I first heard about Elizabeth Warren when she was being interviewed on PBS by Bill Moyers in the early 2004. She was bright and insightful about consumer finances. She had just written a book about the “Two Income Trap” and had all sorts of insights into real estate, jobs and family and consumer debt. I remember calling Mom and Dad about this remarkable woman I saw on TV who seemed to understand so much.
Over the years, I have heard her interviewed as a talking head on PBS and news/commentary shows. I read two of her books and was delighted to hear that she served on a panel to oversee TARP spending and that she later became a Senator. This enthusiasm for Warren’s policies and her effectiveness as a leader has continued to this day.
Reasons to Support Warren
Here are some reasons for why I support Warren so much:
During the Obama administration, She did an outstanding job of overseeing TARP funds and establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (disclosure: that agency helped me recover 500$ from a credit card company!)
She understands consumer debt and has some ideas about how to rectify the imbalance of power between the consumer and corporation.
She is very diligent about complying with the law. Does anyone think that Warren would refuse legal subpoenas from Congress?
She has an excellent practical mind with regard to regulatory structures.
She is intimately familiar with how corporations work, how they are supposed to work and how they sometimes fail to work.
She has personal experience with unusual family finances and the complexity of poverty.
She is extremely skeptical about policy proposals and at the same time very open-minded to unconventional solutions.
She is an inspired speaker, very witty and knows when to stop talking (i.e., not a windbag). She speaks very precisely. She would not be distracted by Trump’s name-calling; indeed her retorts on Twitter are often more effective rhetorically than anything Trump could try.
She has outstanding persuasive ability and especially good at arguing policy details to CEOs, politicians and thought-leaders.
Her personal story is compelling and remarkable. Her meteoric rise from special ed teacher to bankruptcy teacher at Harvard is remarkable and entirely deserved.
She is running not for personal reasons but because she has a compelling vision of government and justice. She wants to change the system, and becoming president is only a secondary consideration.
She can talk to experts and has shown herself capable of absorbing policy nuances while not being beholden to these same experts. For example, I follow climate change policy very closely — which was definitely not one of Warren’s core issues. I heard her talk for 30 minutes at a CNN town forum and she revealed a deep understanding of this issue nonetheless. (Her campaign plans indicate as such). Clearly Warren had done her homework. Similarly, I didn’t expect Warren to have nuanced opinions on foreign policy, but I am satisfied with almost all her public responses on the subject. All this tells me that she has assembled a top brain trust.
She has written several well-researched books on policy and shows herself capable of analyzying quantitative information. Plus, she co-wrote two books with her daughter (which I think is so cool!)
Warren is fearless and unafraid to ruffle a few feathers.
Despite being labeled as anti-capitalist, Warren would be a crusader for policies with long term payoffs to our economy(i.e., infrastructure, education, technology). She’s not the type to ignore problems.
On policy matters, Warren is way ahead of the curve. She would be a good person to start enforcing antitrust rules more vigorously. She has proposed an interesting plan to use corporate charters on public corporations to encourage fair compensation and sound corporate management.
She has a profound understanding of why the political processes are dysfunctional and doesn’t pretend that every problem can be solved with more bipartisanship.
She is unabashed about admitting when a policy has failed.
I agree with Warren that the current health care system is basically unfixable. It is convenient and easy for politicians to support halfway measures, but it takes courage to admit when something is failing even if the solution will be disruptive.
Reservations/Concerns about Warren
Ok, let me mention some things which I think are potential problems with Warren:
- She is somewhat impatient with people who disagree with her or make irrational points.
- She tends to believe that everything can be solved by new laws and better laws and better enforcement. She’s not wrong, of course, but part of being an effective leader is garnering support and designing policies compatible with social norms.
- She is not hemmed in by the need to appease special interest groups. This can be good, but this limits her ability to build consensus.
- She has been unfairly vilified and mocked by conservative politicians and press. Although she has responded appropriately, I think she lets it get under her skin a tad too much.
- She is most comfortable with her wonk hat and while that is great overall, it could alienate people who don’t exactly agree with her.
- Surprisingly, she has lukewarm support from some of Obama’s top officials. Some have claimed that she is not much of a team-player (I’m fine with that, but it might not be the best quality a president can have).
- Although Warren fights for the middle class and started out in middle class herself, she may have lost touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans. That is probably true for most people running for president. But Warren has been at Harvard for a long time.
- I worry somewhat about Warren’s ability to live with compromises. So far she has worn the hat of the uncompromising debater. I don’t doubt Warren’s pragmatism, but I worry that she may waste time and energy chasing windmills.
Warren vs. the Alternatives.
