Elizabeth Warren: 'The System Is Rigged'

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The Massachusetts Senate candidate answers Republicans' refrain of success with a plea for fairness.

CHARLOTTE -- Is there anything people will remember about Wednesday night at the 2012 DNC other than Bill Clinton's 48-minute stem-winder repudiating the Republican economic record of the past three decades and the Romney-Ryan campaign's attacks on Barack Obama, while revealing to all concerned that he is the referee in the American political system that Democrats have been dying for the media to become?

Maybe not. But before Clinton came out, Massachusetts' Democratic candidate for Senate Elizabeth Warren spoke. She was the one of only two speakers during the pre-Clinton heart of the evening to put some fire into the crowd, following a parade of mid-Atlantic elected officials who proved their region to be home to some of the most moderated and low-key voices in the contemporary Democratic Party; several overmatched Big Box business leaders who tried gamely to get a rise from the crowd; a group of "real people" who spoke with a typical mix of passion and awkwardness; and birth-control funding advocate Sandra Fluke.

But speak Warren did, a mix of grandmotherly concern and rounded Oklahoma vowels on a night whose broad themes appeared to be the white-working class and women voters.

"People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: they're right. The system is rigged," she said. "Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs -- the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs -- still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do."

Proving the advantage of having your party's convention come second, she responded directly to the theme of success laid out again and again in Tampa.

"These folks don't resent that someone else makes more money. We're Americans. We celebrate success," she said. However, she continued in her folksy way: "We just don't want the game to be rigged."

And she echoed what's clearly a theme of this convention as much as the invocation of "forward": the idea that this race is about who we are in America, and that our very identity is at stake in it.

Thanks to progressives, "We started to take children out of factories and put them in schools. We began to give meaning to the words 'consumer protection' by making our food and medicine safe. And we gave the little guys a better chance to compete by preventing the big guys from rigging the markets. We turned adversity into progress because that's what we do."

It was a speech that worked well on a night that, before Bill Clinton, was a bit of a snooze. But it turns out that Clinton isn't just a tough act to follow -- he's a tough act to share any part of an evening with, so thoroughly does he dominate the stage.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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