I first encountered Elizabeth Warren back in 2009, when I followed banks regularly for the hedge fund I worked for. At that time she was the head of the committee that the US Congress had set up to monitor the gargantuan mess known as TARP. Congress had appropriated an astonishing amount of taxpayer dollars to bail out the banks, and wanted to keep an eye on things, which seems sensible. Somehow, in a stroke of really good fortune in hindsight, Elizabeth Warren, a law professor at Harvard law School, got that post, as opposed to some SEC flunky.
Warren was required to give monthly updates, and they were on C-Span, and also available on the intertubes, so I used to watch them. She was remarkably good, so good that I blogged about her—here. She knew exactly what was going on, and was asking what I thought were the right questions. And I even said that if I were running things, I’d give her the job that Larry Summers then had as Obama’s chief economic advisor.
I’d still do that, and more—I would have made her treasury secretary. As it turns out, Summers and Warren have a bit of history. Warren’s big idea was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which certainly wouldn’t have happened without her. And she would have been the perfect person to run it, too. But there was lots of opposition to her. The predictable opposition was from Republicans, who tried to pillory her on any number of issues. Less predictable, but sensible in hindsight, was the opposition from a number of senior democrats associated with the Clintons—Rubin, Schumer, and particularly Summers. Obama, of course, didn’t nominate her, in one of his less honorable moments (these keep accumulating, sadly). The Bureau is up and running, though, and it’s her creation. So banks are going to get away with a lot less than they used to. And Summers is not the new head of the Federal Reserve, in no small part because it was clear that Warren was not going to support him (although she never said this publicly—she didn’t have to).
She’s now my Senator, after what was supposed to be a very close election with Scott Brown, who managed an upset a couple of years ago to become a Republican Senator from Massachusetts. (As I indicated at the time, this was primarily because of the stunning ineptitude of the Democratic candidate he faced.) Actually, it wasn’t even that close—54% for Warren, 46% for Brown. Not Ted Kennedy margins, to be sure, but still, ousting a relatively popular “maverick” Republican incumbent handily isn’t shabby at all.
Now she sometimes seems to be the only person in the room who knows what’s going on. She regularly gets to lecture ineffectual SEC and DOJ talking heads, including senior administration appointments (like Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder), about why they’re not doing their fucking jobs. And she’s good. She knows the law here. She also knows that the people who got screwed by the crisis are still getting screwed, and she’s doing what she can to mitigate this. A seat on the Senate Banking Committee, which is one of Harry Reid’s better judgments, is the perfect place for her.
And she’s becoming a star. She’s already being talked about as a presidential candidate, something that has to be driving Hilary nuts. Good. Really, after eight years of Obama, will we really want more Clintons? It’s the same people, after all, and the ones who were responsible for selling the Democrats out to the financial industry in the first place. Warren is the alternative to this. Why the Tea Party doesn’t support Warren is a mystery to me—they’re both on the same side with regard to the banks and what they’ve gotten away with. Warren says she’s not interested in running for president—of course, she would say that. But she polls well, and that’s been getting better. One wonders when the Clinton people will start going after her directly.
Of course, it’s not likely. Warren is Clinton’s age—well, two years younger—but both are close enough to my age that I really think it’s a bad idea to keep electing people of my generation to the presidency—look what happened with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. I’ll be the first to admit that the latter was an unmitigated disaster, and the former was actually ok in some respects. But really, that’s the best my generation can do? But then I think maybe we can do better. If Jerry Brown is way too old (and at 75, let’s face it, he is) Warren is really the only alternative to a Democratic politics that will look a lot like the Democratic politics of the past 20 years. And she’s the only one out there for whom the term “populist” works without cracking people up. In her case, you believe it.
So even if she stays in her current post and doesn’t run for president, I’m a happy guy. She’s fighting the fights that I want to see fought—and she’ll take on anyone, obviously, as Larry Summers, and hopefully Barak Obama, have learned. Long may she wave!