Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wish I'd Written That: Rebecca Traister on Elizabeth Warren

In "Heaven is a Place Called Elizabeth Warren," Rebecca Traister achieves a perfect mix of sympathy and detachment.   Reading a bit beyond the bare text, I carry off three takeaways:

One: Traister wonders if perhaps Warren would rather have a fight than win a fight:

While fighting for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren told The Huffington Post that if she didn’t wind up with a strong consumer agency, her second choice would be “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor,” a phrase that has already been overlaid on images of Wall Street protesters in a Republican attack ad. Questioned at the time on CNBC about words that sounded “unnecessarily aggressive,” Warren replied: “Gee, I don’t know. That doesn’t seem aggressive at all to me.”
Is she enjoying the thought of all those blood and teeth on the floor?--asks the reader, and perhaps Traister as well.

Two: maybe middle class voters will not enjoy being cast as victims:

Some critics also argue that Warren will need to recalibrate her message so that it is less about the terrible things that have befallen the middle class and more about how voters can empower themselves. “The danger of her campaign is that it is predicated on the notion that people are victims,” says Jim Kessler, a senior vice president for policy at Third Way and former policy director for Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York. “If her entire campaign is about how people need to be rescued from powerful forces around them, I think it will be more limited in its appeal than what it could be.”
The third point is more difficult to put your finger on, but it has something to do with the disconnect between voter expectations and the realities of politics anytime, anywhere.  Let's stipulate that politics is in any case, as Weber said,, the slow boring of hard boards.  Let's concede also that the electorate isn't interested in that insight any more (if ever it was).  The electorate sees any talk of slow-boring as a cop-out; the electorate thinks it is time for takin' names and kickin' ass.  Reading Traister, it remains from clear--I think Traister is unclear, and perhaps Warren herself is unclear--just what Warren makes of this point. Traister winds up with a wonderful anecdote about Barney Frank:

Warren described her motivation to enter politics by recalling the time Barney Frank called her to the Capitol during the first days of writing the latest financial-regulation bill. Warren didn’t understand much about the process but observed as representatives argued about individual issues until Frank asked, “Can everybody live with that?” When he was met with nods, he said, “Done!” and aides wrote down the agreed-upon language. Warren watched the process several times before Frank asked if anyone had anything else to add.
“I said, ‘What about credit-reporting agencies?’ ” Warren said, noting that the bill should include monitoring to make sure those companies engaged in fair practices. “Barney looks around the room and says, ‘Anybody got a problem with that?’ And they say, ‘No,’ and he says ‘Done!’ and everybody writes it down. I thought, Whooaah.” Credit-reporting jurisdiction was added to the bill. “That was the first time,” she said, “that I understood — and real well — what it means to be in the room.”
The reflective reader will mutter--ah, how true, how true.  But then: you're just learning that now? Didn't understand much about the process?  This, from a career-long crusader for consumer rights?  Is Warren just now discovering that politics is the slow boring of hard boards?  Or is she merely fashioning her heard-earned experience into a parable for the voters?  Either way, what to you do with it?  How do you integrate the slow-boring Warren with the Warren who enjoys the sight of blood and teeth on the floor?  I don't think Traister knows, and I certainly don't know.  But the way things seem to be going in Massachusetts, we might just get a chance to find out.  

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