With the squalls surrounding the filibuster of Richard Cordray’s nomination for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it was easy to miss what was going on with Elizabeth Warren, the creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ms. Warren had so infuriated Republicans in Congress that although she was the logical choice for director, the President thought the better part of valor to avoid ideological and personal controversy by choosing Cordray, whose profile is much less political, and whose background more enforcement-oriented.
So Ms. Warren decided to run for Teddy Kennedy’s old seat in the Senate, currently occupied—temporarily—by Scott Brown, a darling of Wall Street. As her campaign got into full swing, some interesting things started to happen. Although early polls indicated that Ms. Warren was substantially behind Mr. Brown, by early December she became the front runner, by a hefty seven point margin; after that happened, Sen. Brown suddenly seemed to come to his more moderate senses, and broke ranks with Republican caucus to vote in favor of the Cordray nomination.
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That might’ve been strange enough by itself, but things got much stranger very quickly. A group called Crossroads GPS started running an attack ad in Massachusetts against Ms. Warren, portraying Ms. Warren as a tool of Wall Street! It cites her chairmanship of the Congressional Oversight Panel that oversaw the bank bailout in asserting that the bailout was a failure, and that she was responsible for the payment of bonuses to Wall Street executives, and that the Panel committed that most heinous of 21st-century crimes in—it did not create jobs.
Happily, factcheck.org quickly pointed out that the Crossroads video was rife with disinformation, and in general people seem to be laughing off the absurd pot-calls-the-kettle-black attack, particularly because the first Crossroads ad directed against Warren made precisely the opposite point, painting her as a tool of Occupy Wall Street. Crossroads GPS is closely aligned with Karl Rove, the man largely responsible for the brilliant fiscal policy of the Bush 43 administration.
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Elizabeth Warren started life as a Republican, coming from a somewhat less than middle-class background in Oklahoma. She has earned herself a reputation as a first-class and impassioned consumer advocate, and her history of thought and analytical work earned her a chair at Harvard law school. She openly acknowledges sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and in fact identifies herself as the creator of the intellectual foundation of the movement. That said, it is also true that she has demonstrated a profound knowledge of the working of the financial system in the United States, and did not oppose the bailout itself. Moreover, she recently declined to endorse the Occupy Harvard petition, to the great surprise of supporter and detractor alike. In other words, Ms. Warren has actually maintained a quite balanced viewpoint for many years; she is ardently pro-consumer, but she is not at all anti-business or anti-Wall Street. Instead, she attacks the excesses of Wall Street, particularly when consumer bears the brunt of those excesses.
In times that are less partisan, she would be seen as middle-of-the-road, but with a gift for passionate rhetoric in defense of the consumer. She understands that the 1%, generally speaking, achieved that status by selling something to the 99%; as the song goes “you can’t have one without the other.”
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Let’s hope that 11 months from now, Ms. Warren is seen for what she is: a hard-working and dedicated public servant who would probably make a better Senator than bureaucrat anyway; a woman whose brains and efforts have earned her status and respect in the academic and policy worlds; and most importantly, a person who has centrist views and thus understands that one not need be anti-business to support and defend the rights of consumers.
Image: U.S. Treasury Department, via Wikimedia Commons