I’m smitten with Elizabeth Warren—I mean, really, just smitten with her.
And it’s not only because she’s a citizen’s champion, a modern, political Robin Hood where “the rich” are replaced by “the overentitled” and “the poor” by “the common middle-classer.” Truly, there’s so much more to her than that.
Just who is this Elizabeth Warren, you may ask?
If you don’t already know much about Elizabeth Warren, allow me to give you a little glimpse into what, to my mind, makes someone a modern American hero.
The senior (and first female) U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and a current member of the Democratic party, Warren voted Republican prior to 1995, because she believed that party to be the more supportive of a market economy. When she no longer believed this to be true of the Republican party, she switched her party affiliation.
Far more than a public policy pundit, her active consumer protection advocacy and academic and popular authorship have championed the middle class and the health of our market system from the most honest and principled basis one can imagine.
But let me tell you a little more about how she got to be where she is today because, you know, when you love somebody, you really want people to know why.
Elizabeth Warren was raised in Oklahoma by Depression-era parents. Her family suffered their own struggles with finances after her father’s heart attack, when Warren was just 12. She was inducted early into the workforce as a waitress to contribute to her family’s income while, at the same time, continuing to excel in school.
A high school debate champion, she earned a debate scholarship to George Washington University at the age of 16. After college, she taught children with disabilities and decided to attend law school several years later, following the birth of her first child. She went on to practice law and then to teach it at several universities around the country including such prestigious institutions as the Universities of Pennsylvania and Michigan as well as Harvard.
Further demonstrating her commitment to her roots and her beliefs, her research focused on bankruptcy and middle-class personal finance. A strong consumer advocate, she testified against efforts to limit consumers’ ability to file for bankruptcy when she was the Chief Adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission in the mid-1990s.
She was appointed as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the $700 billion bank bailout effort in 2008, and she advocated strongly for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which was established in 2010.
Republican Congressional members and financial institutions rallied against her appointment as permanent director of the Bureau, fearing she would regulate too fervently. Despite this opposition, she got her regulatory merit badge anyway, with her assignment to the Senate Banking Committee (the committee that oversees the regulation of the banking industry) at the end of last year.
Just what makes her so dreamy, this Elizabeth Warren?
Elizabeth Warren is most certainly a force to be reckoned with—and the Day of Reckoning is fast approaching for the duality-mongers standing at the helms of our country’s financial institutions.
Every time I watch a video of her ensnaring senior Treasury Department line-toers with her tireless yet unemotional barrage of forthright questioning, I find myself giddy with delight, the likes of which I can only compare to my childhood squeals of “Again! Again!” when my cousin’s boyfriend would throw me up in the air, two feet over his six-foot-tall head, and catch me just before I peed my pants.
This effusive payment of political homage is strange for me, because I wouldn’t consider myself a political person at all. Heck, I don’t even read the newspaper or watch the news anymore (which would, by all accounts, make me the equivalent of a political shut-in).
But there’s just something about this no-nonsense Massachusetts senator that makes the upending of the country’s banking industry via its own troglodytic morality more tantalizing (to me, at least) than whatever reality television show happens to be tantalizing to the vast majority of American television viewers at any given moment.
It makes me want to talk about her all the time, to share the gift to American politics that I think she is with friends and complete strangers alike. Because I think she’s onto something so elegantly simple that it evades the commonplace complications offered by our political structure.
And I think her thinking has the power to change the world.
Reasoning in a recent Senate committee hearing that if minimum wage had increased at a rate directly proportionate to the increase in worker productivity just since 1960, the current minimum wage would be about $22 an hour. In making her case for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to just over $10 an hour over the next few years, who could argue with the reasonableness of this proposal?
Warren hit a grand slam when all she needed to do was get on base—and she did it with a combination of finesse and sheer horsepower that has proven to be her signature style.
As I watched her methodically and steadfastly rip new orifices in the derrières of bank and bank regulation officials who rest on laurels woven from fronds of the “too big to fail” institutional mindset, something remarkably obvious struck me about why she stands out like a healthy thumb in a sea of sore ones:
Elizabeth Warren pierces the politico-corporate veil to reveal mortals acting without connection to or admission of their own humanity; she is the sun to a wash of political Icaruses.
