Elizabeth Warren, the Senate’s New Progressive Voice

© Josh Sager – March 2013

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In 2012, the state of Massachusetts elected Elizabeth Warren to replace Scott Brown as one of the two Senators sent to Washington to represent the state in the Senate. Elizabeth Warren, a tenured professor at Harvard and architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, won handily over the incumbent Senator Brown, capturing 53.7% of the vote to Brown’s 46.2%.

During her campaign, Elizabeth Warren ran on a progressive platform of investment, tax fairness and the protection of the average citizen from exploitation by the powerful. Her work setting up the CFPB and arguing in favor of the middle class gave her credibility and allowed her to combat the incumbent advantage of Senator Brown. As opposed to Senator Warren’s platform, Brown’s political platform largely consisted of the arguments that Elizabeth Warren was not a real Native American and that he was a moderate enough Republican that he would only vote for 85% of the conservative reactionary agenda. To the citizens of MA, the choice between these platforms was clear.

While he had few real things to add to the policy debate, Senator Brown did make a very interesting comment during his Senatorial debate with Senatorial candidate Warren:

“Can you imagine 100 Professor Warrens down there, placing blame and raising taxes?”

–Scott Brown, 2012 MA Senatorial Candidate Debate—

Senator Brown was clearly trying to invoke the idea of a hundred Elizabeth Warrens in the Senate as something scary and terrible—like a melding of the inquisition and a socialist takeover. He expected people to recoil from Mrs. Warren’s perceived “extremism” and voter for him as the safe, “moderate” choice. Fortunately, he was wrong and the people of Massachusetts were not afraid of sending Warren to Washington as their representative.

Ironically, Senator Brown’s characterization of Senator Warren as an unusual politician is actually correct: Senator Warren stands out among most other Senators on the issues of taxation and financial regulations in that she actually wants our regulators to enforce the law and our taxes to be fairly distributed among the income levels. Many other legislators are perfectly happy to let the banks continue getting away with their crimes (if only to keep the political donations flowing), but Elizabeth Warren has taken the “extreme” stance that banks which break the law should actually be punished.

Other than Senator Warren, how many politicians in office today have been brave enough to stand up to the financial sector, political opposition, and ineffective, revolving-door appointed regulators? Here are two of the best quotes from the first several months of Elizabeth Warren’s work on the Senate Banking committee:

  • “There are district attorneys and U.S. attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds. And taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that too big to fail has become too big for trial.” – 2/14/2013

  • “The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans and on credit reports.” – 3/7/2013

The thing is, I can imagine a hundred politicians like Elizabeth Warren in the Washington legislature—such a legislature would be drastically superior to what we have now. If we had a federal legislature filled with politicians who, like Senator Warren, were willing to stand up to entrenched interests our government might actually begin to function again. In such a world, our financial institutions wouldn’t be able to get away with crashing the economy for a short-term personal profit and then getting friendly politicians to give them massive bailouts.

When I imagine 100 Senator Warrens in the legislature, I think of a lawmaking body that might actually have a chance to pass laws that protect Main Street over Wall Street. I imagine a legislature that is willing to stand up to moneyed interests in service to its constituents. I imagine a group of legislators who might actually prevent the next banker-induced economic crash from ever happening.

While it is undeniable that words are meaningless without actions to support them, Elizabeth Warren has spent much of her few months in office presenting a strong progressive case against the excesses of Wall Street. If her future voting record is consistent with her recent speeches, I have no doubt that Senator Warren will become one of the strongest and most influential progressives in our federal legislature. I, for one, support Elizabeth Warren and would hope that all other progressives would follow suit.

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