The Massachusetts Senate race this year is a race between two competing populisms: Elizabeth Warren's plain-folks explanations of real-world economic issues, versus Scott Brown's “Look, I drive a pickup truck—don't look at my record!” posturing.
Brown, who managed to get elected to Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat in part due to a lousy opponent, a rising GOP wave, and the aforementioned pickup truck, is trying to cruise to reelection with the same set of quasi-independent credentials he claimed the last time. But this time he's got an actual voting record to trip over.
The big question this election season is whether big money can make a politician's actual record irrelevant (see our report on Sherrod Brown's Ohio Senate race for more). So it's no surprise that Brown and others are still trying to paint Warren, the creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a law professor who spent her career studying bankruptcy law and working families, as an “elitist” because she taught at Harvard and worked in DC. Never mind that she was practically run out of the Obama administration for daring to challenge the big banks; in Republican-ese the fact that she taught law at Harvard rather than practicing real estate law like Brown makes her too out-of-touch with the common people of Massachusetts.
But Brown's also been trying to cherry-pick Warren's background for anything to hit her with as the Massachusetts polls tighten. This week, it's a bit of consulting she did for Dow Chemical when Dow Corning, a subsidiary of the chemical giant, went bankrupt after women sued over its silicone breast implants. Brown's seized on this not only to claim that Warren is the one on the side of big corporations, but that her work harms women.
Of course, it's a bit inconvenient for Brown that, as Zaid Jilani at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's Bold Progressives blog pointed out, Dow has given Brown a chunk of cash for his campaign—and given nothing to Warren. "We're not surprised that Dow Chemical gave Scott Brown big campaign donations after he voted their way on greenhouse gas. That's what we would expect from a Washington insider like Brown. But it is surprising and hypocritical that Brown would make a bogus attack on Elizabeth Warren about the very same company," Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the PCCC, which has endorsed Warren, told AlterNet.
It's not just Dow that's throwing cash at Brown. As Robin Bravender at Politico noted, Wall Street is giving Brown more than any other candidate:
Scott Brown raked in more than $500,000 from employees and PACs in the financial sector in June, the most recent month of data available, a report compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics for Politico found. That’s more than he’s gotten from the industry in any month since the start of last year.
Brown has already received more than $3.3 million from the finance, insurance and real estate industries this cycle, according to CRP, more than any other member of Congress or congressional candidate.
Warren, hardly a raving socialist, still scares the heck out of the big banks because she's made her political name challenging them, out loud and in public. "She seems so invested in creating a narrative about how terrible corporate America is; how bad banks are ... just listen to her at her convention speech,” a Wall Street lobbyist told Politico.
Beyond rhetoric, Warren was the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the biggest victories for working people against the big banks in the last four years (and probably some time before that). “The CFPB is the first federal agency whose one and only job is protecting consumers in the financial marketplace,” Alexis Goldstein, Occupy Wall Street activist and former Wall Street professional explained. “They are empowered to ensure the biggest banks are following overdraft, credit card and mortgage rules, and to create fair rules for financial products in order protect consumers in some of the areas with the most predatory practices.”
At Buzzfeed after the Democratic National Convention, Blake Zeff argued that you could hear the echoes of Warren in other Dems' speeches, from Obama on down the ladder. Though populism was nowhere to be found in Obama's first debate performance, the big money is chasing Brown in Massachusetts out of fear that Warren's message will indeed be infectious.
Meanwhile, Brown has to make noise (we won't linger on the racist "tomahawk chop" his supporters and staffers did at a Warren rally in response to questions over Warren's Cherokee heritage) to distract from his actual record in the Senate. As the Campaign For America's Future noted in its new Middle-Class Voter Guide, Brown has voted against such things as keeping interest rates on student loans down and against a bill that would've provided funding for teaching and fire and safety jobs, while supporting the Korea free trade bill that outsources more jobs. He also voted against the DISCLOSE Act, which would've required that groups that spend more than $10,000 on “electioneering” during an election cycle report that money to the Federal Election Commission.
As the clock ticks down to November and the polls show Warren and Brown neck and neck, Brown and his big-money backers are likely to throw everything up to and including the kitchen sink at Warren in hopes of keeping her and her genuine economic populism out of the Senate. The money and the faux outrage are likely to keep flowing, in the hopes that cash and a pickup truck, along with a host of distractions, are enough to keep a Republican in Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.
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