The left has a new hero. Elizabeth Warren, a former Obama administration official who is now challenging for Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, is the star of a YouTube video that has “gone viral.” In a recent speech before a group of supporters, Warren delivered what her admirers believe is a devastating smack down of those who oppose tax hikes on the “rich”:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. 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 don’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did.
“Now look. You built a factory and turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! 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.”
Columnist Andrew Sullivan gushingly compares Warren to Chris Christie. Not to quibble, but Christie rails against the entitlement mentality and Warren rails for it. (She is essentially admonishing entrepreneurs: “We are all responsible for your success and are entitled to a hunk of it!”)
A number of smart people have beaten me to the punch with excellent rebuttals of Warren’s rant, including Rich Lowry, Reihan Salam and Instapundit (who also posts a superb response to Warren from one of his readers). I’ll add my two cents:
First, I’m struck by the hostile, sarcastic and dismissive attitude that Warren displays towards those who create jobs. So, you’ve just risked a large “hunk” of your money to build a factory that employs a bunch of people? “Good for you.” Spent another large “hunk” of money and years of your time to satisfy the demands of layers of bureaucrats, until they finally relented and let you build it? “God bless!”
President Obama displayed a similar attitude in his September 8 jobs speech before a joint session of Congress: “[F]or everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for ‘job creators,’ this plan is for you,” said the president, unable to hide his contempt for Republican concerns even while purporting to be solicitous of them. “Job creators” was placed within dismissive quotation marks in the prepared text. He might as well have referred to entrepreneurs as “so-called job creators,” sneering at those who would presume to usurp the federal government’s role.
Warren’s quote, of course, is based entirely on a straw man. It is the same straw man that President Obama used in his jobs speech, when he decried “this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own.”
The funny thing about “this larger notion” cited by the president is that virtually no one — not even Ron Paul or the dreaded “Tea Baggers” — subscribes to it. And speaking of notions that no one subscribes to: Does anyone out there seriously believe that the rich should not be required to pay reasonable taxes to support roads, police, firefighters and education? If so, then Boo-yah! You have just been owned by Elizabeth Warren!
Obama and Warren appear to think they’re running against the Anarchist Party rather than the Republican Party. If you’re capable of grasping the subtle point that opposing excessive, unsustainable and wasteful public spending is not the same as opposing all public spending, then you probably haven’t been caught up in the wave of Warren-mania that’s sweeping the nation.
While Warren eloquently makes the case against something that nobody is for — zero taxation — she fails to make the case for raising taxes in a down economy. Families across America are suffering now because there aren’t enough jobs. We need private parties to start businesses, expand businesses or otherwise invest so we can create jobs. Like it or not, raising taxes on those with the wherewithal to engage in those activities will thwart job creation. It will leave potential investors with less capital to risk on job-creating activities and less incentive to risk the capital they have.
The rich will be just fine if we raise their taxes; they’ll still be rich, but in the aggregate will invest less money in our economy. The resulting reduction in job-creating investment, however, will punish workers and those who desperately want and need to become workers again.
This isn’t just a theory espoused by right-wing nut jobs, unless your definition of “right-wing nut job” includes Bill Clinton, Evan Bayh, the growing number of Democrats who are bucking the proposed tax hikes — and even, not too long ago, President Obama.
As Warren’s campaign kicks into high gear, she will eventually have to expand the impromptu remarks of her grainy video into a full-blown stump speech. In the spirit of bipartisanship, I have taken a crack at doing this for her. I can’t promise that the following will also go viral, but it accurately conveys the sentiments she expressed on YouTube and is no sillier than the original:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you, Mr. Big Shot Factory Man!
“But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. Okay, you rich guys paid for almost all of it because you pay almost all the taxes, but you get my point. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate — we overpaid, in fact, and of course ‘educate’ is probably an exaggeration. You were safe in your factory because of police forces that the rest of us paid for — police forces that are the first line of defense after the private security that every factory has to hire. You don’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory. No, we have the IRS to do that.
“Now look. You built a factory and turned it into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! You must think you’re so smart. But remember, you wouldn’t have been able to think of that hot-shot idea of yours if the police forces that the rest of us paid for hadn’t prevented marauding bands from killing you first. So that great idea of yours, and the creativity, vision and daring that allowed you to implement it, really belong to all of us. So stop trying to grab all the credit, you selfish jerk. But go ahead, keep a hunk of the earnings because after all, job creation is a necessary evil in our society.
“But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along. Pay forward to support the bureaucrats who allowed you to build your factory, and in fact devoted several years of their lives to making the decision to let you do it. Pay forward because the care and feeding of those bureaucrats does not come cheap; those $16 muffins add up. Pay forward so the next kid can have the same opportunity to build a factory that you had. And if that kid is politically connected, pay forward for a $535 million loan guarantee so the kid can overcome the disadvantage of a doomed and ill-conceived business plan. Pay forward, because the government has lots of mouths to feed and can’t afford to let you keep any more of its money. God bless America!”
Thunderous applause. Warren for Senate!
David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He hosts the debate show “Beer Summit” for PBS Guam.