Elizabeth Warren: A Woman of Principle, Baggage and Confusion
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is finally get the attention she deserves.
Elizabeth Warren may be a confused progressive, but she’s also a woman of principle. Her principles cost her a job she really wanted. They may cost the American people more — especially if they help propel her into the White House in 2020.
As I mentioned in my previous piece, the unconstitutional Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was Warren’s brainchild. Warren had claimed Native American heritage, which no doubt helped her land her job as a professor at Harvard Law. So why was she not appointed as director of the bureau?
The short answer is that she had too many well-placed critics.
Before coming to Harvard Law in 1995, she had coauthored several books on bankruptcy law. Other experts in the field subjected this work to withering criticism in respected academic journals. One law professor from the State University of New York at Buffalo criticized her methods and conclusions, which made it impossible for her to confirm her claims.
A professor of economics at the University of Michigan challenged Warren’s treatment of his field: “[The] authors [of this book] are quite hostile to economics, and they attempt to discredit economic models and their predictions.’” And a Rutgers Law School professor even charged Warren and her co-authors with “scientific misconduct” for the way they handled data.
Most of the media treat these scandals as old news. How could she be a bad scholar if she went on to teach at Harvard Law School? But these serious charges were never cleared up. They were ignored.
Warren’s Big Break
Despite withering criticism of her bad scholarship and concern about her grasp of economics, she somehow earned a spot on a commission to study bankruptcy in 1997. This was followed by her big break in 2008. That’s when Senator Harry Reid appointed her to a panel charged with monitoring the recent bank bailouts, a.k.a. the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
This gave her a bully pulpit to rail against lenders and to blame Wall Street greed and deregulation for the crisis. The problem for her career wasn’t that she wasn’t progressive enough. It was that her progressivism was flamboyantly principled rather than merely partisan.
She loved being the watchdog and quickly became a pit bull in her position. She went for the jugular in her questioning of President Obama’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Geithner had helped orchestrate both the bailout of Bear Stearns and the larger TARP bank bailout in September 2008. She pressed him even though Geithner would play a major role in choosing the first director of the CFPB, a post she surely coveted. It’s hard to imagine that her grilling had no effect on Geithner’s choice.
By 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many on Wall Street saw her as a pariah. So, it’s no surprise that she was passed over for the job. Instead, the CFPB directorship was given to Richard Cordray, a credentialed but unassuming Ohio Democrat. Politically, that made sense. Warren was not only a twitchy ideologue who could not be trusted to keep her whistleblowing focused on the issues at hand; she also came with baggage.
As we now know, her claim to Native American ancestry is almost surely false. She also had made big money practicing law in Massachusetts without a license. In the most publicized case, Travelers Insurance paid her $212,000 to represent them in a case with asbestos victims.
The news broke shortly after President Obama nominated Richard Cordray. Perhaps the White House knew about Warren’s actions before the story broke.
Ms. Warren Goes to Washington
But when one door closes, another often opens. In February 2011, Rep. Barney Frank told President Obama that if Warren were passed over for director of the CFPB, she would run for the Senate. She did just that. And she didn’t shy away from touting her role in birthing the new agency. On the campaign trail, she referred to it maternally as a “baby agency.”
Her baggage may have kept her from becoming its first director. But she connected — baggage and all — with Massachusetts voters. She beat incumbent Republican Scott Brown by more than seven points. Firmly in office, she generated buzz about running for president in 2016.
The influence she now wields may be enough to keep her satisfied for the foreseeable future. She sits on the powerful Senate Banking Committee. That’s the perfect perch from which to nurture her bureaucratic offspring, and to test the waters for a run for president in 2020.