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ELIZABETH WARREN

        Is there any doubt that Elizabeth Warren is the most interesting and exciting figure in American politics today? In the land of the bland (Mitch McConnell), the boring (John Boehner), the cranky (John McCain), the self-involved (Barak Obama), the grating (Hilary Clinton), the creepy (Ted Cruze), the weird (Rand Paul) and the bombastic (Chris Christie) she stands out. Her message is simple and straightforward – the system is rigged against the average Joe and Washington, Wall Street and, especially, the Republicans have rigged it. She’s a straight shooter, an excellent speaker and, at age 65, charismatic. Jon Stewart, one of her biggest admirers, has said on The Daily Show that he’d like to make out with her. What’s her story and does she have a chance of becoming President? Her story is quintessentially American and a good one. But no, she has no chance of becoming President.

Like many of today’s liberals, Warren refers to herself as a progressive, partly to avoid the continuing stigma of the liberal label and partly to associate herself with the Progressive Movement of the 1890’s to the 1920’s. Progressives of that earlier age reacted in part to the excesses of America’s Gilded Age and the Panic of 1893 and ensuing depression. In addition to a package of social causes (education reform, woman’s suffrage, prohibition), on the economic front these earlier progressives stressed breaking up corporate monopolies and enacting business regulation. Champions included both Republicans (Teddy Roosevelt) and Democrats (Woodrow Wilson). The bubble economy of the late 19th century was the result of over-investment in railroads and the aftermath was not unlike our own recent experience – a long period of elevated unemployment. The progressives successfully enacted business regulation (ICC and FTC in the 1890’s, Clayton Act in 1914), instituted an income tax in 1913 and broke up Standard Oil in 1911. Warren’s primary focus is on economic policy and her targets are similar: break up the giant corporations (in this case the banks) and enact new business regulation (Warren was the driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank Act). She’d like to be TR, without the monocle or the mustache.

Warren’s message is appealing to the American middle class, which continues to feel economically depressed and still blames Wall Street. Like her progressive forebears and unlike many of her Democratic colleagues, her message is strong and clear: break up the banks! As the former chair of the Congressional TARP Oversight Panel and now a member of the Senate Banking Committee she has been the scourge of bankers and government officials who have been required to face her; see her grilling of Tim Geithner on Youtube (titled the “Classic Takedown of Geithner”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egc_5UAJIIk. In recent days, Warren has led the expression of liberal outrage at the relaxation of Dodd-Frank requirements (derivatives trading by banks and delay of the implementation of the Volcker Rule) and the appointment of Lazard banker Antonio Weiss to the post of Undersecretary of Treasury for Domestic Finance. She’s the champion of the liberals, now disappointed with Obama and wary of Hillary, and calls for her to run for President are rising.

Warren’s appeal is bolstered by two interesting facets of her political profile. First, she has a classic American personal story: born in Oklahoma, father was a janitor who died when she was young, champ of the debate team, waitress, dropped out of college to marry her high school sweetheart, finished college, was a stay-at-home mom and then a working mom, divorced, remarried, went to law school, became a successful law professor, rose to the top at Harvard. Second, she does her homework and has thought and written a lot about middle class woes in the contemporary US economy. Warren is the author or co-author of ten books, including The Two Income Trap and Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt. She’s lived it, she’s thought and written about it and she comes across as authentic. 

Elizabeth Warren will undoubtedly have a voice in the upcoming Presidential election. If Hillary falters, she may even run. But Warren has too much ideological baggage to be a winner. For one thing, she’s too liberal. She made a famous speech while running for the Senate in Massachusetts 2012 in which she said of businessmen, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.” Later, this sentiment was re-worked as “You didn’t build that” and picked up by Obama. Such thoughts drive Republicans crazy and are a bit much for most Americans. In addition, Warren has no foreign policy credentials; that will be a problem at a time when the international situation looks increasingly ominous. 

Still, the voice of Elizabeth Warren is strong and refreshing. Oddly, she resembles Ronald Reagan in her authenticity and clarity. Also like Reagan, she switched parties. Warren voted Republican until 1995, claiming she sided with the pro-market party until it was no longer pro-market. Having spent a few years in Cambridge, Warren has picked up some New England starchiness and comes across as a sort of political Olive Kittridge – an admirable scold. Elizabeth Strout should write a book about her.            

 

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Comments

  • Jim Saturday, January 10, 2015

    Although all the P.O.V.'s have been interesting this one hits it out of the park.
    If people like Warren have no hope of getting elected perhaps the American situation will grow increasingly dark.

  • Bob Saturday, February 28, 2015

    Please accept my congrats, Mack: articulate, sensible and insightful piece. Per Jim's comment above, unfortunately, there are few "statesmen", in the Jeffersonian sense, in the US...and of that very limited group, the financial and "political" (i.e. cronyism) aspects of the electoral process make the qualified and desirable potential candidates unelectable. As for Warren's lack of foreign policy expertise...please review the "success" in that arena of the present and prior POTUS. Thanks for writing.

  • Ray Minella Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    Warren is also a liar. According to Bill Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School, she invented a native American connection when Harvard Law School was under pressure to "diversify" their faculty, and dropped it from her profile the day she got tenure (to remove the "taint" of affirmative action from her resume? You decide).
    There is no doubt that Warren is a progressive, but her understanding of financial markets and the history of the financial crisis is rudimentary (at best). She loves to beat up on the big banks, and views Dodd/Frank as good legislation, but the truth is that the big banks are bigger than they were in 2008, and are even more dominant than they were when the legislation was passed, as small banks can't afford to comply with the new, costly, reporting requirements. As to the CFPB, her proudest achievement, it is the one department in the government whose budget can't be touched by the Congress. Some populist!
    To praise her as having more energy than Her Majesty is damning with faint praise. All of that said, I hope she runs for president. Not because she would win, but because she's be easy to beat.

  • Kevin Tuesday, September 22, 2015

    You must be smoking crack to say Elizabeth Warren appeals to the middle class. She is the biggest hypocrite in DC. She has a net worth over $9mm, she taught one class at Harvard earning her in excess of $400k over two years, her husband, also a Harvard Law School professor makes north of $500k per year and their home in Cambridge is worth in excess of $2mm with no debt. Her books have earned her millions. Her claim of Native American heritage is a lie which earned her a teaching spot due to affirmative action and when called out on it she lied again. Harvard Corp should have fired her immediately for lying ! And her voice on the American political scene is weak and phony-just like Hilary. As a native of Mass I would not vote for her and her fellow solons who believe being elected in Mass is like tenure at Harvard- forever. Ed Markey her Jr Senator does not even own a home here !

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