Back in August, before Warren even announced her candidacy, the smear machine was at work. Shortly after her campaign kicked off, the state party wrote a letter to Harvard, asking them to rescind Warren’s salary. Despite Warren’s upbringing – her mom worked at Sears, her three brothers joined the military, and she got married at 19 – an aide to Brown explained to one news outlet, “Elizabeth Warren has spent her adult life on the campus of Harvard. She’s never been a part of the real world.”
Later, the Republicans began grasping to link her to – wait for it -- communism. Responding to a popular viral video in which Warren defends the place of government in a free society, Brown’s campaign manager suggested that Warren is somehow un-American. The Massachusetts state party then suggested that she was connected to the Communist Party, Ron Paul called her a “socialist,” and a local tea party activist, apparently trying to follow the cues, interrupted an event to call her a “socialist whore.”
Next, the Republicans lambasted her for attending “a glitzy Manhattan fundraiser” and for the fact that one of her tens of thousands of contributions came from a lobbyist. When Warren, self-deprecatingly and trying to make sense of the scattered attacks, joked that the Republicans were making her out to be some sort of “elite hick” because of her Oklahoma background and Harvard job, the GOP pounced, demanding an “explanation” for her use of the word hick.
This cacophony of criticism seemed to reach a crescendo late last month, when the state party released a Youtube video calling Warren the “Matriarch of Mayhem,” ominously linking her to Occupy Wall Street protests using grainy, presumably doctored footage. Karl Rove upped the ante, airing television ads that mirror the Matriarch of Mayhem video. Rove’s ads were funded by Wall Street, which Politico has reported to be readying its assault on Warren.
In the GOP’s eyes, Warren is, somehow at the same time, all of the following: a well-paid, hick-hating communist who attends “glitzy” fundraisers while coordinating anti-capitalist riots.
Seeking to defend that rarest of creatures, a Republican in deep blue Massachusetts, the GOP has adopted a kitchen sink strategy. Perhaps this was bound to happen, yet to see this level of desperation on display so early in the race is telling. Clearly, Warren has struck a special chord.
To grasp why, return to the viral video that prompted the GOP to label Warren a communist in the first place. As of this writing, it’s been viewed almost 800,000 times (about 40 times as many views as the Matriarch of Mayhem attack). The thrust of her message in the video is simple: when people succeed, they don’t do so in the absence of government. Government is always in the background, providing us all with the requisite foundation—schools, roads, police—upon which we can build our lives.
It’s a simple message, but one rarely heard. For almost half a century, conservatives have been waging a concerted and highly successful campaign against the very idea of government itself. Their message has seeped into the fabric of our politics, and made converts of politicians from both sides of the aisle.
Warren’s affirmative vision of government promises a belated but necessary corrective. There’s no guarantee Warren will be successful, either in this race, or, if she wins, at turning that promise into reality. Understandably, Republicans would prefer she not be given the chance to try.
Porter is a contributing editor at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.