Understanding the nature of ‘hypocrisy,’ redux

Brian McGrory reports this week on Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) new attack on Elizabeth Warren: she’s apparently an “elitist hypocrite.”

[Brown] seems to be fuming that his main Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, has done pretty well for herself financially. A filing publicized last week had her making $700,000 in income over a recent two-year period, and it’s even more than that when you factor in a government salary she received during part of that time.

Whatever the figure, it’s sent Brown over the edge. It caused his campaign manager, a seemingly nice young Vermonter named Jim Barnett, to toss out the “elitist hypocrite” description, like it’s a crime to climb the ladder of success in America and impossible to remember what life is like on the lower rungs.

If I’m correctly reading Brown’s bizarre logic, Warren is guilty of being a class traitor? She shouldn’t be able to make money because she grew up relatively poor? Or once she did make money, she should have become an advocate for the rich?

The National Republican Senatorial Committee began pushing this same line in November, and I continue to find it remarkable.

Warren has, apparently, acquired a fair amount of wealth, after having been raised by a family of modest means, and putting herself through law school. She is now one of the nation’s leading, and most articulate, voices in representing the interests of the middle class.

The right sees this as “hypocrisy” — Warren is wealthy, but she’s championing those who aren’t wealthy. Maybe Warren could use some of her money to buy dictionaries for her critics so they can look up what “hypocrisy” actually means.

Let me put this as plainly as I know how: when rich people support economic policies that bolster working families, that’s admirable, but it’s not hypocrisy. FDR was wealthy, but he fought for the interests of those without. Ted Kennedy fit the same model. Some recent polling suggests many of America’s most wealthy individuals believe their own taxes should be raised for the greater good.

Scott Brown can agree or disagree on the merits of those beliefs, and he and his fellow Republicans are free to argue that fighting for the middle class is a bad idea, but when those with considerable personal resources look at the status quo — a growing class gap, wealth concentrated at the top, rising poverty — and want a more progressive approach, that’s evidence of sanity, not hypocrisy.

McGrory called this an example of Scott Brown’s “crass warfare.” That’s as apt a description as any.