With Elizabeth Warren now leading in some polls in the 2020 presidential primaries, the senator from Massachusetts has emerged, as expected, as the biggest target tonight at the latest Democratic debate.
On stage at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Warren’s fellow candidates have taken almost every opportunity to attack her policies, particularly her stance on Medicare for All and whether it will ultimately raise taxes on the American middle class.
But it was one particular criticism—from former Texas rep Beto O’Rourke—that did not sit well with many observers on social media, and for a lot of reasons.
“Sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive,” O’Rourke said about Warren’s support of a wealth tax. Observers quickly flagged the word as problematic, particularly as it was a loaded adjective lobbed at a woman candidate from a male politician who doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to checking his privilege.
Beto just called Warren “punitive” and I DO NOT LIKE IT
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) October 16, 2019
“punitive” is some coded bullshit, beto
— 100% That Witch (@RachelHeine) October 16, 2019
But it’s not just the coded sexism of the language that provoked a response. The idea that it’s in any way “punitive” to tax the uber-rich feels like entirely the wrong message at a time of increasingly obscene income inequality. Let’s not forget that the uber-rich are doing just fine—and, in fact, they were handed one of the biggest tax cuts in history less than two years ago. It’s also worth noting that O’Rourke, just five weeks ago, made headlines by telling people he was literally going to take away their guns.
Warren, for her part, came back with a pointed response. “I’m really shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I’m punitive,” she said. She went on to crystalize exactly why people who have had the good fortune to become billionaires should be encouraged—no, obligated—to spread the wealth.
Elizabeth Warren’s plan for a wealth tax faced criticism from Beto O’Rourke, who called her “punitive.”
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) October 16, 2019
Update, Wednesday, 6:45 a.m.:
Lauren Hitt, the O’Rourke campaign’s rapid response director, sent the following statement:
“Beto has been very clear that he will not raise taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year. Senator Warren has not provided the same level of clarity. Beto made clear that a wealth tax needs to be part of the fundamental rewrite to our tax code that we need. But Warren needs to be straight with middle class people about the taxes they would face under her plans. In a pivotal exchange, Beto pushed Senator Warren to give a straight answer: When it comes to all of the plans she’s proposing — including Medicare For All — will taxes on middle-class families would go up? Senator Warren hasn’t provided an answer on how she’ll pay for Medicare for All — over the course of months of campaigning – or on this debate stage. Even Senator Sanders — who ‘wrote the damn bill’ — has said middle class taxes must go up to pay for Medicare for All.”