on Wall Street who actually believe we need better rules, fairer rules,” Warren is quoted as saying. Obviously, the Wall Street people who help fund her campaign “want reform.” She has also attacked Karl Rove, who she says is acting as “Scott Brown’s wing man.” Rove is an adviser to American Crossroads, a conservative group that has run ads in Massachusetts critical of Warren’s support for bank bailouts.

So Warren wasn’t averse to picking winners and losers in the financial sector. And oh by the way, feel free to donate to her campaign if you work on Wall Street and are one of the good guys. Go ahead and put that donation receipt on your doorpost; who knows, your house may just get passed over. If you’re lucky.

In any event, the bullying charge is on-point, and it’s part of a pattern. But it’s also something more. I think Pejman Yousefzadeh gets it right:

I guess that I must be something of an old fogey, but I have serious objections to Elizabeth Warren’s decision to go on witch-hunts against those who have the temerity to suggest that she might be anything less than saintly and wonderful. Further proof of what might be my old-fogeyness might be found in my belief that what ultimately matters is not who is making a particular argument, but what the nature of that argument might be; whether it is weak or strong, deep or shallow, sophisticated or knuckle-dragging, informed or uninformed. Perhaps the public would be better served if Warren took the time to respond to her critics instead of trying to use senatorial power in order to bully them.

It has been difficult for liberals to accept–and some conservatives as well, who were at least looking forward to a spirited public debate–but Warren entered electoral politics and immediately became what she would otherwise claim to loathe. She is now both rich and powerful, and she is using that to stifle the debate and curtail the ability of her opponents to challenge her.

This is not populism, however much it comforts Democrats to use that term. And I doubt it’s what voters thought they were getting when they elected Warren. At least I hope not.

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