Media Overlook Warren’s Comparison of Wall Street Bankers to Bloodsucking Vampires

Neither Warren nor Hawley used anti-Semitic language, but one was still accused of doing so

Sen. Elizabeth Warren / Getty

Earlier this month, two senators outlined separate visions for the country. Both lawmakers used language that is not intrinsically anti-Semitic, but that, historically, some anti-Semites deployed to demonize Jews. Any reasonable person, however, could tell that neither senator had any intention of evoking animus toward Jews—in fact, anti-Semitism was probably nowhere near their minds as they were concentrating on their actual, non-anti-Semitic messages. Yet the mainstream media and a network of like-minded, left-leaning advocacy groups accused only one of the lawmakers of knowingly using anti-Semitic language to appeal to Jew-haters, creating a national news story, while the other received no such criticism, despite using a more dehumanizing term. It is no coincidence that the one accused of bigotry is a conservative Republican, while the one who escaped any condemnation is a liberal Democrat.

On July 16, Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) used the "C-word" while delivering the keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference. "For years the politics of both left and right have been informed by a political consensus that reflects the interests not of the American middle, but of a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities," Hawley said. "This class lives in the United States, but they identify as ‘citizens of the world.' They run businesses or oversee universities here, but their primary loyalty is to the global community." He added that "cosmopolitan elites" distrust patriotism and "dislike the common culture left to us by our forbearers," and that they "look down on the common affections that once bound this nation together." This modern-day aristocracy has, according to Hawley, created an economy that primarily benefits itself.

Hawley was clearly arguing that coastal elites are out of touch with, and have no empathy for, the American heartland, and that they have benefited economically at the expense of the working class. One can disagree with his message, but there is no logical way to connect it to anti-Semitism. Sure, the word "cosmopolitan" has an ugly history—Joseph Stalin, for example, effectively used it as code for "Jewish" as he repressed, and purged Soviet culture of, dissenting voices—but academics also use it in various disciplines for legitimate purposes. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that "cosmopolitan" has been used "to describe a wide variety of important views in moral and socio-political philosophy. The nebulous core shared by all cosmopolitan views is the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community." This description fits with typical definitions found in dictionaries, which define the word as worldly or composed of people or elements from many parts of the world. In discussions of nationalism, the word "cosmopolitan" is very apt.

Still, journalists were quick to condemn Hawley. "If you're Jewish and the use of ‘cosmopolitan' doesn't scare you, read some history," wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. A columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch argued that "cosmopolitan" is a "dog whistle to white supremacists" and "language long affiliated with anti-Semitism," and that Hawley "chose the word purposefully." Washington Post columnist Max Boot implied the senator was referring to Jews. James Fallows of The Atlantic added that Hawley knew the implications of the word, which he described as an "anti-Semitic fighting term … used against Jews by Nazis and Bolsheviks alike." Josh Marshall, an editor at Talking Points Memo, went a step further and accused Hawley of being "contemptuous of American Jewish life."

The Anti-Defamation League joined the political witch hunt and called on Hawley to apologize, saying his speech "raised real concern for members of the Jewish community." Gavriela Geller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau-American Jewish Committee, described Hawley's remarks as "eerily reminiscent of speeches from Germany in the 1930s" and as potentially appealing to "those who seek to define America as a white and Christian nation."

Never mind that Hawley has affirmed his adamant support for the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and never mind that, last year, Barack Obama delivered a speech, in which he described a "new international elite" whose members "consider themselves liberal in their politics, modern and cosmopolitan in their outlook"—Hawley was, nonetheless, targeting Jews.

Two days after Hawley's speech, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a 2020 presidential candidate, released her plan to "end Wall Street's stranglehold" on the American economy. Warren wrote that she intends to "rein in the financial industry so it stops sucking money out of the rest of the economy" and transform the "private equity industry—the poster child for financial firms that suck value out of the economy." Warren then added, "The private equity firms are like vampires—bleeding the company dry and walking away enriched even as the company succumbs."

As Ira Stoll notes in the New York Sun:

This image of businessmen as bloodsuckers has a long and ugly history. Karl Marx used it: "Capital is dead labor, that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."

For centuries, Jews have been compared to vampires and portrayed as blood-sucking parasites. Indeed, significant academic research has been done on this topic, showing what Romanian psychologist Peter Dan describes as the "many parallels between the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew and the image of the vampire: both are parasitic and drain the life force out of the host—in the case of the vampire, the victim, and in the case of the Jews, an unwitting nation." The root of the comparison is the blood libel, according to which Jews murder Christian children to use their blood as part of religious rituals, most notably to bake matzos for Passover. Over time, as vampires became more prominent in the public consciousness, anti-Semites used them to demonize and dehumanize Jews. For instance, Karl Lueger, who was mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910 and inspired Hitler, referred to Jews as "Blutsauger," meaning "bloodsucker" or "vampire."

Combine this history with the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews control global finance (and the fact that Warren's campaign employs an activist with a visceral hatred of Israel), and the result is, at the very least, noteworthy. Yet no one in the media or the ADL even mentioned Warren's comments. To reiterate, the language in Warren's plan is not anti-Semitic, and she, like Hawley, was certainly not thinking about Jews when outlining her vision. But if all of these journalists and activists accused Hawley of appealing to anti-Semites, then one would think they would accuse Warren of the same thing. After all, invoking bloodsucking vampires is much darker than invoking a talking point that, frankly, politicians from both sides of the political aisle use to appeal to the middle and working classes. Then again, this logic is irrelevant to America's—dare I say it!—cosmopolitan elites when Hawley is guilty of being a conservative Republican and Warren is not.

If the media are going to lob false accusations of anti-Semitism, they should at least be consistent. Otherwise, they might seem biased and politically motivated. But, no, they would never.