Thursday, September 22, 2011

Elizabeth Warren meets Politics

I've known Elizabeth Warren (the newly minted Massachusetts senate candidate) on a slightly-more-than-casual basis for 30-odd years now.  We've had our differences--still do, strictly speaking--but basically, I like her: I think she is smart, funny, well informed and mostly on the side of the angels.  If I were registered in Massachusetts, I'm sure I'd vote for her in a heartbeat, even against the not-nearly-awful-as-some-of-them Scott Brown.  The moreso as I see the kind of silliness (though highly predictable) that she is encountering in her campaign.  Start with the assertion that she is (as the Fiscal Times puts it, perhaps reporting) "a liberal academic from Cambridge whose Harvard ties put her out of touch with working families..."    Ha!  I suspect you can't find anybody on the Harvard faculty whose middle-class, even populist, bona fides are better than Elizabeth's.  Indeed ironically, that's the real beef with her: she idealizes, romanticizes this hypothetical "middle class" of honest, hard-working Americans, in no way the authors of their own misfortune: there's a streak in Elizabeth (sometimes well-obscured) that is positively Teapartian.

You can see all this in her personal story as well. Elizabeth wasn't born with a big "H" tattooed on her forehead: she has scratched her way up the whole distance (Wiki has particulars).  She went to law school at (gasp!) Rutgers (from whence the great Alan Axelrod, now deceased, spoke proudly of her as one of his best students).   The path from Newark to Cambridge was a long slog.

If being a Friend of the People is suspect, Fiscal Times lobs another one past her: "she isn't anti-bank."  Or worse, that she has allies in the banking cabal: the quote comes in an E-mail from Rich Levin, who heads the restructuring practice at Cravath, Swain & Moore.  She's going to have to live with the curse of a Levin endorsement, I suppose--but the irony here is that I can't think of any big-firm bankruptcy bigfoot (and I know a few) who is more detached, more you-should-pardon-the-expression professorial than Rich.  Back when he was a tad, he was one of the scrivener-drafters of our present Bankruptcy Code and he's always approached the subject with a spirit of detached inquiry that approaches the unseemly in a practicing lawyer.  If Rich thinks that she "isn't anti-bank," it's not just that he's ring-fencing his clients,  Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to find that Rich's clients would wish that he'd ring-fence them a little more.

The final item worth noting at the moment is  a  video "ricocheting around the Internet," (so says the FT ) in which Elizabeth declares that   “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”  Boyoboy.  Like I've said too often, I have my differences with Elizabeth but I can't think of any sentence (two sentences) that I'd sign on to so unreservedly.  Short tall, rich poor, freckled plain, we are the sum of a gazillion choices and accidents, the tip of a pyramid over which we have almost no control.  One of the great human vices is to forget where you came from.  One of the great virtues is to dance with the one who brung you.  If this were an exam, then on both these issues, Elizabeth would get an A plus.


Seth said...

"... the real beef with her: she idealizes, romanticizes this hypothetical "middle class" of honest, hard-working Americans, in no way the authors of their own misfortune ..."

Yes, the middle class *should* have recognized in about 1975 that their real standard of living was not going to grow for a generation. Had they anticipated the next 30 years, they would have worked harder, saved more, avoided debt, changed careers, ...

blah, blah, blah

Did Wall Street do any of those things? Prudent, long-term planning? Hah! Quick fixes every quarter is their only plan.

I think Warren's brand of morality -- which I largely agree with -- is that in a completely asymmetric power relationship, the POWERFUL party needs to exercise restraint. So, for example, the credit card companies need to be regulated to stop offering financial crack to potential junkies.

While I agree any individual *can* make better choices, it's unrealistic to expect ALL of them to do so ALL of the time. And as long as there are suckers, there will be grifters to exploit them, while singing, "it's all about the Benjamins, baby!"

Good for Warren. She's reminding people that *community* is a value too.

Anonymous said...

As an outsider looking in on American politics and economic affairs Elizabeth Warren's emergence is one of the few signs of hope for the future. American politics have a huge effect on the rest of the world and we have next to nil influence on the whole process of electing representatives