The Road Not Taken

photo of Elizabeth Warren
Beware The Warrenator™, Scourge of Lazy Regulators & Greedy Banksters Everywhere

So today, I read this article. It’s a good article, as these things go. In fact, it’s difficult to disagree with anything in it:

How astonishing to have a public servant who actually cares to inform the public about the inner workings of the system of crony capitalism that has wedded big government with big business. This comes at the expense of the free market that corporate lobbyists delight in invoking as an ideal while they subvert it as a reality. 

Hell yes! Preach on, brother Scheer!

*ahem* Anyway, Scheer’s article echoed a lot of similar sentiments I’d been seeing around Twitter recently: how thankful liberals are to have someone like Warren in office who’s a wonderful, genuinely robust defender of the people against the power of corporations. To which I say, Amen. Warren is all of those things. And people have been noticing that she is because, since taking office in January, Warren keeps garnering press like this (“Elizabeth Warren Embarrasses Hapless Bank Regulators At First Hearing“) and this (“Elizabeth Warren Accuses Regulators Of Protecting Banks Over Homeowners“) and this (“Sen. Elizabeth Warren Questions Regulators’ Willingness To Prosecute Wall Street Banks“).

Seems like everybody on the left (including me) agrees: Elizabeth Warren’s great!

So, what’s the problem? Well, the paragraph I quoted above in the Scheer article was immediately followed by this one:

Those seeking to join Warren in taking a stand on behalf of students attempting to survive in an economy that the bankers have come close to destroying should get behind her bill. Unless Congress acts, student loan rates will automatically double in less than two months.

Yeah. They should join her. Because unless Congress acts, etc…

Unless Congress acts. But that’s kind of the nut of the whole issue, isn’t it? Unless Congress acts. Quick, what’s the one thing you can be dead-certain of regarding the current political climate? If you answered “that Congress will NOT take action, especially not on public-interest-over-corporate-interest legislation,” then congratulations: you’ve been paying attention to politics since the Democrats re-took Congress in 2006. If there’s one thing that best defines Congress since 2006 (especially the Senate), it’s that it won’t take action. Not with Mitch “Filibuster” McConnell circling over the Senate like a vulture waiting for something to die. And now, since 2010, not with a House that’s controlled by John Boehner. The GOP has simply decided “fuck all y’all” is going to be their legislative strategy for the indefinite future. Probably until they can get enough Americans so disgusted with the gridlock that they stupidly vote for a Republican, just to get the sensation that something’s getting accomplished, even if it is something bad.

That’s why all of the “isn’t Elizabeth Warren wonderful” paeans that are being tossed out lately just make me wonder why she was stovepiped by the party into the Senate last cycle? It’s not as if any of what I just said was a secret or even some obscure minority opinion during the last election. Every progressive and Democrat knows how broken the Senate is. If what is earning Warren those rave reviews and kudos today is her willingness to hold regulators’ feet to the fire and insist they protect consumers and citizens instead of the interests of the big banks…um…wouldn’t it have been better to continue along with Plan A and actually, you know, make Warren one of those regulators, instead of sticking her into the most dysfunctional, broken governing body in the developed world – the United States Senate?

As a regulator, Warren would have had the ability to actually affect the day-to-day business of protecting consumers and/or overseeing the banks. In the Senate, she’s one of a hundred voices, barely over half of whom must line up behind Harry Reid and hope they can get stuff past McConnell’s endless filibusters. Talk about frustrating – for progressives as well as (I imagine) for Warren. While it’s great to see her tear into banksters and regulators in hearings, everyone knows hearings are merely public spectacle if they don’t lead to actual legislation — and as I already mentioned, in this climate, they don’t.

I don’t know much about state-level politics in Massachusetts, but in a state that blue, I find it very hard to believe there were truly NO other credible Democratic candidates besides Warren who could’ve beaten Scott Brown and put Ted Kennedy’s seat back in the column in which it belongs. Maybe I need to be educated on that score, but that sounds far-fetched to me. Perhaps the administration believed (not without support from the facts) that Warren might have been simply un-confirmable as head of the CFPB (though, as I’ve written about before, there’s plenty of room to doubt Warren herself would’ve fared any worse than anyone else Obama might have nominated for that role, and if Obama could recess-appoint Richard Cordray, he could’ve just as easily done so with Elizabeth Warren). Even if so, it’s not as if there weren’t other slots she could have filled. One of the Dems’ recent bêtes noire, Ed DeMarco at FHFA, could have been at this very moment being replaced not by a questionably pro-consumer guy like Mel Watt, but by the scourge of Wall Street and defender of homeowners and consumers herself, Elizabeth Warren.

Tell me THAT wouldn’t have been a win, at least in comparison to having Warren in the Senate?

Lastly, if Warren was installed (via regular process or recess appointment) at FHFA or CFPB or CFTC or any one of a number of other financial regulation agencies, and she was later thrown out in the future when a Republican or conservaDem took the White House, she could STILL run for Senate at that time. I guess I just don’t see what the loss would’ve been, nor what the rush was to get Elizabeth Warren into the Senate.