An open question since the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests in September has been whether — and to what extent — Democratic politicans will embrace them. Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate and leading progressive critic of banks and their role in the financial crisis, isn’t shying away from the movement despite Karl Rove-backed Super PAC American Crossroads ripping her association with “radicals” who embrace “violence”:
In an interview with WCVB-TV in Boston, Elizabeth Warren was asked to respond to the Rove-founded Crossroads GPS ad linking her to Occupy Wall Street. Though she disavowed violence, she directly aligned her candidacy and her own history of fighting Wall Street with the spirit and general critique driving the protests:
INTERVIEWER: Is it fair or not fair for them to link you so closely with Occupy Wall Street?
WARREN: It’s fair to say that I’ve been protesting Wall Street for years and years. I went to Washington in part to try to stop the bank bailout from giving away money, no strings attached. I’ve gone toe to toe with some of the CEOs of the largest Wall Street financial firms. I’ve even with people in our government about how they treat the biggest firms. So, yeah, I’ve been fighting Wall Street for a very long time.
INTERVIEWER: So these are your people?
WARREN: I’m glad to see lots of people start to really push on this issue. Let’s face it: Something’s badly broken in America right now. We’ve got a middle class that has been hammered financially for a generation. And we’ve got a Washington that works only for those who can hire an army of lobbyists and an army of lawyers. And that means it’s not working for the rest of us. So, yeah, I protest that. I’ve been worried about that. I’ve been working on that for a very long time.
INTERVIEWER: So their mission, their philosophy, their tactics, you all agree with?
WARREN: Let’s be clear. Everybody has to follow the law. There’s no exception on that. More important, though, this is an independent, organic movement. It’s its own voice. It will go in its own direction. We don’t speak with a unitary voice anywhere about what needs to be changed. There are lots of people, lots of voices — whether they’ve taken to the streets, whether they’re sitting at home saying, `this doesn’t work anymore.’
We need a lot of voices saying, we’ve got to have change. Because it’s clear: Washington’s not looking to change on its own. And Wall Street is going to keep pumping money into Washington, pumping it into elections, to make sure that their way i s the dominant way in this country. I think that’s wrong.
Note that Warren is refusing to engage the argument the way the right has framed it — as an all or nothing choice between embracing everything about the protests, or repudiating them. Warren and her campaign probably recognize the political danger of getting drawn into debating that false choice.
Instead, she’s keeping the focus on the larger critique of inequality and excessive Wall Street influence embodied by the protests, and directing the conversation towards the broader public’s rising anxiety about these pernicious problems.
Republicans clearly think they can reignite the Culture War by pitting decent working people against jobless hippies. But times have changed since the era of Nixon’s “silent majority,” and Americans mostly back a protest against greed and corporate dominance in Washington.