It’s hard not to get blinded by the searing light of Bill Clinton. But Elizabeth Warren gave the speech that spoke more to me last night. Strip away the reason all these speeches are happening – support for the President – and the stories that Warren and Clinton told were a little different. Clinton told a story of Democratic policy ideas building a foundation for growth, and creating opportunity, and bringing back shared prosperity. He added an important moral component that “poverty, discrimination and ignorance restrict growth.”
Warren told the truth. “The game is rigged,” she said, and then she explained how.
I’m here tonight to talk about hard-working people: people who get up early, stay up late, cook dinner and help out with homework; people who can be counted on to help their kids, their parents, their neighbors, and the lady down the street whose car broke down; people who work their hearts out but are up against a hard truth—the game is rigged against them [...]
The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.
Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do.
I talk to small business owners all across Massachusetts. Not one of them—not one—made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy. I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters—people who bust their tails every day. Not one of them—not one—stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
These folks don’t resent that someone else makes more money. We’re Americans. We celebrate success. We just don’t want the game to be rigged.
It’s as if Bob Rubin got rhetorically thrown in the pool, along with actually falling in one at a fancy donor event.
That’s simply a far more honest portrayal of the America we actually live in than anyone usually articulates on stage at a national political convention. She told the story in broad strokes, the story people feel in their core, the story that anyone paying attention since the Great Recession knows. We’re not a fairy-tale land where everyone can grow up and be whatever they want. We’re not a land of social mobility and equality of opportunity. We’re in an economy that’s unraveled pretty badly, and over a 30-year period, that has cut off those avenues for mobility, and now has become a favor factory for the rich and powerful. People may not want to hear this; but they know it.
Where Warren and Clinton connect is over this passage, criticizing conservative ideology. But Warren took it a step further:
The Republican vision is clear: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.” Republicans say they don’t believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends.
This is an under-emphasized point. I hear liberals all the time ask the question, “Republicans say they hate government, and then they want to run it!” Of course they want to run government. Government can be extremely rewarding – when it’s used to particular ends to enrich friends and donors and corporate contributors. Government can be a profit-taking exercise. And that’s what usually happens.
Warren has a deeper record on rolling back this system of rigged government, simply by being the intellectual force and one-woman lobbyist behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – than most people in government today. She told the story of the CFPB’s first enforcement action, how they got a full refund from Capital One for customers abused by add-on credit card fees, plus interest. The CFPB is doing astonishingly good work, considering its position as a federal agency. Warren gave Obama a lot of credit for that, and it’s his convention. But she ought to take a lot of that credit too.
The prescriptions for how to end the rigged game were a little too rooted to the same melange we often see as Democratic promises. But the line “anyone who works hard can build some security and raise a family” struck me. It was refreshingly honest because it didn’t ask for much. That’s not an outsized vision of Walter Mitty America. Just a chance for every hardworking individual out there to have a little comfort, a little pride.
The speech gave what few speeches at these types of things give – honesty. I’m not foolish enough to believe that one person can overcome a game that’s been rigged for many, many years. But I can’t think of a lot of people I’d rather want fighting to un-rig it than Elizabeth Warren.