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July 2nd, 2022

Insight

Elizabeth Warren's snotty tweet

Jeff Jacoby

By Jeff Jacoby

Published April 12, 2021

Elizabeth Warren's snotty tweet
Following a Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 25, Senator Elizabeth Warren posted a video clip on Twitter in which she accused Amazon of "gaming the tax code" and employing "armies of lawyers and lobbyists and accountants" in order to keep its tax bill outrageously low.

Amazon earns huge profits, Warren tweeted, yet it always seems to find a way to "exploit loopholes and tax havens to pay close to nothing in taxes." She added: "I'll be introducing a bill to make the most profitable companies pay a fair share."

A few hours later, Amazon replied to Warren's attack with a three-tweet thread:

1/3 — You make the tax laws, @SenWarren; we just follow them. If you don't like the laws you've created, by all means, change them. Here are the facts: Amazon has paid billions of dollars in corporate taxes over the past few years alone.

2/3 — In 2020, we had another $1.7B in federal tax expense and that's on top of the $18 billion we generated in sales taxes for states and localities in the US. Congress designed tax laws to encourage investment in the economy.

3/3 — So what have we done about that? $350B in investments since 2010 & 400K new US jobs last year alone. And while you're working on changing the tax code, can we please raise the federal minimum wage to $15?

It wasn't the clearest or most riveting communication in the history of corporate PR, but it was an unobjectionable response to Warren's condemnation. Warren, however, was mightily offended, and returned fire with a tweet that was petulant, arrogant, and disgraceful.

Got that? The senior senator from Massachusetts wants Amazon to be broken up so that it will no longer be "powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets." She wants the federal government to permanently cripple one of the world's most trusted, admired, and innovative companies so that it won't criticize her publicly.

In other words, she wants to retaliate against Amazon for its speech.

In literal terms, of course, Warren's threat makes no sense. You don't have to be "powerful" to post "snotty tweets" on Twitter. Amazon could be whittled down to the size of a mom-and-pop variety store, and it would be as free to "heckle senators" as it is today. Globe-spanning conglomerates can disparage Warren and her colleagues on social media — and so can impecunious nobodies with 14 followers. On Twitter, anyone can heckle anyone. And they do, all the time.

But it's irrelevant that Warren doesn't actually have the power to prevent Twitter users from annoying her with snotty tweets. What is striking is that she thinks she ought to. "This is a classic example of saying the quiet part out loud," notes Reason magazine senior editor Robby Soave . "Warren inadvertently revealed that her crusade to hurt major tech companies is partly driven by personal animus." She comes across as haughty and self-righteous — not merely thin-skinned in the face of criticism, but vengeful. And also hypocritical: She can launch at others all the "snotty" gibes she wants (like this one, this one, this one, and this one), but let others do the same to her and she gears up for battle. As far as the senator from Cambridge is concerned, someone who baldly contradicts her commits an act of lese-majeste. Their tweets are an insult to her royal dignity, an affront that must be punished.

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Writing at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson acidly points out that Warren's attitude flies in the face of core American protections:

Here in the United States, we have a nifty thing called the Bill of Rights, which means that everybody — everybody — is powerful enough to heckle a senator. It goes with the job, you effin' dolt. (See? Heckling is easy!) This isn't North Korea or Venezuela or East Germany — not yet! — where people have to be afraid of criticizing those who hold government office. The fact that Senator Warren so obviously wishes that it were so is a real good reason to retire her, pronto.

Heckling pissant politicians is our national pastime. It's what we do. We have a word for the kind of society in which those without power are too terrified of those with power to criticize them: tyranny.

And tyranny is what Senator Warren plainly desires — if we take her at her own word. . . . Senator Warren is threatening to use the power of her office to impose economic sanctions on Americans to keep them from publicly criticizing her. I don't have any particular sympathy for the recreant techno-bullies over in Jeff Bezos's shop — I think it is damned weird that our nation's biggest bookseller is also our premier book-banner — but once you accept this kind of abuse of political power, it's a short route to chaos.

This is, in fact, precisely the kind of thing the Democrats impeached Donald Trump over: the abuse of official power. In her hostility toward critics, Warren is indeed very Trumpian. Think of all the times the former president lashed out at those who treated him with less than fawning deference — calling for columnists who ridiculed him to be fired, for (literal) hecklers at his rallies to be beaten up, and for TV networks to lose their licenses if they ran "fake news" stories about him. Warren's drive to weaken Amazon follows in the wake of Trump's own blasts at the company. He too accused Amazon of not paying enough in taxes. He too wanted to punish Amazon for its "snotty" views (as reflected in The Washington Post, an Amazon subsidiary).

Politicians who cannot bear to be criticized are a blight on democratic government. No one relishes getting flak, but admirable leaders recognize that it is part of the job and know how to accept it with equanimity.


Abraham Lincoln was one of the most vilified and insulted presidents in American history, but he didn't demonize his critics or seek to break them through punitive laws or regulations. On the contrary, he trained himself to accept the barbs of his detractors with equanimity. "I feel like the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail," Lincoln once told an interlocutor. "To the man who asked him how he liked it, he said: ‘If it wasn't for the honor of the thing, I'd rather walk.'"

Lincoln similarly knew how to keep even the harshest denunciations in perspective. "If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything," he said once. "If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

Politicians like Warren forget that the liberty to deride elected officials isn't only a constitutional right, but is also an American strength. A Cold War-era joke told of the American citizen boasting to someone from the Soviet Union that he had the right to march into the White House any time I want and tell the president of the United States: "Mr. President, you're doing a terrible job!"

"I have the same right too," the Soviet citizen retorted.

"You do?"

"Absolutely! I can march into the Kremlin any time I want and tell the general secretary of the Communist Party: ‘Mr. General Secretary, the American president is doing a terrible job!'"

The senator from Massachusetts would be perfectly fine with being told by an irate constituent that Amazon or some Republican is doing a terrible job. But she has no patience for listening to anyone's disapproval of her own words or deeds — and no scruple about threatening to penalize a company that makes its disapproval public. She may be right about Amazon's taxes, about breaking up Big Tech, or about a host of other policy matters. But she is dead wrong to suggest that Amazon — or any other American business, organization, or citizen — should keep its "snotty tweets" about Elizabeth Warren to itself. Those tweets, like all speech about politics and politicians, are shielded by the Constitution that Warren swore an oath to defend. If she's got a problem with that, she's got a problem with us.

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