Elizabeth Warren goes to war against SpaceX’s Elon Musk
As 2021 draws to a close, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has launched a Twitter attack against SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The attack capped a year during which SpaceX had operated a truly operational space line. The company also made great strides developing the Starship, a rocket that promises to revolutionize space travel, bringing both the moon and Mars within reach of astronauts.
In all, SpaceX launched 31 of its workhorse Falcon 9 rockets. Most of the launches deployed Starlink communication satellites that the company hopes will provide internet communications across the planet. SpaceX also launched a variety of satellites and probes for NASA, the U.S. military and commercial customers, including the DART asteroid impact probe.
The Falcon 9 launched both crew and cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. One Crew Dragon, the Inspiration4, sent a civilian crew into low Earth orbit to raise funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Cancer Research Hospital.
SpaceX continued a series of tests of its Starship rocket. Three attempts in 2021 ended in loss of the vehicle: one crashing on landing, another exploding midair and yet another landing successfully before exploding a few seconds later. Finally, on May 5, SpaceX successfully flew and landed a Starship intact, albeit with a small fire that had to be put out on the landing pad.
In a move that will positively affect the fortunes of SpaceX going forward, the newly installed Biden administration adopted the NASA Artemis return to the moon program as its own, making it virtually certain that Americans would return to the moon later this decade. NASA chose the SpaceX Starship to land the first humans on the moon, prompting a series of complaints and lawsuits by the company’s rivals, particularly Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. The only result of this attempt at lawfare has been to delay development of the lunar landing Starship by a number of months.
With all of these accomplishments, it is no surprise that Time Magazine named Elon Musk its Person of the Year for 2021. However, Warren decided instead of celebrating Musk’s accomplishments, she’d go to war with him, in a surprise move.
Warren launched an opening shot by tweeting, “Let’s change the rigged tax code so The Person of the Year will actually pay taxes and stop freeloading off everyone else.”
Musk, who claims he is set to pay an unprecedented $11 billion in taxes due to the sale of some Tesla stock, fired back saying, “You remind me of when I was a kid and my friend’s angry Mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason.” He also called Warren “Senator Karen” using a term applied to a woman addicted to complaining.
Warren then took out a number of Facebook ads accusing Musk of being a “freeloading billionaire” and demanding that a wealth tax be imposed on him. Some of the language (“whining like a baby”) seemed middle school in its immaturity.
The exchange touched off a Twitter war. Musk’s supporters pointed out that the entrepreneur has provided great benefit for his adopted country, saving NASA, the military and commercial customers tens of billions of dollars through development of the reusable Falcon 9. Some even suggested that he should not pay $11 billion in taxes, the idea being that it would be better spent on more technology innovation and not on wasteful government programs that Warren favors.
Other Twitter warriors agreed with Warren that Musk is a capitalist exploiter who must be made to pay his “fair share” of taxes, the amount of which is unclear.
Musk, incidentally, became a star on Fox News, with on-air personalities like Greg Gutfeld singing Musk’s praises on his hit late-night talk show. The online tiff was like catnip for the right-leaning cable news network.
Why did Warren go to war against Musk? She seems unimpressed by his accomplishments and his potential to make the world a better place, pointing solely to taxes. One explanation is that she launched against the space baron as a fundraising ploy. In her Facebook ads, she asked for people who agreed with her to chip in $10. Whether whatever money comes into her campaign coffers will be worth the embarrassment of going up against arguably the coolest capitalist of them all remains to be seen.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.