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OK, I’ll admit it — I Have a huge (wo)Man Crush on Elizabeth Warren

March 24, 2010

We Need Elizabeth Warren as Chief Compliance Officer for the US Financial System

Right Now!

The New York Times today ran an excellent story on Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School Professor and Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The gist of the piece is that she’s deeply committed to re-establishing the umbrella of protections, dismantled with such diligence over the past 30 years, that once safeguarded our financial system against its inexorable tendency towards predatory and self-destructive behavior.

Nobody who’s heard Professor Warren speak about the failures of the marketplace on such diverse media organs as Morning Joe, Real Time with Bill Maher, CNNSquawk Box,  PBS’ NOW, PBS’ Frontline, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart can possibly doubt her credibility, passion or commitment to leveling the playing field between consumers and the banking sector. She even had the um…ovaries…to subject herself to Neal Cavuto’s toxic mind-warp on Fox “News” (watch this one to the end if only for the characteristically petty little dig Neal-o manages to get in just before the cut-away. Cute, dude!)

This YouTube video is also an excellent primer on her view of why a consumer financial protection agency is essential if we’re to prevent another ’08-style financial debacle:

(How cool is it that she put up videos on YouTube to explain to people the importance of financial regulation?!??)

Warren is no raging socialist, nor is she particularly susceptible to the standard slew of right-wing attacks on credibility or efforts to impugn motives.  She’s spent her career at academic institutions as diverse as the Universities of Houston, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas (Austin), as well as at Rutgers and Harvard Law School (since 1992; she’s now a tenured Professor and holds a named chair). Anybody who’s spent stints in such a diverse assortment of locales can make a pretty good claim that they’ve seen things from both sides of the aisle. Not to mention that she originally hails from Oklahoma (see…people can grow!)

Warren has been an officer of the American Law Institute (a think tank focused on clarifying and modernizing the law), and is a member of the American Academy of Sciences. Her academic research has focused on how structural changes in the economy from the later decades of the 20th century to the present have eroded the middle class, the effect of debt on the American family, and on financially distressed companies. It’s hard to imagine a better intersection of issues for someone charged with resolving the current regulatory morass and reinstating the basic instruments necessary to clear out the toxins that currently pollute our financial system. Bottom line: Elizabeth Warren is the real deal.

One of the primary elements of Professor Warren’s appeal, at least to my eye, is that she’s exactly the kind of high-octane, intellectually honest, fiercely independent person that’s been so sorely missed since they were all effectively chased out of government beginning in the Reagan Years. She doesn’t seem to have any of the commercial or corporate affiliations that so often undermine American’s confidence in people in positions of authority, and though I haven’t met the woman personally in her interviews and writing she comes across as being animated by a clear sense of moral purpose. Listening to her, it’s easy to comprehend the degree of alarm she feels posed by predatory marketplace actors who have so effectively thrown acid in the face of the institutions that were once charged with keeping the raping and pillaging to a minimum.

Though highly principled, Warren also has a reputation as being down-to-earth and practical. She’s neither a Ralph Nader – perfectly content to undermine the entire country in order to make a point – nor is she cut from the chronically-marginalized Don-Quixote mold as are people like Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders. This is not to say that she isn’t a crusader, or uncommitted to righting structural wrongs. Rather that she possesses the credibility that comes with unimpeachable expertise in her domain of knowledge and the moral authority borne of long practice at keeping the conversation in the realm of the possible.

As important as a résumé may be in evaluating a regulator’s credentials, neither academic achievement nor professional experience is of much use without the ability to persuade (See: Larry Summers). In this area Professor Warren also excels: the fruits of 30+ years of arguing with law students intent on making a point are evident in her ability to frame conversations and stay on topic. In interview after interview she responds to efforts to bait or drag her off-topic with a standard response: “I’m not here to talk about that” (Biden! Kerry!  Sit up in your chairs and pay attention. This woman could teach you a thing or two!) Warren’s real power lies in her ability to crisply articulate both the moral and economic sides of the case for a strong regulator.  It’s hard to listen to her and not recall that one influential high school teacher or college professor whose energy, passion and earnestness made his or her class – no matter how dry or seemingly uninteresting the subject – the most fascinating hour of the week.

Professor Warren is neither a bureaucratic journeyman nor cashed-out Wall Street exec looking to earn a few karmic brownie points before riding her Gulfstream off into the sunset. She’s a high-powered advocate for her view that we need not tolerate a system in which the most well-educated and highly-resourced among us rig the marketplace to look like one of those quail preserves that Dick Cheney hangs out in, where the only thing that can spoil the fun is careless buckshot from your buddies. She has the potential to be the kind of person (anybody remember that quaint old term “statesman”?) who was once drawn to public service not in order to build a personal fiefdom, or as a way to lay the foundation for a lucrative lobbying career, but in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” She should be the uncontested choice for the head of whatever agency comes out the reform process…we’d be damned lucky to have her.

One Comment leave one →
  1. craig permalink
    March 25, 2010 7:14 am

    It would be a waste of her talents, but she could take on Brown.

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