President Elizabeth Warren: An Angela Merkel in the Making?
Will 2016 finally bring the arrival of a woman in the Oval Office? How about somebody other than Hillary Clinton?
December 11, 2012
Accidents happen. If Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had not so ardently opposed Elizabeth Warren’s nomination as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she would not have become a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.
She was the driving force behind the agency, set up at long last in the aftermath of the financial crisis, to protect consumers from abusive and predatory lending practices.
But her victory on November 6 over incumbent Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts may do more than just cost the Republicans one seat in the Senate. That single event may end up triggering a whole chain of events.
Her sworn enemies on Wall Street and among conservative activists may have somber visions of her taking a seat on the U.S. Senate’s powerful Banking Committee and becoming a very effective senator, speaking from a position of great knowledge and conviction on behalf of consumers.
But the anti-Warren brigade ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Think about this: The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton may soon step down as Secretary of State to rest up for another presidential run in 2016.
However, the prospect of a Clinton presidency is not particularly appealing, given the dynastic implications. The Democratic Party surely has more options than standing a Clinton every four or eight years (or, perhaps soon, another Kennedy). Likewise, the Republicans hopefully have more depth than reverting to members of the Bush family.
Indeed, a Clinton candidacy could actually lead to a surreal replay of the 1992 Clinton vs. Bush contest, if Team Bush offers up Brother Jeb in the 2016 race.
But if not Clinton, how about Joe Biden? At 74 years on Election Day 2016, he would likely be too old. Biden is also notoriously gaffe-prone, his own worst enemy. Also, the Silver Fox has done enough for his country.
How about the Castros, Julián and Joaquin, two twins so identical that almost nobody would notice which of them was sitting in the Oval Office on any given day? Yes, they are Latino and from Texas.
But they just are too much of a replay of the Barack Obama saga to appear as more than a copycat story, albeit one from a different ethnicity.. Their moment will come, but for now they’ll have to bide their time.
Before Barack Obama emerged, smart political operators predicted that the United States was more likely elect a black man president before a woman. The 2008 race bore this out, when Obama defeated Clinton in the primaries.
Along those lines, it is time to wage a similar forecast: The United States will elect a woman president before a Latino.
Few people have a better and more appealing story and background to seize that opportunity than Elizabeth Warren. Yes, in 2016, she would still be a first-term senator, as Obama was in 2008. And yes, like Obama, she will not have any executive experience, other than running her office staff.
But in 2016, these traits won’t seem so detrimental any longer. Why? Because, after two terms, the Obama Administration will turned out to have been largely successful, even though not transformational, in policy terms.
The major difference between Obama and Warren is that he is cautious and establishment-oriented, while she is folksy, people-oriented and progressive. In 2016, that could seem like a smart way to pass on the Democratic Party torch.
What about the field of potential competitors? Another forecast: 2016 will turn out to be the Year of the Woman in U.S. presidential politics.
It is high time to eradicate a real blot on the U.S. political record. Other than the United States, only Russia and China, among major nations, have not had a woman at its helm. That is not such welcome company.
If this forecast turns out to be on target, it narrows the field of Warren’s competition by way more than half — since the field of presidential candidates is almost always exclusively male.
For any candidate for the Oval Office, what is always key is to have a compelling life story to run on. Elizabeth Warren has that.
She is not a professional politician. Unlike Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat’s leader in the House of Representatives, she is not part of a politically-connected family. She is from a working-class background, with a father who was a janitor and who, after suffering a heart attack, suffered financial distress from mounting medical bills.
Warren grew up in Oklahoma and pulled herself up gradually. She began her academic career in Texas and focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy. She wrote several books, beginning with As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America and The Fragile Middle Class.
Her writings also far transcended the academic sector, in particular her 2003 book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke.
So yes, she is an academic — but she also is a very smart firebrand. She believes in things. She can start campaigns. It was her vision and persistence that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Her main issue — ensuring fair play for and safeguarding the financial soundness of the American middle class — can easily transcend party boundaries, and thus has bipartisan potential with regard to the electorate.
And even though recent statistics show that individual debt is falling at the fastest rate in 50 years (mostly owing to bankruptcies, however), America remains a nation buried in debt — whether home mortgages, credit cards or student loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Elizabeth Warren envisioned has the potential, despite its bureaucratic name, to be very relevant to Americans’ daily lives.
In fact, it could become as relevant as the Environmental Protection Agency has become. That is precisely why corporate lobbyists despise both of these institutions so much and miss no opportunity to vilify the people who lead them or champion their agendas.
What in Republican times would represent a major liability turns into a badge of honor and credibility in Democratic times. That Elizabeth Warren made the CFPB happen, despite massive resistance from the Republican Party and its donors on Wall Street, is a admirable demonstration of her effectiveness.
Thus, unlike the young, pre-presidential Obama, Warren does not have to worry about answering questions about whether she has ever accomplished anything at the federal legislative level. She certainly has.
Plus, as the campaign unfurls, many more aspects of Warren’s story would come in handy. She taught children with special needs at a public school in New Jersey and later was a stay-at-home mom before enrolling in law school. These are the kinds of biographical details that connect with Republican-leaning women.
OK, none of this adds up to Romney-esque executive experience. Warren also lacks know-how in military and national security matters. But in a country suffering a hangover from ten-plus years of war, voters may be ready to focus more exclusively on what their leaders can do at home.
With regard to political reality, Elizabeth Warren certainly has something of an Angela Merkel about her. As the record shows, Merkel has done political wonders in Germany, a country that, like the United States, still has its quite paternalistic side. And she has been very solid in European and global affairs, even though she did not have any prior foreign policy experience.
Furthermore, Warren could assemble quite a cabinet of gloriously gutsy women, with a modicum of men thrown in for good measure, that would allay any doubts about her own experience.
Imagine Sheila Bair at Treasury. Teresa Sullivan, currently the president of the University of Virginia and co-author of two books with Warren, as Secretary of Education. Esther George as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Or Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
In other words, President Warren could quite easily assemble an administration that would give ordinary Americans hope that the system won’t always be rigged in favor of the moneyed classes.
She can give the lower-middle class reason to believe in such a thing as the American Dream. They know she cares about them and that she has — and will — fight for their material interests ferociously.
2016 will turn out to be the Year of the Woman in U.S. presidential politics.
The major difference between Obama and Warren is that he is cautious and establishment-oriented, while she is folksy and people-oriented.
A Clinton candidacy could actually lead to a surreal replay of the 1992 Clinton vs. Bush contest, if Team Bush offers up Brother Jeb in the 2016 race.
Other than the United States, only Russia and China, among major nations, have not had a woman at its helm.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Warren envisioned has the potential, despite its bureaucratic name, to be very relevant to Americans' daily lives.