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Elizabeth Warren or Bust!

3 years ago
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I've been out of Washington for a little while -- escaping the heat and the disheartening politics. I've even managed to go for more than a week without tweeting (with a few lapses). But it's hard to escape people who want to talk about what's happening back within the Beltway. What's edifying is discovering what folks outside Washington focus on.

Those of us who follow politics and policy for a living often have numerous matters on our to-watch lists; recently, that roster has been long, including Afghanistan, extending the Bush tax cuts, the coming congressional elections, the Colorado Senate primary, the silly Ground Zero mosque controversy, and more. People outside the politerati usually have a truncated list, and often imbue a particular issue or controversy with special significance. A highly unscientific survey -- based on comments made to me by highly-educated, self-identified, vacationing liberals who feel let down by President Barack Obama -- shows that a top priority for Obama's base these days is Elizabeth Warren.

Warren is the plain-speaking, tough-on-Wall-Street Harvard professor who heads the congressional oversight panel that monitors the TARP bank bailout, and she's a (or the) leading candidate to take over the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection that was created by the Wall Street reform legislation recently signed into law by Obama. (This agency that was first proposed by Warren.) Several members of my sample group -- completely unprompted -- each said the same: If Obama doesn't appoint Warren, I'm giving up on him.

In years past it would be odd for the appointment of a regulator to draw so much notice and to become such an edgy grassroots issue. (MoveOn, labor unions, and other progressive outfits have been demanding that Obama give her the job.) But the Warren affair has become a high-stakes political moment.

This is understandable. Obama's supporters on the left are yearning for a clear deliverable. Obama, as the White House repeatedly points out, has achieved several impressive progressive victories. But size and significance aside, they have been hazy and, for lefties, occasionally bittersweet wins. The stimulus package was not as big as many economists said was necessary, and Obama muffed the message war. (Admittedly, it is difficult to take credit for not losing another 2 million jobs.) The health care reform measure did not include a public option and ended up a complicated hodgepodge, with many of its benefits not scheduled to hit for several years. The Wall Street reform legislation was another complicated melange of new rules not easily fathomed by the average voter -- or yours truly. Moreover, these big accomplishments occurred alongside unpalatable bailouts for financial firms and auto companies and an escalation of the unpopular Afghanistan war. Obama's big wins have not been as easy to process as President George W. Bush's: passing supersized tax cuts and winning congressional approval for his invasion of Iraq.

But there's nothing unclear about Warren. She doesn't mince words. She's a populist academic who is comfortable going on Jon Stewart's show to decry credit card companies and other financial pirates for ripping off America's families. As a non-corporatist with no love lost for Wall Street, Warren would stand out as a member of Obama's economic team. She would provide a counterbalance to the pro-bail-out gang running Obama's economic policies.

If Obama chooses Warren for this post, that would trigger a battle with Republicans and Wall Street -- which could be a fight worth having. It would juice up the Democratic base before a congressional election, and such a clash would establish a strong precedent, indicating that Obama is drop-dead serious about unleashing this new agency on financial predators. Regulators have much latitude in deciding how vigorous to be -- especially in the face of industry opposition and manipulation. With a Warren nomination, Obama would be saying that he and his administration are ready -- eager! -- to confront the scammers of Big Finance.

Warren was at the White House last week, discussing her possible appointment with Obama officials. But her supporters have worried that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is opposing Warren's appointment -- which Treasury officials deny (though Geithner clearly favors another candidate, Michael Barr, an assistant secretary of Treasury). This particular presidential appointment has become cloaked with the sort of palace intrigue Washington denizens crave -- and for Obama supporters outside Washington all the behind-closed-days maneuverings have enhanced the symbolism of this decision. By selecting Warren, Obama can demonstrate that he's willing to fight for a progressive champion, that he's willing to take it to the GOPers, that he's willing to expand the confines of his economic team to include an articulate and intelligent populist -- that he's willing to do something clear for his base.

Last week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs created an unnecessary controversy when he dismissed the "professional left" for being too rough on Obama. ("I hear these people saying he's like George Bush," he said. "Those people ought to be drug tested.") Though the liberal blogosphere is not quite the same thing as the party's base, this was still not the best way to win over that base three months before a difficult congressional election. It looked as if Gibbs was in denial about the concerns of Obama's core supporters -- a subject the White House ought to ponder with seriousness.

Progressives are talking about Warren as if this could be their last straw regarding Obama. I doubt it. As important as this appointment is, there are larger issues to fret about: what to do in Afghanistan, how to re-ignite the economy. Yet what Obama does with Warren will be telling. After all, why not appoint and then fight for the obvious (and best) choice? Should he spurn Warren, the president will have a problem that extends beyond the "professional left."

