Democrats hold ground on 'you didn't build that,' tap Warren for convention speech

July 17, 2012: Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren talks during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

July 17, 2012: Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren talks during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.  (AP)

Democrats are digging in after the "you didn't build that" backlash, tapping the firebrand Harvard professor credited with crafting that business-government rhetoric for a plum speaking spot at the party's national convention in early September. 

Elizabeth Warren, who is also running for Senate in Massachusetts against GOP incumbent Scott Brown, was announced overnight as the speaker who will take the stage on the Wednesday of convention week "just before" former President Bill Clinton closes the night.

Democratic National Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa praised her as a champion of the middle class and a deputy in President Obama's efforts to "level the playing field." 

"Like President Obama, Elizabeth is a leader committed to rebuilding the economy from the middle class out, instead of focusing on the top down economics of the past fueled by outsourcing good jobs, risky financial deals and budget-busting tax cuts for only the wealthiest few," Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles mayor, said. 

It was by any measure a bold move by Democrats, considering Warren gave the talk last year that is credited with inspiring Obama's controversial remarks earlier this month on America's businesses. Those remarks have since fueled a wave of GOP attack ads. 

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As might be expected, Republicans pounced Tuesday on the decision to grant Warren a prime speaking spot in Charlotte, N.C. 

"Professor Warren represents the arrogance, the anger and the government-knows-best mentality that has put a stranglehold on America's small businesses, and Republicans welcome a very clear contrast in visions for the future that she will present," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Though the controversy over Obama's remarks has focused on the disputed remark in which he said to business owners, "you didn't build that," Warren never actually said those words. 

But just as Obama's speech carried the message that America's entrepreneurs owe some measure of success to government investment, Warren made the same case in 2011

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own, nobody," she said at the time. "You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. 

"You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did," she said. 

Warren argued that business owners should keep a "big hunk" of their income, but also "take a hunk of that and pay forward" for the next generation. 

Obama, in Roanoke, Va., made a similar argument, in remarks that have played a starring role in Republican advertising. Mitt Romney's campaign hammered the comments, even as the GOP candidate completed a weeklong overseas tour. 

That the Democrats have picked Warren to introduce former President Clinton shows the party is hardly retreating from the sentiment. 

Though this might be off-putting for independents, Republican commentator and Tea Party 365 founder David Webb said it's actually a good move for the Democrats. "They need to shore up their base," he told Fox News. "They need to play to the progressives and the subsets who they want to stay in line." 

Further, the party could be trying to give Warren a boost in her race against Brown, one of several tight Senate contests that could determine the balance of power in Congress come January. Brown has tried to gain traction recently by raising questions about Warren's past claims of Native American heritage, which she cited while applying for a post at Harvard University. 

Brown's campaign, though, is portraying Warren's speaking slot as a downgrade -- considering that she had already been floated in the media as a possible keynote speaker. She didn't get that job. 

Brown's campaign told the National Journal that her "anti-free enterprise rhetoric" got her "downgraded" in Charlotte. 

In a statement, Warren described the speaking role as an "honor." 

"I grew up in a hardworking family, in an America that was investing in kids like me. President Obama is committed to making sure that America has a level playing field for all our families and to ensuring that every kid has the opportunity to make it," she said. "Mitt Romney and the Republicans want to go back to the same policies that broke this economy. It is time to move forward." 

Mark Hannah, a former aide to the Obama and John Kerry presidential campaigns, suggested the hubbub over Warren's and Obama's remarks is overblown. 

"To come out and say that Elizabeth Warren, by saying we should be collectively responsible on some level for our prosperity in this country ... that is somehow a Communist platform, shows a gross misunderstanding of both Communism and the Democratic platform," he said.   

Still, he said there is clearly a "massive, massive philosophical difference" between the two candidates over how a capitalist economy should be run.