Elizabeth Warren Is Not Afraid
Monday was a pretty big day for Elizabeth Warren! She was endorsed by the Working Families Party, which in 2016 had given its endorsement to Bernie Sanders; she released her plan to crack down on corruption in politics; and she gave a big speech in New York City's Washington Square Park, attended by roughly 20,000 people, according to her campaign. (The New York Times punctiliously notes "that estimate could not be independently verified.")
It was a pretty good speech! (In case the copied-from-C-SPAN version below gets pulled, her campaign has a version on the YouTubes, too, but you have to turn the audio way up to hear it.)
Senator Elizabeth Warren Speech in Washington Square Parkyoutu.be
The speech focused on outlining her plan to fight corruption and lobbying, which Warren calls "the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate." What kind of rally was it? It was the kind of rally where a beloved nerd got a whole crowd of people to chant the phrase "BIG STRUCTURAL CHANGE!" We bet there were people there who could quote entire scenes from The West Wing verbatim. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Warren noted that Washington Square Park is just a block away from the location of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where in 1911 143 workers, mostly immigrant girls and women, died in a fire because all the exits were locked from the outside because the owners were worried about theft. That's what happens, said Warren, when the rules are made to suit the rich and powerful. Warren noted that the backlash to the fire led to successful drives for workers' and women's rights, even before women had the right to vote, and said that's the sort of -- you guessed it! -- big structural change she wants to bring to Washington.
Warren said the Triangle fire resulted from the corrupt attitudes of Gilded Age capitalism and its enablers in government (fine, she didn't say "Gilded Age," but nerds in her audience knew she meant it), and pointed out that sure sounds a lot like today. She added that Donald Trump didn't bring about the current mess, either, although he's the current enabler of the rich: "A country that elects Donald Trump is already in serious trouble."
Fortunately, she said to applause, she has a plan for that. And like her other plans, she said, it "all [comes] back to one simple idea: Put economic and political power in the hands of the people."
Where some candidates call for incremental reforms of lobbying, Warren promises to end how it currently works, which of course won't win her any friends on K Street.
Among the top ideas Warren wants to put in place:
- A lifetime ban on senators and representatives from ever working as lobbyists
- Same thing for former presidents, veeps, Cabinet secretaries, and federal judges
- No hiring of lobbyists as congressional staff, and no lobbyists as presidential cabinet members or advisers
- All meetings between lobbyists and officials must be public record
- A complete end to lobbying on behalf of foreign governments and companies
- Lobbyists would be banned from making campaign contributions, and from "bundling" donations
Beyond that, Warren proposes several steps to eliminate conflicts of interest. Anyone running for a federal office would have to put their tax returns online. Once in office, federal officials -- both elected and appointed -- need to be working for Americans, not their own interests, or those of a former or future big-money employer. To that end, she'd "tighten up the rules to ensure that when government officials are making decisions, they are considering only the public interest."
Instead of just requiring disclosure of officials' financial entanglements, she wants laws that would require divestment from financial interests. No More Kushners. No more running side businesses that might turn a profit from your government work. And while she's at it, she wants to ban government officials from trading individual stocks while in office, and yes she's glaring at former HHS Secretary Tom Price here.
Warren also called for tight rules to prevent federal agencies from being "captured" by the industries they're supposed to be regulating. See virtually every agency in the Trump administration, although the problem predates him; it's simply become far more blatant. Warren said in the speech she wants to "take down the 'For Sale' signs hanging outside every federal building in Washington."
There's more in the full plan, but you get the point: It's all about really taking action to get money out of politics -- and yes, that means getting rid of Citizens United, because corporations are not people, and also not our friends. And as Politico notes, changing that sucker is key, since the "money is speech" precedent it sets would gut much of her anti-corruption plan in the courts.
Warren returned to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, noting that one of the horrified witnesses who saw women and girls jump to their deaths was Frances Perkins, a feminist activist who joined in the marches and protests and calls for legislation to protect workers. (Some in the crowd applauded and cheered at the name, because Warren supporters like to show off their book learnin'.) Perkins went on to serve as FDR's Labor secretary, the first woman to serve in the Cabinet.
All those things happened, she said, because "Frances had a plan," and because she harnessed the outrage of ordinary people to political action:
The tragic story of the Triangle factory fire is a story about power [...] A story of what happens when the rich and the powerful take control of government and use it to increase their own profits while they stick it to working people. But what happened in the aftermath of the fire is a different story about power -- a story about our power, a story about what's possible when we fight together as one.
And yes, the activists were told, like all activists are told, that they should just give up, or settle for incremental improvements. Warren then listed others who were told they wanted too much change, too soon, like the suffragists, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, feminists, and the LGBT rights movement.
They didn't give up. They organized. They built a grassroots movement. The persisted. And they changed the course of American history.
Warren closed with a nice little jab at people who think it might be better to find someone with more modest goals, although she didn't mention any names:
There's a lot at stake in this election, and I know people are scared. But we can't choose a candidate we don't believe in just because we're too scared to do anything else. And Democrats can't win if we're scared and looking backward.
Like we say, it was a pretty good speech. And now it is your OPEN THREAD!
[Team Warren on Medium / Politico / NYT / Buzzfeed News]
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