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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37 Comments

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AQARIUM

I cannot figure out why people didn't understand that deregulation in general and lack of regulation of the financial industry/Wall Street led to our biggest recession since the depression. This isn't a partisan issue. Do people want consumer advocacy or special interest predominance? Government will never be incentivized For the People until elections are publically financed and private money is illegal. Shame on you Supreme Court! As a Boomer, I'll never see it in my lifetime.

August 18 2010 at 1:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
johndson

I've seen this woman a couple of times now and I was blown away by her unassuming, plain spoken, grasp on a multitude of issues that are squeezing the life out of our economy. For those who think that "regulation" isn't the answer, look no further than the disater(s) that continue to plague the stock market where the regualtions designed to prevent another 1929 crash were removed. Since their uncerimonious deregulation we have had 2 gigantic market crashes, followed by long recessions. Or maybe you are fond of the deregualtion that gave us $4.00 a gallon gasoline, 28.5% credit card interest rates, credit default swaps, no rules for mortgage underwriting or sales, Bernie Maddoff, Enron. Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Junk Bonds, The Savings and Loan collapse, John Keating, Insurance companies owning high risk brokerage companies, the exporting of millions of American jobs by American companies, a trade deficit that has grown every year for over 30 years, a still shrinking middle class, a total collapse of new home construction, to name just a few of the subjects that deregualtion has NEGATIVLY impacted and still is. Listening to this lady tells me that she sees the whole economic landscape. This mess we're in didn't just happen, it has been going on now for a long, long time. Every 'regulation' that was eliminated has hit individuals directly in their wallets. It's time to put the umires back on the field. It's time to put some of the rules back, and stop letting the inmates police themselves, because history should have already taught us that if you want to be a player in the largest economy on earth, then you have to play by the rules. This lady gets that. She is not a product of Wall St. or corporate Ammerica so she doesn't "owe" anyone, anything! She is tough, smart, and sees this complicated mess we've made for what it is. I would enjoy having someone with this much insight working to help turn things around.

August 18 2010 at 1:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
delucalarr

Congress now wastes over $1 Billion every day in interest on the debt! Congress is making it progressively worse by spending money they don't have. Congress has progressively made America the world leader in debt. When will America be debt free? Ask YOUR congress person when they plan to pay back all the loans.

August 18 2010 at 11:29 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
eflowc

Warren has a low non-sense quotient with regard to financial matters. Choose her.

August 18 2010 at 11:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
soopershrink

Elizabeth Warren is a MUST, she knows her stuff better than anyone and is an independent "of the people" if Obama wants to show that he truly interested in reform, he will appoint her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 18 2010 at 11:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
icregan6

I have watched and listened to Elizabeth Warren since this disaster has occurred and I trust her and believe in her. She tells it like it is. It's about time we had someone with her integrity and work ethic on the side of the working public. The Republicans have disliked this President since the day he was elected. The party of no is still at it. I'm hoping as we near the election, that the Republicans or whatever they are called now will debate the issues. Maybe they will want pre-screend questions, as I don't think they can answer any important questions spontaneously. I hope President Obama will pick Ms. Warren for the job. Thank You, Irene C. Regan

August 18 2010 at 11:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
hank508

I am a strong advocate for president Obama.I will follow him to the ends of the earth,But if he does not appoint Elizabeth Warren my feelings will be dashed.I totally agree with David Corn.

August 18 2010 at 11:06 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
marharris1

How refresing to read an article about a possible appointee who has the talent and the courage to speak to the reality of the consumer's need for financial security amidst the plethora of imaginative ways that we, as consumers, are sucked into risk that we can ill afford. I, for one, have always been suspicious that "beltway" thinking has little to do with the reality of the life that most of live in.

August 18 2010 at 11:00 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
bsmithanza

Warren is another college professor with no real world experience. The white house and this administration is full of them and look what we got! Its an indictment of the education system when you realize this entire economic mess, especially banking, was created by these college educated IDIOTS.

August 18 2010 at 11:00 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bsmithanza's comment
nosemajd9

Sorta like all the chickenhawks in dubya's administration that had no real experience or either war or the military, condeming us to expensive wars that achieve nothing in terms of increased security or international stability. Funny you should indict the education system when it was only academics that were ringing the alarm bells. But then your repubnican friends having been dumbing down the educational system for the last 30 years I guess this is what you get--people blaming the only thing that will save us. Like the bumper sticker says, "If you thing education is expensive, try ignorance!"

August 18 2010 at 4:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Victoria or Clif

Mr. Corn; Please stay on vacation if you think the Mosque uproar is silly. Get in touch with people who care. Clif

August 18 2010 at 10:28 AM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

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