The Critical Mass

Profiles in courage, and cowardice

Now we know why Republicans were so intent on preventing President Obama from naming Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Here’s what she had to say about the Republican drumbeat that Obama’s intention to add to the tax responsibility of the top 2 percent of the richest Americans is “class warfare”:

‘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 didn’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 it 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.”

I’ve never seen capitalism explained so succinctly as Warren did in these comments last  month.  The words have caught fire, and are now racing around the Internet. Warren’s voice was silenced when Republicans refused to allow her to be appointed to a necessary agency that she helped create. But now she’s running for the U.S. Senate against the Republican Scott Brown. In Warren, I believe we are seeing the formation of  a political folk hero.

Compare Warren’s leadership on this issue with the most-recent Republican debate. In a video shown to the candidates, a question directed specifically at the anti-gay Rick Santorum, a  gay soldier asked if recent policy advances allowing gays to serve in the military would be repealed under a Republican president. Santorum made a weirdly comic comment about how “any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military” (Where does he think baby soldiers come from?), then retreated to his bumper-sticker slogan that the military is no place for “social engineering” (The correct answer is that no government institution should condone discrimination).

But what was truly shocking was the reaction of the candidates as the soldier posed his question. We’ve already seen audience members at past Republican debates cheer at the very mention of Rick Perry’s state leading the nation in executions, and loudly bellow that a critically ill young person should be denied life-saving medical treatment because he had unwisely chosen to go uninsured. Such bloodthirsty beliefs by their supporters, the candidates sort of quietly agreed after the debates, were “unfortunate.” And it happened again at Thursday night’s debate, when some audience members booed this gay soldier who was brave enough to ask a question. Whether or not they agreed with the decision to allow gays to serve in the military, not one of those candidates had the guts to step forward and defend this man who’d we’d sent overseas to fight for us.