Professor Liz’s Lessons

by Patrick Brennan

BuzzFeed is a website originally devoted to assortments of photos and other graphics that tell amusing, inspiring, or interesting stories, arranged in ways that make them likely to “go viral.” Starting with the 2012 election cycle, BuzzFeed also now has a politics “vertical,” meaning that they’ve hired a bunch of political reporters, some of whom do good field reporting, some of whom do interesting research on candidates, and some of whom just willfully misinterpret economics or the policies of candidates they cover — but the malpractice, I think, usually is arrived at because of sensationalism, and only partly thanks to the obviously liberal attitudes of a New York–based Internet news website staffed mostly by twentysomethings.

But as they’ve expanded their offerings, they’ve added an “LGBT” section, entirely concerned with maligning opponents of gay marriage and advancing the cause of “marriage equality” (really, that’s the house style). But now their politics section, apparently, is closer to being a liberal cheerleading squad now, too: Witness this fawning piece about “Elizabeth Warren’s three lessons for campaigning.”

It entirely consists in an admiring introduction and then regurgitating quotations from Warren, which are amazingly dissonant among themselves, and a few pictures of Warren in various autumnally colored quilted jackets (a favorite of all working-class Sooners, surely).

Professor Warren’s first lesson: “You can run a campaign on the issues,” in BuzzFeed’s words, and she did, or in her words, “you don’t have to run it on personal attacks.” This after, in the post’s introduction, she explained her victory thus: “I was up against a popular incumbent who had $10 million in the bank and a nifty pickup truck.” Pickup trucks are a big issue, you see. There is, of course, no evidence that Warren ran a campaign on anything other than cheap class demagoguery and lots of use of the word “hammered.” Her main policy issue, it seems, was merely preserving the president’s Dodd-Frank financial reform, but she offered neither a pragmatic defense of the policy nor suggestions for further reform (since it’s widely acknowledged that Dodd-Frank hardly fixes the financial system).

#more#Her DNC convention speech, for instance, was utterly devoid of any policy specifics. Her lessons for the audience covered “oil companies [that] guzzle down billions in subsidies” (an issue she doesn’t remotely understand), “Wall Street CEOs — the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs — [who] strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them,” and the question of who “stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.” Elizabeth Warren didn’t run on issues; she ran on rhetoric, but BuzzFeed is, of course, eager to glorify her claims and her fans’ impressions to the contrary.

The more accurate description of what Warren did, though a highly flattering one, is what BuzzFeed chose to entitle her second lesson, “It’s important to explain the vision” — in her case, the “vision” of an America where the system is not rigged in favor of the wealthy, the well-connected, and Wall Street. But how to get to that vision was usually left unexplained. Her infamous “nobody got rich on their own” speech was utterly devoid of actual policies or issues; it didn’t lay out a vision that made a case for her candidacy, since Scott Brown believes in public funding for roads, firefighters, and schools (I mean, he’s a moderate Republican).

Elizabeth Warren’s third “lesson” is “the importance of organizing,” accompanied by a lovely photo of her hugging a member of a welders union while wearing another quilted jacket. Warren’s candidacy did indeed arouse much enthusiasm, but she also raised something else: Huge amounts of cash (and lots of it from Wall Street lawyers). $42 million, to be exact, the fifth most of any Senate race ever, trouncing her opponent more than two-to-one. This isn’t the kind of thing Warren is eager to point out about her campaign, and nor is BuzzFeed, eager to indulge their audience in the image of Elizabeth Warren as a middle-class heroine.

Senator Warren is a hugely popular figure on the left, so I’m sure part of the point of the post is to draw clicks from BuzzFeed’s young, presumably liberal, audience, but it would behoove a political reporter at an ostensibly non-partisan website to try to remove herself from the mindset of Warren’s “adoring crowd of liberal activists.” But who can be bothered to do that when you’ve got to move on to churning out “26 PowerPoint Slides That Look Like Mitt Romney” and “Marco Rubio Probably Thinks This GIF of the Earth Is 6,000 Years Old Too”?

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