Political Animal


January 20, 2012 4:10 PM Understanding the nature of ‘hypocrisy,’ redux

By Steve Benen

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.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Ed Drone on January 20, 2012 4:22 PM:

    "You have money -- why aren't you a small-minded, mean and nasty son-of-a-bitch, putting down the poor? By which I mean, how come you're not a Republican?"

    That's a great way to influence voter is Massachusetts. Keep up the good work.


  • st john on January 20, 2012 4:22 PM:

    So, $700,000 in 2 years makes her a hypocrite? What did Romney "earn" in the same time period? Oh, we have to wait for his tax return to be released because the elitist media will jump on him unfairly because he is a Republican. Romney's entire rationale is that he earned his wealth the American way. I wonder what Scott Brown has to say about Romney's wealth. Doesn't Romney keep saying we are jealous of his success? Is Scott Brown jealous of Warren's success? I imagine that there are no mirrors in the homes and offices of Republican politicians, otherwise they would be very silent on matters of hypocrisy.

  • c u n d gulag on January 20, 2012 4:24 PM:

    And, and, and, Al Gore is fat!

    And he has a big house!
    And he has air-conditioners in his house.!
    And a heater!
    And an SUV - WITH air conditioning and a heater!
    And he flies in planes!
    And he eats meat!

    Elizabeth Warren is the hypocrite - just like Al Gore!

    Uhm, guys, Ike, Nixon, and Ronald Reagan all starter off as poor kids.
    Should they not have had any nice things?

    Both Bush's, and Mitt, on the other hand, were born rich, so they're not hypocrites!

    And Scott Brown is the very definition of humble - nude spread in a magazine and all. After all, what's a poor boy to do, but to display everything but his schlong, to make a few bucks.


  • Danp on January 20, 2012 4:24 PM:

    Maybe I haven't been paying enough attention, but I don't see Warren as a champion for the poor so much as a champion for a banking/investment system built on a solid foundation. I guess that means a sense of fairness for people with credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages and retirement investments, but that includes a lot of people even John McCain would consider rich.

  • ahoy polloi on January 20, 2012 4:29 PM:

    let's also not forget that while warren went to u. of houston, heckuva-job brownie went to tufts, that soft landing spot for wealth ivy-league rejects.

  • ManOutOfTime on January 20, 2012 4:34 PM:

    Crass warfare? I say, Ass Whore Fare.

  • DRF on January 20, 2012 4:37 PM:

    This attack is totally stupid. An average of $350,000 per year over 2 years, even if you add in some government work income, isn't particularly earth-shattering given Warren's academic and professional credentials and her talent.

    How this makes her a hypocrite is beyond comprehension. Brown's campaign simply wants to throw as much stuff against the wall as it can to see if anything sticks.

  • T-Rex on January 20, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Well, hey, what else can Brown say? He can't use the "you're just jealous of successful people" line, so he has to use the "limosine liberal" smear. Whenever you run against a liberal, you choose one of those two. It's what's done.

  • beejeez on January 20, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Born into the lower to lower middle class, Nixon and Reagan climbed their way to success and then did everything in their power to pull the ladder up behind them. Now that, my friend, is hypocrisy.

  • Heroditus on January 20, 2012 4:53 PM:

    I really don't think this comes from Republicans viewing Warren as a "traitor to her class." I think this stems from the Republicans' basic misunderstanding of Warren's and OWS's message. They don't understand that Warren and OWS are against wealth inequality; they think they're against wealth itself. Hence their charges, "Warren is against wealth but she's wealthy, so she's a hypocrite."

  • Danny on January 20, 2012 5:12 PM:

    Scott Brown: Pro family and pro class-warfare.

  • Tod Westlake on January 20, 2012 5:20 PM:

    The narrative here is that liberals don't want anyone to acquire wealth. We're Stalinists who want everyone, Harrison Bergeron-like, to be exactly the same. Thus, now that Warren has a little scratch, she's "betrayed the movement." It's puerile in the extreme, but it's the way they think.

  • DAY on January 20, 2012 5:25 PM:

    This has nothing to do about anything.
    Winning is the only thing, and Republicans will do anything to get everything.

  • wheresthebeef on January 20, 2012 5:35 PM:

    If it weren't for hypocricy, Republicans wouldn't have any principles at all.

  • Mark Rubin on January 20, 2012 5:58 PM:

    You miss the point! Senator Brown really wants us to be upset with his opponent because she proves the ridiculousness of the bumper stickers that claim liberals are lazy people who sponge off others. Who does Elizabeth Warren think she is, challenging all of the G-d-fearing, truck driving, real Americans who know she's just a lazy liberal?

