Charlotte, N.C. • The godmother of President Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe on Wednesday tried to rehabilitate the populist argument for the role of government.
Elizabeth Warren, challenging Republican Scott Brown for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, argued at the Democratic National Convention that government fosters private sector success and promised Obama would invest in infrastructure, education and health care for the vulnerable.
“That’s how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt. We root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together,” Warren told a revved up crowd in a speech that teed up the headliner for the night, former President Bill Clinton.
Warren, a Harvard professor who shot to prominence as a consumer watchdog in the wake of the Wall Street bailout, became known early in her campaign for a passionate riff on the way government services support businesses. Obama borrowed the argument and was delivering a retooled version when he announced, “you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen.”
Republican immediately seized on the first phrase, and have used it as bludgeon and a rally cry since.
But Warren’s remarks Wednesday fought back with a combative case for government and a sharp critique of corporate influence in America.
“People feel the system is rigged against them,” she said. “And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged.”
Warren pointed to oil subsidies and billionaires who “pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.”
She clearly had one particular mogul in mind. Warren praised small business owners who “bust their tails every day” and don’t stash “their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share in taxes,” she said, aiming at Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
And she addressed Romney directly: “No, Gov. Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick,” she said, as the crowd drowned out her words. “They cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die. And that matters.”