I believe that the current slate of Dem. presidential candidates is nothing short of phenomenal. I voted for Bernie in the 2016 primary, and I admire his commitment and empathy and tirelessness. He’s an American hero. Despite her incremental approach to health care reform, I think Klobuchar is a sharp politician (and really funny too). She has a command of many issues and lots of empathy for people. Mayor Pete is also a prodigy of sorts. He brings a fresh approach to progressive issues with an ounce of morality and genuine religion. It would certainly be amazing if he won the nomination. If anything, both he and Bernie have shown that age is just a number and that youth can be an advantage too.
Joe Biden doesn’t immediately impress on the debate stage, but those who know him best say that he is great working behind closed doors. He is warm and passionate and probably has a Rolodex bigger than anyone’s. (Then again, they said the same things about Hillary).
I also admired Inslee and Steyer for their commitment to making climate change a front burner issue. I would love to see either one running a department or agency. Same for Castro.
All of these candidates are great and exceptional in their own way, but I feel Warren is what our country needs now.
Warren is a fighter and crusader
The current political environment calls for a fighter and crusader, and Warren is the perfect person for that role.
Warren is not only the best fighter for progressive causes, she’s also the best one to restore respect for law in the federal government. Warren can talk the talk of the business world and devise workable policies on broad economic issues which have been ignored for too long. I worry about Warren’s ability to build bridges with political enemies, but I do not doubt her ability to change the agenda and devise workable solutions.
Elizabeth Warren’s agenda might piss some people off, but that’s a result of the times. The US economic and political system is severely broken — it has been broken for at least a decade. As good and visionary as Obama was as president, he failed to appreciate how deeply entrenched some interests are against change. That’s why Obama had to settle for a reduced stimulus package, had to settle for a health care policy that could be broken by a Republican-led government, and had to settle for a climate change policy that set a clear direction without actually making much headway.
Obama certainly tried. He tried to be bipartisan, but the Republicans under McConnell just played the game of obstructionism which damaged both the economy and our government. Later Trump and his brand of extremism poisoned social norms and encouraged a contempt for the law. The Trump Administration has continued unchecked. Sure, everything they do is challenged by the court, but Trump can keep appealing (and delaying) to the point where his policies have been in effect for months (or years) before having to be walked back.
Warren will have none of that. She is a lawyer by training who has spent most of her adult lives understanding the intricacies of legal structures. Maybe other Democrat candidates could do the same thing, but Warren is the best person to set a new norm for agencies in the executive branch.
How do you fight moral depravity?
Trump has corrupted our discourse. He rewards moral depravity. He uses abusive language. He lies without compunction. His press spokespeople all repeat Trump’s nonsense. Citizens of USA (and other countries) have learned to mistrust (and even laugh at) the pronouncements of our President.
I’m not sure how a society recovers from Trump’s continuous assault on language, but a law professor sounds like the ideal person to lead the effort. I would also expect her to appoint leaders who are accountable and transparent and don’t try to bludgeon their political opponents by shouting them down.
Warren has made many speeches that turned out to be breakout moments. She is a dynamic speaker and debater who repeatedly rises to the occasion. Polarizing? Maybe. Can she beat a man who uses fascist tactics to intimidate people? Warren is the last person who would ever be intimidated. Moral depravity will not be defeated by someone with more money, or someone who can talk to Bubbas or quote Scripture. It will be defeated by someone who doesn’t abuse language, who knows the law and can keep the focus on what is right and what is true.
In her capacity as legislator and regulator, Warren has had to deal with CEO types used to getting their way and being treated as heroes. It’s been remarkable to watch Warren grill these people in the Senate. You might say it’s just political showmanship, but it has a purpose: to make clear that no one is above the law, no matter how powerful. I fully trust Warren to run a government which is answerable to all citizens — and not just the wealthy few with the most influence.
(See also: my predictions for the 2021 election).
Postscript: It is with absolutely no shame that I link to a much better written endorsement of Warren by Vox’s Ezra Klein. Although Klein covers more detail and hits many of the same talking points, Klein also notes her prowess at recruiting and hiring (a key skill for executives!)
When I asked Warren what people didn’t understand about the powers federal agencies wielded, that was her answer. “Personnel is policy here,” she replied. “The tools are already embedded in the agencies. It’s just going to take somebody to pick them up and use them.”
The tricky thing about this part of Warren’s worldview is that no candidate would really argue with it. They all agree that personnel matters, that choosing good people and managing them well is important. But there’s a difference between knowing it and prioritizing it, between saying it and doing it. For Warren, putting the right people in the right jobs — and, just as importantly, keeping the wrong people out of those jobs — is an obsession, and she spends her political capital accordingly.