Elizabeth Warren speech: Stirring, or a stretch of the facts?

Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the US Senate from Massachusetts, got the Democratic convention crowd excited Wednesday. But fact checkers found some points to dispute. 

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Elizabeth Warren, US Senate candidate from Massachusetts, waves to delegates after her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

Elizabeth Warren gave a stirring populist speech to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night. Currently much pundit discussion is focused on Bill Clinton’s defense of President Obama, and rightly so, but Ms. Warren – the warmup act – got some of the biggest cheers of the evening by attacking Wall Street and positioning herself as a champion of a beleaguered middle class.

The bio of the Senate hopeful from Massachusetts, which includes a stint waiting tables at 13 and marriage at 19, gave her credibility with delegates on this issue. She talked about the middle class being hammered, and that people “feel like the system is rigged against them.”

Then Warren chided Mitt Romney for saying “corporations are people, my friend.” She brought the crowd to its feet by adding her own twist to this much-used Democratic attack.

“No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people,” said Warren. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die.”

The last words of those lines were drowned out in the hall, inaudible over the roar of the audience.

But did Warren stretch some facts to make her charges? That’s what some independent fact checkers say. In particular, they’ve focused on her flat assertion that Romney’s economic plan raises taxes on middle-income earners.

Here’s the way Warren put it Wednesday night: Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. But for middle class families who are hanging by their fingernails? His plans will hammer them with a new tax hike of up to $2,000 dollars.”

She’s not the only Democrat who’s said this from the podium this week. Keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said pretty much the same thing, for instance. The only problem is that strictly speaking it is not true, according to FactCheck.org.

“Democrats base their claim on a study that doesn’t necessarily lead to that conclusion,” says the FactCheck.org site.

Here’s the fuller context: Mitt Romney has promised that if elected he’ll cut tax rates for all while keeping federal government revenue level by eliminating some deductions and broadening the US tax base. He’s added that he won’t raise taxes on the middle class.

But according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center, he can’t do all those things. There isn’t enough credible base-broadening available to make those numbers work.

“In other words, Romney has overpromised. But that’s no reason to assume ... that Romney would choose the course of breaking a promise not to raise middle-income taxes. He could choose, for example, to renege on his promise to cut rates or to keep the amount of revenue neutral rather than violate his promise not to raise taxes on those in the middle,” writes FactCheck.org.

(It’s worth noting that the Romney campaign has challenged some of the Tax Policy Center numbers that lie at the heart of this issue.)

An ABC News fact-check site also dinged Warren for saying that she talks to Massachusetts small business owners all the time, and that “not one of them ... made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy.”

Not even one?

“The idea that no one in the Bay State, so close to New York and Wall Street, benefitted from the bankers’ profligacy is off the mark,” writes ABC’s Gregory Krieg.

In the end, while Warren may have helped her image with national Democratic delegates in the hall, it’s not clear whether her convention appearance will help her win over the independent voters she’ll need to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

Independents make up nearly half the Bay State electorate, so their electoral role there is decisive, according to the Democratic-leaning poll firm Public Policy Polling. And many of them may perceive Warren as too strident and harsh. In a late August PPP survey, 50 percent of independents said they were worried that she is “too liberal.” By contrast only 19 percent said they felt Senator Brown is “too conservative.”

Among all voters Brown led Warren by 49 to 44 percent in the survey.

“Scott Brown’s been able to hold up his image as a moderate, and that has him in a good position right now,” said Dean Debnam, president of PPP, in an Aug. 21 press release. “Democrats will have to convince voters who like him to vote against him anyway to keep the Senate from going Republican.”

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