In September 2011, a video went viral of Elizabeth Warren, in a pre-Senate campaign talking tour, excoriating factory owners for claiming they built their businesses.

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” she said. “No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren, and in July 2012 Obama, argued that because business owners used the common infrastructure of society, such as roads, bridges, education and police, they owed society an obligation to pay back that debt. The concept of the self-made person was contrary to their view of society, where individuals owe their success not to their hard work, but to the government.

We covered the story in 2012, and how Warren and Obama cribbed the concepts, and some of the language, from U.C. Berkeley Lingistics Professor George Lakoff, Obama and Warren cribbed “build it” narrative from progressive Berkeley Professor.

Warren resurrected the “you didn’t build it” verbiage at the CNN/NY Times Debate on October 15, 2019. (transcript via Real Clear Politics, emphasis added).

ERIN BURNETT, CNN MODERATOR: Congressman O’Rourke, do you think a wealth tax is the best way to address income inequality? Your response.

BETO O’ROURKE (D-TX): I think it’s part of the solution. But I think we need to be focused on lifting people up. And sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive and pitting some part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up and making sure that this country comes together around those solutions.

I think of a woman that I met in Las Vegas, Nevada. She’s working four jobs, raising her child with disabilities, and any American with disabilities knows just how hard it is to make it and get by in this country already. Some of those jobs working for some of these corporations, she wants to know how we are going to help her, how we’re going to make sure that her child has the care that she needs, that we strengthen protections for those with disabilities, that she just has to work one job because it pays a living wage.

And Senator Warren said show me your budget, show me your tax plan, and you’ll show me your values. She has yet to describe her tax plan and whether or not that person I met would see a tax increase. Under my administration, if you make less than $250,000 a year as a family, you will not see a tax increase. That family needs to know that.

BURNETT: I want to give Senator Warren a chance to respond.

WARREN: So I’m really shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I’m punitive. Look, I don’t have a beef with billionaires. My problem is you made a fortune in America, you had a great idea, you got out there and worked for it, good for you. But you built that fortune in America. I guarantee you built it in part using workers all of us helped pay to educate. You built it in part getting your goods to markets on roads and bridges all of us helped pay for. You built it at least in part protected by police and firefighters all of us help pay the salaries for.

And all I’m saying is, you make it to the top, the top 0.1 percent, then pitch in two cents so every other kid in America has a chance to make it.

BURNETT: Senator, thank you.

WARREN: That’s what this is about.

Here’s a video montage we put together of Warren’s debate comments (prior clips of Warren, Obama and Lakoff are available at the links)


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