May. 31st, 2011

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Elizabeth Warren Jedi

The New Republic: Facebook Fight
Inside the cult of Elizabeth Warren.
Tiffany Stanley
May 28, 2011
On Tuesday, Representative Patrick McHenry called Elizabeth Warren a liar. Twice. As Obama’s advisor for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren has grown accustomed to conservative ire. But this grew personal. First, while chairing a House subcommittee hearing, the North Carolina Republican accused Warren of misleading testimony. Then, after she testified, she asked to be excused for another meeting, which she claimed to have previously discussed with the congressman’s staff. McHenry snapped, “You’re making this up.” As Warren’s mouth fell agape, Democrat Elijah Cummings jumped to her defense: “Mr. Chairman … I’m trying to be cordial here, but you just accused the lady of lying.”

McHenry, whatever his motive, could not have prepared for what was coming next. Within hours, hundreds of Warren supporters took to the congressman’s Facebook “fan” page to chide his bad manners. “You kiss your mother with that mouth? Apologize to Elizabeth Warren,” wrote one. Others called him “classless,” “undignified,” and accused him of blatant sexism: “What a pathetic display of pig-headed machismo.” By Wednesday afternoon, just twenty-four hours later, the negative comments numbered into the thousands, with diatribes from Warren defenders unspooling every five to ten seconds like clockwork. A nascent Facebook group—Citizens Against Patrick McHenry—sprung up to maintain the momentum: “We’re starting to get noticed. More posts, people, more posts.” The insults ranged from the political—“Hiding behind your Republican Agenda is not good enough”—to the petty: “You’re ugly and your mama dresses you funny.”

It seems safe to say that, under normal circumstances, government officials—those culled from the ranks of dull bureaucrats, policy wonks, and lawyers—rarely inspire this kind of fealty, much less passion. And on paper, at least, Elizabeth Warren appears to fit this uninspiring mold: She’s a lawyer, an academic, and one from Harvard to boot. Yet Warren commands a legion of loyalists apparently willing to rush, at a moment’s notice, to her defense. The whole episode was strange enough for me to decide to find out more about her devotees and ask a basic question: Just who are these people, this de-facto Elizabeth Warren Fan Club, and why would they go to such great lengths?

Who are these people? A lot of them are Facebook fans of Coffee Party USA, which has been running a Facebook fan page in favor of nominating Elizabeth Warren and posted a call to action on their website to "go to McHenry's Facebook page and remind him that a conflict of interest does not give him the right to behave like a bully." Tiffany Stanley didn't uncover that as part of her investigation.

Full disclosure: Not only am I the maintainer of [community profile] coffeepartyusa but I'm a member of Coffee Party USA's Management and Administration.


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