Obama, Banks and Electability: Elizabeth Warren Knows Too Much

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Vanity Fair contributing editor Suzanna Andrews  talks about Elizabeth Warren's battles with bankers and her campaign to challenge Scott Brown as Senator from Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Warren—former candidate for the Consumer Protection Bureau, current candidate for Massachusetts Senate, and rising folks hero of the left—shows no sign of stopping.

Before the financial crisis hit the country in 2008, Andrews said, Warren was already a bankruptcy expert, a contract law expert and a banking expert.

She had come to that [banking expertise] as a result of many years of study of the economic forces that were bearing down on the middle class. So she came well armed.

In 1979, Warren, then a college professor and registered Republican, set out to cover middle class bankruptcies, expecting to find at fault cheaters and people bilking the system. Instead Warren found that most bankruptcies took place in American families facing catastrophic illness or divorce or some other crisis, and these families had consequentially lost everything they had. Andrews said this extensive study was the most comprehensive ever done, and what Warren learned in the course of it determined her vision for the country.

She said it completely changed her vision, and indeed it changed her whole life because that was the beginning of her thirty years of study and activism.

The deregulation of the banks under President Reagan and the breakdown of the Glass-Steagall Act alarmed Warren, as did the increase of risk taking by banks and the selling of debt.

Banks, for their part, are alarmed by Warren, and have tried to paint her as a liar and a publicity hound.

They see her as the devil incarnate. I mean, I’m quoting from bankers. An idiot. Any way to undermine her.

In fact, a large part of the threat she poses to banks, said Andrews, comes from the depth and breadth of her knowledge of the industry. Andrews said the banking industry often uses Congress members’ inexperience to their advantage, even offering conferences on understanding financial issues—sponsored by the banking industry.

So it goes deep. The whole framework of understanding is framed by the banking industry, and Elizabeth Warren came in with her own knowledge and she challenged it.

Andrews said much of the frustration being given vent at Occupy Wall Street and elsewhere is in response to the resistance from large corporations toward contributing to their community citizenship. Warren often cites General Electric, which pays no taxes at all, as indicative of the inclination of wealth generating corporations to resist sharing that wealth with anyone outside of shareholders.

A lot of big corporations have tax loopholes that small business don’t, so there’s a division, even among banks. There’s a great deal of opposition to Elizabeth Warren from the largest banks.

Smaller community banks, said Andrews, tend to be much less opposed to Warren and also are exempt from many of the regulations that the Consumer Protection Bureau would impose.

There have been a number of calls for Warren to challenge Obama for president. Andrews has characterized the relationship between the two as fraught.

[Obama] was under pressure from some members of his own administration, most notably Timothy Geithner, not to appoint her. Members of Congress, including Democrats, Christopher Dodd in particular, disliked her.

Andrews said a lot of men find Warren’s assertiveness off-putting. Dodd, despite being one of the namesakes of the Dodd-Frank ruling which created the CPB, was against the Bureau’s creation and lobbied against it—a move which Warren opposed, fiercely and publicly.

Andrews agreed with Barney Frank's claim that one reason Elizabeth Warren didn’t get the nomination was sexism, but suggested that dynamics between Warren and the administration likely contributed as well.

She was a discomfort to the Obama administration. She was articulate, she was charismatic, and she articulated the message that I think a lot of Obama supporters had expected him to, and he didn’t.

President Obama explained his decision not to nominate Warren by saying that she was such a lightning rod for conservatives that she could never have been nominated, but Andrews finds that explanation lacking, as no nominee would have been likely to be confirmed. 

Obama didn’t move the ball forward by skipping over Elizabeth Warren. He didn’t avoid the fight. It just dropped.


In today's segment, the Brian Lehrer show played snippets of this video, created by supporters of Warren's Senate campaign:


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Comments [24]

Why settle for Senate? The top seat is in need of some direction and integrity!!

Oct. 14 2011 12:46 PM
dboy from nyc

I ❤ Liz Warren!!!

Oct. 14 2011 12:26 PM
Henry from Manhattan

The rich have more to lose if the state (law, order and defense) collapses (or changes too quickly).

The guy selling fruit on the corner, he’ll sell fruit on the corner in any regime. It’s in the wealthy’s best interest to pay a larger share of taxes because they depend on stability far more and would have far more to lose if the population should take to the streets demanding revolution (and their heads.)

So yeah, the rich can get into their limousines and private jets by stepping over the wretched masses that will eventually get tired of such nonsense and revolt, or the rich can pay a bit more in taxes, walk past a more contented population, and still get into their limousines and private jets. Win, win.

Oct. 13 2011 10:54 AM
Tom from PA

Given a choice, I'd vote for her for sure.

Oct. 13 2011 10:42 AM
Stephen from Manhattan

The Occupy Wall Street protesters must LOVE Elizabeth Warren as much as I do. Why is SHE not running for president? She's certainly got more brains in her pinkie fingernail than any one of the wannabe Republican candidate.

Oct. 13 2011 10:40 AM

last caller had me rolling on the floor laughing.

how would she automatically win the nomination? most of the electorate doesn't know who she is and he's an incumbent *within* the party.

