Elizabeth Warren took direct aim at Wall Street chief executives – who “wrecked our economy” and “strut around Congress...acting like we should thank them” – in a primetime address on Wednesday night that solidified her reputation as a rising liberal star.
Ms Warren, who has been the most vociferous critic of the banking industry over the past four years and is running for Senate in Massachusetts, portrayed Barack Obama as the best last line of defence against a game that people believed was “rigged” against the middle class.
“Here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged,” she said. “Billionaires pay lower taxes than their secretaries.”
The speech was delivered in Ms Warren’s usual professorial and earnest manner, but the words she uttered were an unapologetic embrace of progressive ideals, and represented some of the most brutal attacks against Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, and his party.
“Republicans say they don’t believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends,” she said. “Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people. No Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids...They live, they love, and they die. And that matters.”
It was one of the biggest applause lines of the night.
The role of attack dog is one that Ms Warren, a Harvard Law professor, has relished in the past, when she was appointed by Congress to oversee the bank bailout. In that role, she was a critic not only of the nation’s largest financial firms, but also occasionally of the Obama administration, and particularly Treasury secretary Tim Geithner. The White House was criticised on the left for not nominating her to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even though the nomination was guaranteed to be blocked by Republicans.
But if there were any hard feelings, they were not on display on Wednesday night. The decision to award Ms Warren a coveted speaking spot, just before former president Bill Clinton, underscores that Democrats see her as a valuable voice to energise the left and appeal to women voters.
Her bid to unseat Scott Brown, the Republican senator from Massachusetts who won in a special election following the death of Edward Kennedy, is also considered critical for Democrats seeking to hold on to their majority in the upper chamber of Congress.
In her speech on Wednesday night, Ms Warren also billed herself – and Mr Obama – as defenders of a middle class that has been “chipped, squeezed, and hammered”.
“Wall Street CEOs – the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs – still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favours, and acting like we should thank them.”
After the financial crisis, she said, Mr Obama moved to “clean up” Wall Street.
The question for Ms Warren is whether the primetime address will make a difference in her campaign against Mr Brown, where she is lagging.
Although Massachusetts is one of the “bluest” states in the nation, and Ms Warren has become a darling of the left, analysts say she faces a tough challenge given Mr Brown’s reputation as a moderate Republican.
Her high-profile speech will very likely give her a fundraising boost, particularly from union workers across the nation. It will undoubtedly have big donors at America’s biggest banks digging in their pockets too, in support of Mr Brown.