fresh voices from the front lines of change







Elizabeth Warren’s well-heeled opponents have behaved … well, like heels. The Washington/Wall Street axis prevented her from becoming the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but they may regret it someday. Washington has lost the best person for the job, but hopefully the country has gained an independent voice for real financial reform.

She clearly was the best choice. As a forceful and articulate advocate for consumers, Warren was best positioned to give it clout and meaning. The CFPB was her brain child, and the country owes her a debt of thanks for shepherding it this far. Her non-appointment is a loss for the public and a win for the banks.

But she can thank her opponents for a newfound freedom to speak candidly. Among her other laudable qualities, she’s clearly a good soldier. That’s presumably why she hasn’t spoken up on topics like the lack of bank prosecutions, or the proposed mortgage settlement that would let banks escape their financial and moral responsibilities yet again. Hopefully she’ll use her newly-won independence and her increased visibility to resume her role as an independent voice for reform, and as a critic of unnecessary compromise wherever it appears.

The Anti-Warren Movement

We’re told that Professor Warren had opponents inside the Administration and among right-leaning Democrats on the Hill, as well as among the bought-and-paid-for Republicans. Now she’s free to become a leading voice for an independent bank reform movement. And that’s exactly what’s needed. Our financial system remains hopelessly broken and corrupt. As a result, our political process is also broken, too. Wall Street money has been used to water down much-needed reforms, delay their implementation, impede legal investigations, and prevent the additional reforms needed to protect the country – and the global economy – from a new class of financial super-predator.

Republicans made it clear that they would never confirm Warren. She scares both the politicians and the bank masters who finance them – and she should. They made their opposition clear when they used one hearing after another to treat her with extraordinary crudity and hostility — a mood only lightened by the interjection of economic statements so cartoonish and loony that she showed extraordinary restraint simply by keeping a straight face.

(We showed the video and discussed their behavior on The Young Turks. If you’re depressed about this, watch the video. Her facial expressions alone will cheer you up.)

Elizabeth Warren 2.0

Their lynch mob behavior toward one of our generation’s leading reformers had one saving grace: It put the Republicans’ fawning servitude to Wall Street lobbyists on display for the entire nation to see. But what’s next for Warren?

There’s a lot of talk that she may run for Scott Brown’s Senate seat in 2012, and that seems like a real possibility. But sometimes our best role is chosen for us by events and circumstances. They’ve already conspired to give Warren the role of public champion against the power and corruption of the big banks. And she’s earned it.

It’s her life, or course, but one way to weigh every opportunity is by asking if it’s the best way to serve that mission. She hasn’t asked our advice, but here are a few other things she may want to consider as she designs Elizabeth Warren 2.0.

Bank reform really is – or should be – a nonpartisan issue.

Financial reform shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Pro-business conservatives should recognize that banks are seizing an unhealthy share of the nation’s profits (which has once again reached the 40% range), restricting lending while fattening themselves off low-cost Federal Reserve money, and making it difficult for entrepreneurs and growing companies to earn their fair share of the country’s income. Banks are occupying our economy like an invasion force, skimming off the cream and leaving only the dregs for the small and medium-sized businesses that are the lifeblood of a truly free-market economy.

And everyone, Republican or Democrat, is a bank customer. That means that everyone has been frustrated or misled by banks. And lest the politicians forget, the Tea Party movement was born in large part out of frustration and anger at the big banks.

Would Professor Warren have more clout as an independent voice for change? We can’t know yet, but that’s a possibility worth exploring.

A new “Warren Commission”?

A successful Senate run would give consumers another badly-needed voice in Washington, and the Senate could be a platform for pursuing more investigations into bank fraud and misbehavior. But that will be harder if the Democrats lose their Senate majority.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren could lead hearings into bank behavior. But first she’d have to win, which is by no means a given in this political climate. And then she’d have to get the right committee appointments, persuade her colleagues to support an investigation, etc. etc. (Politics is the art of the “etc. etc.”)

She could conduct investigations outside the Senate, too, if the right venue were found. We’ve already had one “Warren Commission,” but we need another It could be charged with identifying bank corruption – root, stem, and branch – and laying out its influence on politics, law enforcement, media, and all aspects of American life.

Who better to lead such a Commission than Elizabeth Warren?

Warren as Democrat

Warren’s appointment, or that of her senior deputy Raj Date, wasn’t a fight the President wanted to fight. But by appointing Richard Cordray, President Obama selected a strong advocate for consumers. The obstructionist Republicans in the Senate have already indicated that they’ll oppose any nominee, no matter how right-wing, unless the bureau is weakened to the point of ineffectiveness.

So any temptation to fault the President for failing to choose Warren should be tempered by the fact that he could have gone much further right. If GOP Senators had rejected a fellow Republican, for example, the White House could have made even more political hay out of their vote than it’s likely to do if (as seems probable) Cordray is also rejected. Perhaps Warren the proto-Democrat has already won a concession.

Does that mean the Democratic Party is her natural home? Maybe. But if she runs for a Democratic seat she’ll be called upon to pull her punches on some critical financial battles, if only to protect the party’s lifeline to corporate contributions. Can she resist that temptation forcefully enough to keep fighting for meaningful change? That’s something to consider.

An independent reform movement

We need an independent movement for financial reform. We can’t look to politicians to fix Wall Street. Bankers’ money is too tempting for any politician or party to resist, especially in this post-Citizens United world. This systemic corruption can only be stopped by an independent citizens’ movement that’s beholden to no party or individual.

Whatever she chooses to do, Elizabeth Warren will be an asset to that movement. If she passes on the politician’s life she’d be ideally suited to galvanizing it. If she runs and winds she’d be a great voice for reform in the Senate. But that would mean staying as independent as possible, which isn’t easy for a Senator.

Whatever she does, we hope that Prof. Warren will continue to make independent and imaginative thinking about financial reform a core part of her life’s work. If she does, today’s loss could be tomorrow’s gain.

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