E.J. Dionne responds to George Will’s dismantling of Elizabeth Warren’s famous youtube lecture. The merits, or lack thereof, of Warren’s little sermonette have been discussed at length around here and I see no reason to revisit it. Nor do I think that Dionne adds a whole lot to the substance of the debate.
But he does make an assertion that I think needs to be rebutted. For a couple weeks, I’ve been hearing liberals talk up Warren’s video as if it’s a really big deal for conservatives. A few pests keep emailing or tweeting me about it and about how she “scares” conservatives. Dionne buys into this argument too. He concludes:
In light of my respect for Will, it seems only appropriate that I close by offering words of admiration — for him, and for Elizabeth Warren. Will doesn’t waste time challenging arguments that don’t matter and he doesn’t erect straw men unless he absolutely has to. That Warren has so inspired Will, our premier conservative polemicist now that William F. Buckley Jr. has passed to his eternal reward, is an enormous tribute to her. And remember: On the core point about the social contract, George Will and Elizabeth Warren are in full, if awkward, agreement.
I think Dionne and countless other liberals are missing something important. There’s nothing whatsoever that is novel or particularly insightful to Warren’s case for liberalism. The only thing that is relatively novel is that she’s making a case for liberalism at all. Dionne is right that liberals don’t make the pure case for liberalism very often. They usually hide their ideological preferences in piecemeal emotional verbiage about this or that program or policy without bothering to make the principled case for their larger ideology. And for this, I suppose Warren does deserve congratulations.
But does anyone really believe that George Will(!) was challenged or threatened by Warren’s spiel?
That gets to my point: The reason conservatives responded to Warren’s “declaration” is simply that liberals were relentlessly hyping it. It didn’t become a YouTube sensation among conservatives. It became YouTube sensation among liberals who were inspired by it and then conservatives responded to that.
It’s an important distinction because to listen to liberals, Warren’s argument strikes fear into the heart of the right because it’s so powerful and super-terrific. It really doesn’t and it really isn’t. I’m sure Will wrote a column about it not to pay “enormous tribute” to her brilliant insight. Rather, it’s because liberals wouldn’t shut up about it.
In other words, the conservative response to Warren isn’t nearly as interesting as the liberal reaction. For conservatives — who as EJ Dionne notes in his book Stand and Fight, like debating political theory more than liberals do — it’s a welcome thing for a liberal to emerge from ideological hiding and engage on first principles. The real question is why is liberalism so arid and why are liberals so dejected that when a liberal politician offers a fairly trite exegesis on the social contract, leftwing bloggers stand up and cheer like it’s a St. Crispin’s Day speech?