It's getting nasty between former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Last week, Warren accused Biden of repeating "Republican talking points" when he criticized her Medicare-for-all proposal and suggested he was running in "the wrong presidential primary." On Tuesday, Biden struck back. At a Pittsburgh fundraiser co-chaired by two local real estate moguls, Biden slammed Warren without naming her. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Julian Routh wrote in a pool report:
"Mr. Biden said it's "condescending" to have a "my way or the highway attitude" on policy, and condescending to hard-working Democrats. Without naming his opponents, Mr. Biden said there are some in the party who represent "elitism" that working people don't share."
Just in case anyone missed the point, Biden repeated those attacks in an essay posted on Medium. Then, on a Sirius XM radio show Wednesday morning, he went after Warren by name: "If you don't agree with Elizabeth Warren, you must somehow be not a Democrat. You must somehow be corrupt. You must somehow not be as smart as she is."
Yes, Joe Biden, who has spent his life in the corridors of power, is labeling someone else as the elitist. The candidate who holds fundraiser after fundraiser with wealthy donors representing business interests is dinging a rival who eschews such events as the elitist. It sounds absurd. But it might just work. The United States has a long tradition of moneyed elites and their favored candidates attacking intellectuals and upper-income professionals for supposed superiority and controlling ways.
Just ask Hillary Clinton. Despite being the son of a wealthy New York real estate developer (not to mention a millionaire at the age of 8, with help from his father's tax avoidance strategies), Donald Trump successfully presented himself as not of the elite.
University of California law professor Joan Williams talked about this appeal in a much discussed essay she published in the Harvard Business Review days after Trump's 2016 election. "The white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich," she noted.
In Williams's view, it's the professional class -- the teachers, lawyers, professors and so on -- the working class dislikes. They don't see the control the truly wealthy wield, who live in their own private world, with private schools, private airplanes and private medical concierge practices with doctors on call. But upper-middle-class professionals? Familiarity breeds contempt.
As a result, all too many of us -- not just the working class, but business people too -- convince ourselves the truly wealthy are just like us, albeit with more money. It's those wannabe do-gooders in their ivory towers and their government buildings who make real Americans' lives difficult. The problem is not those who say, as Biden put it in the Medium essay, "'We know best; you know nothing'. 'If you were only as smart as I am you would agree with me.'"
But this language is most frequently used by the powerful to divide and conquer. Just look to Wall Street, where Warren is the target of constant, outraged attacks -- JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon told CNBC Tuesday that "some" believe Warren "vilifies successful people."
Can Warren combat this? Well, she's done it before. Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who famously drove a 2005 GMC Canyon pickup truck, tried this attack on Warren -- who was, after all, a Harvard University professor -- in the 2012 Senate election. She defeated him, in part, by pointing out he was no friend of the working class, voting in favor of the conservative Republican agenda over and over again.
So here's a few reminders. Warren, the daughter of a janitor, devoted years of her professional career to making things better for working people, fighting -- ultimately unsuccessfully -- bankruptcy "reforms" that ultimately financially crippled millions of American families.
Biden, on the other hand, was so solicitous of big money interests, he acquired the nickname "the senator from MBNA," after a Delaware-based credit card company. (The same company gave his son Hunter a plum position straight out of law school.) Biden championed that bankruptcy legislation that Warren fought. That law was so profoundly awful for Americans, no less an authority than the New York Federal Reserve believes it played a role in the subprime mortgage crisis and the wave of foreclosures that resulted. That's quite an accomplishment for a supposed friend of the working man and woman. One might even say he, not Warren, was looking out for the interests of the elite.