Oct. 13 2011 10:38 AM
Sam from NY

Ms. Warren appears to be one of only a handful of people who advocates for the little people. We presently are resigned over the not-outside-the-box appointees of Mr. O to oversee Wall St. Look at someone called Greenspan, who had the guts to say "I thought Wall St. would self-regulate...." An 80-year-old still ignorant of the ugly human nature. Why do we need government to (hopefully) keep things right in the first place?

Oct. 13 2011 10:37 AM

Only trolls post that Obama has failed. They talk about his term in the past tense in order to connive people into thinking that it has already happened. Save your NLP/Jedi mind tricks for a forum of weaker minds....

Obama hasn't failed. The Congress and the electorate have failed. Obama's advisors undersized the amount of disgust that Americans had for the system that works to make them poorer. They truly could not believe the amount of power they had bee given.

The GOP solutions offered - Romney or Perry or Cain(!) aren't going to get the economy on track any faster.
Vote for Obama and vote for a progressive Congress so we can change the fundamentals of money and power and how wealth is handed from one generation to the next in our nation.

Oct. 13 2011 10:37 AM
Henry from Manhattan

The parody video is here, but here’s a link to Elizabeth Warren’s actual media sensation speech:

Oct. 13 2011 10:37 AM
michael leslie from manhattan

I was going nuts with rage over what I had observed as astonishing chicanery in the credit card industry and nothing was being said. Elizabeth Warren was speaking in a high school cafateria in Vermont about this abuse and I drove two hours and a ferry ride to see her with Bernie Saunders and it was then that I knew she was the real thing. I will contribute to her campaign for senate and hope she wins. She is our Jimmy Stewart

Oct. 13 2011 10:36 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Gary - banks have raised everyone's fees because they are simply greedy. Don't drink their cool aid.

Oct. 13 2011 10:36 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To be fair, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, most roads, to the extent that they existed at all, were built by feudal land lords who charged tolls for their use. Governments took over the responsibility for road and bridge building in more recent times again. And some of it is being privatized yet again.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s there was hardly any consumer credit available. There was some store credit, lay-a-ways and such, but no credit cards except for the very rich. That began to proliferate in the late '60s and '70s. If you needed money desperately, you probably had to go to the loan sharks and pay God knows what, sometimes LITERALLY an arm or a leg or both! :)

Oct. 13 2011 10:35 AM
Andrew from Brooklyn

I'm a big admirer of Warren's, but I wonder how much she will be able to accomplish in the Senate -- which was created to slow the tides of progress, and in practice serves to completely obstruct them

Oct. 13 2011 10:35 AM
MFan from SINY

Oh, God. Why even give these people a platform? All the name calling and "retribution" claims are so childish. It's simply common sense that wealth does not exist in a vacuum. And if you don't accept this you are living in alternate reality!

Oct. 13 2011 10:33 AM
Stephen from Long Island

Part of the financial debacle is the lack of oversight of the GSE's. The gov't was responsible for setting the conditions for lending agencies to make so many bad loans. Does she recognize that the Democratic congress under Clinton and Bush also were responsible?

Oct. 13 2011 10:32 AM

unlike obama i heartily approve of 5 dollar fees for using bank cards. I would pay $20 a month for that convenience!

unlike obama I disapprove of today's banks being formed around usury charges and government welfare. It removed entrepreneurs from today's banking system. ... Replacing them, too often, with the guys that used to break into your car and steal your 8-track player.

Oct. 13 2011 10:32 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Elizabeth's point in that clip is correct. Rich Americans should go to third world countries and see what the rich there have to pay for: Their own security, electricity, water for their factories/homes, bribes, shakedowns - no rule of law. Nothing is created in a vacum.

Oct. 13 2011 10:32 AM
Susy from Manhattan

Um, Brian? I don't know if that parody video is anti-Warren... I considered it pretty supportive, actually!

It's kind of saying- In layman's terms- what a politician can't say without looking like a looney.

Oct. 13 2011 10:32 AM
John A.

OK, Where Is the "Real" Video?

Oct. 13 2011 10:30 AM
Karen from NYC

I've had professional interactions with Elizabeth Warren (I'm in bankruptcy litigation) and she is wonderful. She is ethical, passionate, incredibly smart, a fine scholar, an excellent attorney and a real advocate for the working and middle-class - because she's been there. Although I live in NYS, I've contributed to her campaign. The You-Tube video was right on, and only restated the principle announced by Chief Justice Holmes: namely (to paraphrase), that taxes are what we pay for the privilege of living in a civilized society.

Oct. 13 2011 10:30 AM
Yosif from Manhattan

One of the reasons Obama is considered weak is because he never did recess appointments like bush. Warren is top on this list.

Oct. 13 2011 10:29 AM
Susan from nyc

I LOVE Elizabeth Warren--the most intelligent person in politics today, and the first I'm willing to support since Dennis Kucinich ran for president. She should run for president, on the Ethics Party line.

Oct. 13 2011 10:29 AM
Hugh Sansom

Elizabeth Warren should challenge the deplorable failure Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

Oct. 13 2011 10:27 AM
gary from queens

The first result of her work was, as expected, has been credit card companies raising fees for everyone to cover the penalty fees they were forced to lower for delinquent/negligent card holders. That was not a smart or "fair" solution.

Even Democrats criticized the legislation for not addressing the usury issue----the extremely high credit card rates.

Oct. 13 2011 10:23 AM

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