  • jjm on January 20, 2012 6:32 PM:

    Hey, didn't Mitt just tell us that $374,000 (his lecture fees in one year) "isn't a lot of money"?

    So what's with Scott Brown claiming that even less than that is?

  • Redshift on January 20, 2012 6:39 PM:

    It's a typical bit of idiocy that results from arguing against their own straw man of what liberals are. It probably works well in the conservative bubble, where no one will ever hear that Warren is motivated by anything but jealousy and hatred for successful people. The reason it seems to be breaking down is that they've been in the bubble for so long, they've forgotten that not everyone is in it.

  • Redshift on January 20, 2012 6:42 PM:

    And the one thing that's off with the quoted article is that if they did call her a traitor to her class, like they did with FDR, that would actually be an honest attack, not a nonsensical accusation of hypocrisy.

  • Charles Almon on January 20, 2012 7:01 PM:

    Poor widdle Scotty Brown and his convoluted logic.
    The Dems are supposed to be the 'class warfare' party and MS. Warren has desrteed her 'class' to suppport the middle class.
    By Scott Brown 12 year old's thought process, white folks shouldn't fight for civil right, and heterosexuals shouldn't fight for gay equality. I do hope this empty suit has no higher political aspirations.

  • Pal2008 on January 20, 2012 7:03 PM:

    Maybe it is just a projection of their own personal failing onto their enemy?

  • Area Man on January 20, 2012 7:24 PM:

    I believe that the hypocrisy charge is based on the idea that Warren hates rich people, but is a rich person herself. In order for her to be true to her belief system, she would have to take a vow of poverty or something.

    The real purpose of such accusations is to distort her (and every other liberal's) actual beliefs into something that is completely unrecognizable. They aren't going to win with honesty.

  • A. Lovejoy on January 20, 2012 7:34 PM:

    So let me get this straight.... I'm healthy, but I'm a physician trying to make other people healthy and that makes me a hypocrite?

  • rdblybl on January 20, 2012 7:37 PM:

    Scott Brown is a hippocrite and a liar. I really hope Mass voters send him packing in November!

  • rdblybl on January 20, 2012 8:25 PM:

    oops! hypocrite...my bad!!

  • Doug on January 20, 2012 8:25 PM:

    Makes one wonder about the ability of Republicans to think, let alone empathize.
    Apparently Brown simply cannot conceive of ANYONE doing ANYTHING for ANYBODY that doesn't end in a great big pay-off in return. I mean, a Republican would NEVER advocate the policies Elizabeth Warren does EXCEPT to get votes, hence the "hypocrisy".
    The stupid is strong in that one...

  • burro on January 20, 2012 8:52 PM:

    The class issue in this race isn't going to refer to social status, but instead to a sense of maturity and confidence and good manners.

    Elizabeth Warren is a cool cookie, and Scott Brown has already shown clearly that he is totally outclassed, and goes straight for the freak out and insult buttons, while Ms. Warren stays engaged, but calm and civil.

    Voters will not just agree more with Ms. Warren's intentions, they will like her a lot more than her rude punk of an opponent.

  • Neil B on January 20, 2012 9:30 PM:

    The point is supposed to be punishing misconduct with money, not demonizing the having of it. Yet another right-wing deployment of the fallacy, make up a straw man of what liberals supposedly believe, and then complain about the alleged "hypocrisy" of the conflict with the falsely-charged position.

  • Neil B' on January 20, 2012 9:33 PM:

    Brown's charge is also like saying, men shouldn't care about rape since it happens to women and not other men. BTW, this asshole is one of the "moderate" Republicans?
    PS - gotta love that "crass warfare" catchphrase.

  • patrick II on January 20, 2012 9:46 PM:

    They pulled that "elitist hypocrite" trope on Kerry and Edwards also, or actually any time someone who has money and supports working people runs for office. And its effective in the sense that if candidates with money can't support working people because they have too much money, and people without money can't be candidates because they don't have the money or time (they are too busy actually working) then that leaves absolutely no candidates who can legitimately support working people or their interests. Which is just the way the republicans want it.

  • Sharon on January 20, 2012 11:05 PM:

    Hypocrisy is when a rich person bashes other rich people for having money and paying the established tax rate while doing the exact same thing.

  • POed Lib on January 21, 2012 7:16 AM:

    This is Teddy Kennedy's seat, who was worth millions and millions. Warren is worth a fraction of that.

  • Lis Carey on January 21, 2012 9:43 AM:

    Then,Sharon,it's a good thing that Warren is not bashing other rich people for having money or for paying the established tax rate.