The Woman Democrats Need

On the day after Tuesday's electoral loss, the Obama administration
brought an unfamiliar face to the White House -- Elizabeth Warren, the
Harvard Law professor noted for her staunch advocacy on behalf the
middle class and fierce criticism of the bank bailouts. Perhaps the
administration will take a more aggressive approach to Wall Street,
along the lines of what Warren wants. But for Democrats to truly take
ownership of the economic crisis, Warren will need to play a more
prominent role. Not just her ideas, but the force of her personality is

Warren and the Democratic Party need to think seriously about her
prospects for higher office. Going into 2012, Massachusetts Democrats
will have no shortage of candidates to choose from, eager,
party-trained politicians ready to take a run. Republican Scott Brown's
victory to the US Senate last week made clear that voters crave
something besides the norm: someone from outside the traditional
political structure who can speak to their everyday, bread-and-butter
concerns in a credible way. Warren fits the bill.

Warren has spent her career laying the groundwork for what might be
called progressive populism. From her perch in Cambridge, she's
excoriated the unfair credit and lending practices that, in part, gave
rise to the current crisis. She was the architect of the Consumer
Financial Protection Agency, which, if created, would regulate credit
cards and mortgages in the same way home appliances are regulated now.
(Full disclosure: Warren once wrote about the agency in the publication
I help edit.) And well before the bubble broke in the summer of 2007,
when America was still riding high on George W. Bush's economy, Warren
was speaking out against the incredible pressure the 21st century
economy was putting on the middle class. She was derided as a
Cassandra, but she was right.

If all this made Warren a household name among progressives, it was
the economic crisis that catapulted her onto the national stage. As
chairwoman of the TARP Oversight Committee, she's been responsible for
examining the bank bailouts and the regulatory response. Warren has
vocalized the concerns of many Americans -- but not many politicians --
who are outraged by the rampant greed that led to the crisis, and the
refusal of Wall Street to take responsibility. "I think the problem has
been all the way throughout this crisis, that the banks have been
treated gently and everyone else has been treated really pretty
tough,'' said an exasperated Warren last fall, echoing what so many
others -- in both parties -- have come to believe.

These people need someone of Warren's stature. The timing is
perfect: her term at TARP Oversight will come to an end in the spring
of 2011, just as a Senate candidate would have to be ramping up. She'd
have a base of support on the Internet as soon as she announces. Sure,
a Warren campaign would provoke guffaws from the right: What does a Harvard professor really know about an economic crisis?
Yet underneath the polished pedigree is a teenage bride from Oklahoma.
She's as much an everyday person as Scott Brown; she just happens to be
a brilliant scholar as well. When she's championing the middle class,
she's not doing so because it's politically expedient, but because she
feels connected to it in a way few politicians are. And she has the
intellectual chops to convert that connection into dramatic policy
change. Sadly, few politicians can say that, either.

The wisdom of a Warren candidacy is about more than just one race or
one candidate. As Scott Brown demonstrated -- and, yes, as Barack Obama
demonstrated only last year -- we're living in an age that rewards
candidates who can generate real enthusiasm on the Internet; who can
credibly distance themselves from the party apparatus; and who offer
populist but "post-ideological'' politics. Warren meets all three

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