Change Watch: Elizabeth Warren will make everything all right again

With so much at stake, doesn't it seem odd that for many on the left the camel's back of continued support for Barack Obama has come down to the straw of the appointment of a single administrative officer?

The admirable Elizabeth Warren, the plain-speaking, tough-on-Wall-Street Harvard professor who pilots the congressional oversight panel monitoring the TARP bank bailout, has made the short list to run the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection created by the recent Wall Street reform legislation, despite opposition from Wall Street and its minions in the administration. (There is a precedent of sorts for choosing Warren: the White House, in a dizzying spin of the revolving door between the government and an industry it purports to regulate, recently chose Liz Fowler as deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In her new job, Fowler, the insurance lobbyist who wrote the health care bill while temporarily on Max Baucus' Senate staff, will oversee implementation of the massive and complicated new health care operation: if the argument is that Fowler has essential knowledge needed to manage the program she crafted, doesn't it follow that Warren, as the one who dreamed it up and pushed for its creation, should run the Consumer Bureau?)

Warren is unquestionably the best candidate for the job of running the new consumer protection agency. Still, why is so much riding on her appointment? As David Corn writes in Politics Daily,
Obama's supporters on the left are yearning for a clear deliverable. Obama, as the White House repeatedly points out, has achieved several impressive progressive victories. But size and significance aside, they have been hazy and, for lefties, occasionally bittersweet wins. The stimulus package was not as big as many economists said was necessary, and Obama muffed the message war. (Admittedly, it is difficult to take credit for not losing another 2 million jobs.) The health care reform measure did not include a public option and ended up a complicated hodgepodge, with many of its benefits not scheduled to hit for several years. The Wall Street reform legislation was another complicated melange of new rules not easily fathomed by the average voter -- or yours truly. Moreover, these big accomplishments occurred alongside unpalatable bailouts for financial firms and auto companies and an escalation of the unpopular Afghanistan war. Obama's big wins have not been as easy to process as President George W. Bush's: passing supersized tax cuts and winning congressional approval for his invasion of Iraq.

But there's nothing unclear about Warren. She doesn't mince words. She's a populist academic who is comfortable going on Jon Stewart's show to decry credit card companies and other financial pirates for ripping off America's families. As a non-corporatist with no love lost for Wall Street, Warren would stand out as a member of Obama's economic team. She would provide a counterbalance to the pro-bail-out gang running Obama's economic policies.

If Obama chooses Warren for this post, that would trigger a battle with Republicans and Wall Street -- which could be a fight worth having. It would juice up the Democratic base before a congressional election, and such a clash would establish a strong precedent, indicating that Obama is drop-dead serious about unleashing this new agency on financial predators. Regulators have much latitude in deciding how vigorous to be -- especially in the face of industry opposition and manipulation. With a Warren nomination, Obama would be saying that he and his administration are ready -- eager! -- to confront the scammers of Big Finance.
The larding of so much importance on the installation of one executive officer looks like further evidence of the weakness of progressive politics. From the beginning, progressive support for Obama without the requirement of anything in return had about it a whiff of desperation. And the rant last week by White House pr flack Robert Gates pretty much sums up how seriously the Obama team takes its "base." Instead of organizing to produce action on jobs, infrastructure, economic justice and peace, most of us appear ready to take solace in the merest hint of evidence of the administration's "good faith."  With the economy still in shambles, the lives of so many Americans broken by poverty and joblessness, and the country's resources being squandered in imperial adventures in faraway places like Afghanistan and Yemen, it is pathetic that progressive aspirations have been shaved down to the possible appointment of a single bureaucratic.

The rest of the story: Elizabeth Warren or Bust! by David Corn (Politics Daily 2010-08-17).

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