In other words, she calls people on their shit. And I, for one, don’t mind watching them squirm about it.
Remarkably, she’s touted for asking “tough questions,” but the reality is that she asks exceedingly simple questions, questions so simple and direct that there is no way to avoid answering them directly without looking like a git. Or like you know you’ve done something wrong.
In her first Senate Banking Committee hearing last month, she posed the following question: “When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial?”
Not a tough question at all, right? It doesn’t ask for an explanation or a qualification; it asks simply for a date.
Senator Warren posed this same question—five different times, in the course of four minutes of questioning—to a panel of bank regulators representing several branches of the American financial regulatory structure—and not a single person on the panel was willing to answer her question directly.
And why not answer, if the answer is so simple?
Because the answer, as we all know, is that it’s never been done—and this answer is tantamount to an admission that these governmental agencies charged with regulating our nation’s financial institutions are simply not willing to hold them accountable for their illegal actions.
But what impresses me more than her posing simple questions with intentionality and tenacity, is that Elizabeth Warren humanizes the logical ramifications of a banking industry that does not abide by the same rules that bind the rest of the human citizens in this country.
She goes that step further to remind us all that regular citizens get prosecuted every day for far less egregious crimes. The impact is vastly less insidious to our society than those committed by large-scale financial institutions, yet these people are made examples, daily, through the prosecution of their crimes, while entire institutions are issued no more than wrist-slap with fines that are but drops in the bucket of the financial tidings they garner from their criminal behaviors.
In so doing, Warren poses this simple question: why are these institutions, comprised of individuals, above the kind of prosecution that each individual in this country would be subject to for far less systematic and purposeful crimes?
In other words, she challenges the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do form of government, and her adversaries are all clad the Emperor’s clothes and feeling downright uncomfortable about it.
Although imminently capable of it, Elizabeth Warren does not need to engage in advanced critical thinking when she demands accountability from our corporate and governmental officials. But it’s precisely because this sort of demand is so rare to see in today’s political arena that the rest of us are left with our mouths agape every time she does it.
Her brilliance rests in her simplicity; she asks easy questions that are painful to answer, and one can but regale in the rapier precision of her execution.
Elizabeth Warren, Ideologue?
The other night, I randomly mentioned during a FaceTime call with my youngest brother (who happens to be an attorney practicing for a big D.C. law firm) how much I love Elizabeth Warren, hoping to elicit some sort of exuberant, brotherly buy-in response, like “Yeah, she’s righteous,” or “Right?! Can you believe how amazing she is?”
Instead, I got the thudding kind of silence one can only get from a baby brother during a FaceTime call, either because he’s watching a sports event on television or because he’s incredulous about something I’ve just said.
“You still there?”
“Well?!?! Don’t you love her, too?”
“Because. She’s an ideologue.”
Precisely; this is precisely why I love Elizabeth Warren. Because she’s an ideologue.
She really believes that our government should be principled. She really believes that our financial markets should be rid of unfair practices that shield financial institutions from accountability in situations where individuals would rot in jail.
And she’s bound and determined to bring pressure to bear on our elected officials to unearth these unprincipled practices and to bring justice back into our governing systems.
The Ice-T Cometh.
So, to my baby brother, and to those who would banish the ideologue Elizabeth Warren to the Siberian tundra of a fantasy politics league, I quote the immortal words of Ice-T,
“Don’t hate the playa; hate the game.”
I love Elizabeth Warren because she demands the truth and exacts accountability in a system that rewards evasive action.
In a society fraught with mixed messages and chasms that stand between what is expected and what is accepted, Elizabeth Warren has the gall to insist on honesty and fair play.
So what do Elizabeth Warren and Ice-T have in common, you ask?
I don’t really have an answer for that. But I do know that I love Elizabeth Warren, and I vote.
I bet Ice-T votes, too.
Sarah Rosenberg runs with scissors, eats with her fingers, and lets her dogs kiss her on the mouth. She lives and breathes as the grateful shepherd of her nearly-nine-year-old daughter, whose old soul belies her young bodily incarnation. Sarah’s writing creates fissures in her seemingly hard surface, allowing slivers of brilliant light to shine out from within. She is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise