Here's what Warren understands about the economy that the Democratic pack does not

Warren bears down on economic hardship & inequity forcing Biden to walk back his own record on Hyde & media shrugs

Published June 9, 2019 8:00AM (EDT)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Elkhart, Ind. (AP/Darron Cummings)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Elkhart, Ind. (AP/Darron Cummings)

The pundit class is so heavily invested in Joe Biden’s bid they are doing their best to ignore the role that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s comments at her MSNBC Town Hall played in the former vice-president’s abrupt decision the next day to end his decades-long support of the Hyde Amendment.

For weeks now, as Warren has risen steadily in the polls, corporate media bleaters have been at a loss to explain her effectiveness. Perhaps the shell-shock from the bombast of Donald Trump interferes with their grasp of the persuasive power of her shaker rocker-like delivery that embodies the simplicity, utility and honesty of that style.

Since 1976 the Hyde provision, named for GOP Rep. Henry Hyde, has prevented generations of poor and working-class women from getting a Medicaid funded abortion. So, why after backing Hyde for decades did Biden flip?

At her Town Hall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Warren, whose life story includes a struggle to balance motherhood and limited means to claim her potential, succinctly described the Hyde amendment for what it always was: brutal socio-economic discrimination that hit the poor and working-class women of color the hardest.  

“And under the Hyde amendment, under every one of these efforts to try to chip away or to pushback or to get rid of Roe v. Wade, understand this — women of means will still have access to abortions,” she told the Town Hall broadcast on MSNBC. “Who won’t, will be poor women. It will be working women, it will be women who can’t afford to take off three days from work, [it] will be very young women . . . . We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”

Over applause, she continued. “It’s been the law for a while, and it’s been wrong for a long time. Because it really is. It’s just discrimination.”

Twenty-four hours later it was Biden’s turn.

“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right,” he said. “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on their zip code.”

On "Morning Joe," the morning after Uncle Joe’s pirouette, the collective wisdom on the set was that it was the exclusive handiwork of the network’s own reporting. The always affable Donny Deutsch predicted the Biden about-face would just be another example of how, as with Donald Trump, the former Number Two was coated in a mystical Teflon (They can’t stop bracketing).

I kept waiting for a cut to that Warren re-play from the Town Hall but there would be no free earned media for the senior Senator from Massachusetts in that "Morning Joe" segment. We can’t be juxtaposing her comments in the Biden bracket.

You can’t help but think that this is an editorial omission with prejudice because the cable pundits knock on Warren has been that she does not have what it takes to stand toe-to-toe and get the best of Donald Trump — that’s man’s work (See the 2016 GOP primary field carnage).

They can ignore Warren all they want but, the reality is that the specificity of her plans, like her student debt elimination proposal, along with her “let’s get this done” entreaty make her engaging. All of her programs, from her green manufacturing proposal to her free college plan are parts of an integrated economic strategy to flip the script, not by half-measures but by bold strokes on the scale of FDR.

Rest assured, the script needs to flip.

Consider the findings of the Equality of Opportunity Project that in 2016 looked back over the last several decades to track the trends of upward mobility by determining what percentage of each generation went on to out-earn their parents. What they found was that for adults born in 1940, 90 percent were upwardly mobile while just half born in the 1980s had surpassed their parents economically.

We conclude that absolute mobility has declined sharply in America over the past half-century primarily because of the growth in inequality,” wrote the researchers. “If one wants to revive the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility, one must have an interest in growth that is shared more broadly across the income distribution.

This great American slide is a bi-partisan accomplishment of a national government that has increasingly become captive to Wall Street and multi-nationals. The decision in the Obama/Biden administration to preserve the big banks at the expense of homeowners on Main Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard helped disappear trillions of dollars in household wealth.

Long before Warren was elected, she was a zealous consumer advocate in the trenches fighting for the poor and working-class families victimized by the payday lenders and consumer credit sharks. She knows how many of those battles she lost. Warren knows that for an increasing number of families the American Dream is well beyond their grasp as wealth concentration continues to accelerate. 

Her economic message is mostly like to get traction in the Midwest where Democrats have to win and where Trump exploited the neo-liberal failures and flipped those states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that had voted for Obama/Biden twice because they never saw the alleged recovery.

“We’re in Fort Wayne, Indiana, because people in Indiana understand jobs,” Warren said at her Town Hall. “They understand how you build an economy that doesn’t just work for a thin slice at the top, but an economy that works for everyone.”

She continued. “But people in Fort Wayne, Indiana, also understand that leaving it to a handful of giant multinational corporations to build our economy just isn’t working. You know, those big corporations, they don’t have any loyalty to America. They don’t have any loyalty to American workers. They have loyalty to exactly one thing, and that is their own profits. And what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have a government that doesn’t say, hey, whatever it is that the giant multinational corporations want, let us help you. We’ve got to have a government that says we need this economy — we need this country to work for working people. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

There’s not much time.

This socio-economic erosion of prospects for our children has been underway awhile. The America that was once rooted in the notion that each successive generation would do better economically than their parents is rapidly slipping into our rearview mirror.

By Bob Hennelly

Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. His book, "Stuck Nation: Can the United States Change Course on Our History of Choosing Profits Over People?" was published in 2021 by Democracy@Work. He is now a reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation

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