It’s a good thing that Elizabeth Warren video went viral; it’s starting to have an impact on the national discourse.
In the now-famous clip, Warren explained to a group of voters, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” In our society, success tends to be the result of cooperative action — private-sector leaders move products on public roads, they hire workers educated in public* schools, their enterprises were secure thanks to public services like police and firefighters, etc.
On Monday, President Obama spoke at a LinkedIn town-hall meeting, and sounded a similar note. By yesterday, the argument worked its way into a speech Obama delivered in Denver touting the American Jobs Act. Consider this rhetoric:
“This is the Land of Opportunity. What’s great about this country is that any of these young people here, if they’ve got a good idea, if they go out there and they’re willing to work hard, they can start a business, they can create value, great products, great services. They can make millions, make billions. That’s great. That’s what America is all about. Anybody can make it if they try.
“But what’s also a quintessentially American idea is that those of us who’ve done well should pay our fair share to contribute to the upkeep of the nation that made our success possible because nobody did well on their own.
“A teacher somewhere helped to give you the skills to succeed. Firefighters and police officers are protecting your property. You’re moving your goods and products and services on roads that somebody built. That’s how we all do well together. We got here because somebody else invested in us, and we’ve got to make sure this generation of students can go to college on student aid or scholarships like I did. We’ve got to make sure that we keep investing in the kind of government research that helped to create the Internet, which countless private sector companies then used to create tens of millions of jobs.”
Responding to Republican attacks, Obama declared himself “a warrior for the working class,” adding, “I will wear that charge as a badge of honor. The only ‘warfare’ I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against middle-class families in this country for a decade now.”
I had a chance to check this rhetoric against the speech as it was written, and most of this was ad-libbed. (Contrary to GOP rhetoric, the president rarely sticks to what appears on a teleprompter.)
The larger point, though, is that Obama’s rhetoric is echoing Warren’s rhetoric in fairly obvious ways. The president, in explicit ways we haven’t heard before, is linking his vision of government activism to a meaningful social contract.
For those who enjoyed Warren’s comments in the video, this is a very positive development.