The Case for Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren should be the top contender to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After all, it was her brainchild, her baby.
But instead of celebrating the leadership and creativity of Harvard law professor and Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren, reports are that she faces opposition from the bankers' BFF, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Also, Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, kicked off the whispering campaign about her appointment with his question, "Is she confirmable?"
It's no mystery why the corporate/big business crowd opposes her. The effectiveness of the financial reform bill depends entirely on the regulators-it cedes them new power, but it doesn't mandate systemic change. So the bankers and lobbyists want to diminish regulation as much as they can, which means opposing a determined and smart Warren.
Rather than sabotaging Warren's prospects, Dodd and the administration, especially President Obama, should be touting the fact that Warren has been one of the leading activists and thinkers about what the bureau could get done, and that her stewardship led to it being one of the things we can celebrate in the final bill.
In her folksy, plainspoken way, Warren-who hails from Oklahoma and is a former Methodist Sunday school teacher-has articulated how the agency could help ordinary people, providing a small amount of power in a system that's weighted against them. She has such an honest, fair, decent and clear way of talking about what government can do to serve the common good.
"Dang gummit, somebody has got to stand up on behalf of middle-class families!" she told the New York Times. She elaborated on this theme on the Daily Show. "This is America's middle class. We've hacked at it and pulled at it and chipped at it for thirty years now, and now there's no more to do. We fix this problem going forward, or the game really is over."
When the Consumer Protection proposal came under attack in the Senate-and Dodd was watering it down in order to cut deals with Republicans who probably weren't going to support it anyway-Warren continued to fight hard for it. She wrote about it, she talked about it. She even approached Ron Howard and got him to shoot this hilarious video plugging it as key to any financial reform bill with teeth.
Today, Senator Bernie Sanders welcomed any opposition to a Warren nomination. "Good!" he wrote. "It will allow for a serious debate as to the role that government should play in protecting the American people against the outrageous behavior we have seen on Wall Street."
This agency will rise or fall on how visible it is. Warren would use the bully pulpit in a way that will once again make government seem like it's in the business of improving the condition of people's lives.
© 2010 The Nation