Recently Sen. Elizabeth Warren came to Shepherdstown to campaign for Natalie Tenant, who is running for the U.S. Senate here in West Virginia. Warren is considered to be a “rock star” among progressives and is one of the darlings of the liberal press. According to several sources, including Wikipedia, when President Obama gave his “you didn’t build that” speech, it was derived from an earlier speech by Warren.
Not long after her visit, Warren gave a speech at Netroots Nation, a group of progressive bloggers, and apparently it brought the house down, according to an article in the National Journal entitled “Elizabeth Warren’s 11 Tenets of Progressivism.” After reciting them to the cheers of the crowd she added that the main tenet of conservatism is “I got mine. The rest of you are on your own.”
Before addressing this comment, a little background on Warren is in order. According to an article on the Buzzfeed.com website in 2012, Warren gave an interview on MSNBC regarding the issue of members of Congress voting on legislation that might affect companies in which they own stock. On the program she said, “I realize there are some wealthy individuals – I’m not one of them, but some wealthy individuals who have a lot of stock portfolios.”
She may have had a point, except that the article then points out that Warren’s personal financial disclosure form she submitted for her run for office revealed her net worth to be approximately $14.5 million, including a portfolio of stocks and bonds worth around $8 million. The previous year she earned $700,000, including $429,000 from Harvard University, and her house was worth approximately $5 million. It’s hard for me to imagine that she doesn’t consider herself wealthy as her net worth and income puts her solidly in the 1 percent. Conversely, the net worth of the average American is considerably less than 1 percent of hers.
That said, in getting back to Warren’s comment regarding conservatism, I would submit that being “on your own” is generally a good thing. Self-reliance means you can take care of yourself without being a burden to others. However, I think that in her own inimitable way, she was trying to say that conservatives don’t care about their fellow man.
An opinion piece written by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof that appeared in the New York Times in 2008 referenced a book called “Who Really Cares” by Arthur Brooks that was published two years earlier. His research revealed that households headed by a conservative give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by a liberal. Kristof quotes Brooks, “When I started doing research on charity I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”
Kristof goes on to cite another study, this one by Google that finds the disparity even greater and that “average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.”
An article that appeared in the Boston Globe in August 2012 cited “a comprehensive new study” by the Chronicle of Philanthropy that ranked 366 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. based on the percentage of income the median household in each city gives to charity. Boston ranked 358th (of 366), joining two other cities from Massachusetts in the bottom 10. Massachusetts is one of the bluest and most liberal of states and ranks fifth in median family income. It is also one of the stingiest with regard to giving to charity. Elizabeth Warren is one of that state’s senators.
Certainly there are liberals who give generously and there are stingy conservatives. However, as a group or class, conservatives are demonstrably more generous than liberals — revealing Warren’s comment to be based on prejudice and/or ignorance. She claims in one of her 11 tenets of progressivism that she “believes in science,” but she makes broad generalizations without knowing the facts.
Then there is the question of morality. Consider the parable offered by filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza at a forum at the University of Oregon. To paraphrase him, a man is walking along and as he is about to stop to eat a sandwich he had packed for lunch sees a hungry man sitting on the curb and decides to give him his sandwich. That is a moral act. However, if the man is walking along and Elizabeth Warren rides up on horseback, puts a gun to his head and orders him to give the sandwich to the hungry man, the morality has been stripped out of the situation. As D’Souza says, the situation becomes confused, the owner of the sandwich hasn’t given willingly, the recipient isn’t grateful (because the source of the giving is obscured) and may cause him to actually feel entitled to the sandwich.
There is an element of force in everything the government does. Conservatives generally believe that they can do a better job of helping people on their own on an individual and personal basis than government can; cutting out the middle man, putting their money where their mouth is and feeling the joy of giving in the process. Also, a conservative wouldn’t begrudge Warren her substantial wealth. While generalizing regarding a large portion of the population, her philosophy is, “I’ve got mine, and through the coercive power of government I want to confiscate yours to give to my followers so that I can become more powerful.” The taxpayer makes the sacrifice, Warren gets the credit. Is that really progressive?
— Elliot Simon writes from