It may seem churlish to pick on a specific, well intentioned liberal organization to illustrate a rampant pathology within what passes for the left in the US. Nevertheless, examples serve as important case studies and hopefully will help both the object of presumably unwanted attention and its broader constituency understand that many of their campaigns actually undermine the causes they purport to represent.
Let’s look at an example, an e-mail from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to constituents of Alabama’s Spencer Bachus, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and self-proclaimed Best Friend of Banks (“My view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks”):
Alabama Republican Spencer Bachus is the definition of a sell out.
Bachus — who said his purpose was to “serve” the big banks — is so far in the pocket of Wall Street that he’s willing to change the definition of plain English words to suit his corporate purposes.
Today, he sent a letter to bold progressive Elizabeth Warren, who’s been fighting on behalf of people against the big banks who are fraudulently foreclosing on their homes. In that letter he tries to trap Warren with her own words: Warren had told him that she gave “advice” on how to beat back the big banks, but he accuses her of giving “recommendations.”
A quick look at the Oxford English Dictionary brings up this definition:
advice: guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent action
Bachus could use a little education on what the words “advice” and “recommendations” mean.
Give Rep. Bachus a call right now at 202-225-4921.
Here’s what to say:
Hi, this is [your name], and I’m calling because Rep. Bachus is clearly so much of a sell out, he’s willing to change the definition of words to attack Elizabeth Warren.
I wanted to make sure Rep. Bachus knows that the definition of advice is “guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent action.”
Stop attacking Elizabeth Warren, and stop being such a sell out for Wall Street.
Thanks for being a bold progressive.
— Adam Green, Jason Rosenbaum and the PCCC team
This mini-campaign is hopelessly misguided. Is Bachus going to stop calling Warren bad names, or serving the doings of his banking paymasters based on a few phone calls? Does it even matter than Bachus is calling Warren bad names when there is an orchestrated cacaphony of similar noise, starting with the vastly more off base attacks emanating from the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page? One set of calls to one right wing noise maker, even one who happens to head an influential Congressional committee, will not make an iota of difference. Congress is not a party to the settlement negotiations.
And the other reason for caring about these attacks is equally questionable: it’s based on the fantasy that Warren might get a recess appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, circumventing the need for Congressional approval. I have one answer to that: over Geithner’s dead body. No matter what his public stance on her might be, he and she are philosophically at odds. Geithner has an unusually close relationship with the President and has managed to enlarge his scope of authority beyond that of a past Treasury secretaries. And if that answer isn’t good enough, consider a second: Obama needs to raise an estimated $1 billion to win the 2012 election. He’s moved further and further to the right over the course of his Presidency. Why is he going to change gears and alienate one of his biggest donor groups by appointing Warren?
Her defenders also appear not to recognize that Warren is being made the fall guy for this effort to appear to be Doing Something and at most get a HAMP 2.0 implemented. They note that Warren has become the focus of attacks for leaks about a program that is touted as a possible $20 to $30 billion. I’ve heard privately that Sheila Bair has been pushing for a tough bank settlement, and as Adam Levitin points out, the CFPB lacks the power to be running this initiative. This is a operation involving both the state attorneys general and a number of Federal regulators.
I don’t know how the settlement proposal is being pinned on Warren, but I think the Warren defenders are naive to assume this is only the result of conservative paranoia and scapegoating. It would serve the interests of officialdom to run trial balloons as Warren products; if they bomb, she’s disposable, if they succeed, Team Obama will move to make it sound like its party line.
But far more important, PCCC has no clue about what the real stakes are in this fight and are supporting a fundamentally unsound policy. As we have described at considerable length, any settlement that involves a broad waiver of liability to the banks is a sell out. And that’s the only thing the attorneys general have to offer in this trade; the lack of investigations means they are coming to a knife fight armed with a wet noodle. We’d all be much better served to have no deal at all and let the AGs that are keen to pursue the banks move ahead and develop cases (and it only takes a few, recall how feared and loathed Eliot Spitzer was).
An example we cited a few days ago, that of the settlement reached between the Minnesota attorney general and the National Arbitration Forum, illustrates this point. The NAC was so successful in stacking the deck on mandatory arbitrations in favor of its clients, big busineses, via the roster of arbitrators it chose that consumers won in only 4% of the cases. The Minnesota AG effectively put the firm out of business as far as anything related to debt collection was concerned…..but the NAC capitulated only after the AG filed its lawsuit (which almost certainly means pre-litigation attempts to resolve the matter had failed). Prosecutors have to be prepared to go to the mat, and have credible theories of action and at least some supporting evidence before they enter into talks; otherwise they have no idea of the extent of the abuses, much the less any meaningful basis to bring miscreants to heel.
The PCCC is utterly clueless that the effort that Warren is behind is merely Potemkin progressivism; they simply accepted her existing liberal branding and have bought a bill of goods. They are so invested in the idea of the telegenic and heretofore on the side of right Warren as savior that they aren’t able to see that she has gone over to the dark side. I have no doubt of Warren’s sincerity, but the Administration has managed to brainwash Warren (having spent over four hours with senior Treasury types, this is not as inconceivable as it sounds. They are remarkably convincing even when you know better. I think they’ve licensed Steve Job’s reality distortion sphere). So any settlement is in fact window dressing for yet another bailout.
The key leverage point in this fight is not Warren; she’s become part of the problem. The leverage point is the attorneys general. Thus campaigns like CrimesShouldn’tPay and Credo’s “Jail Wall Street Crooks“, which organized calls to push the AGs to reject the settlement talks and to investigate the banks, are on the right track. Left-wing efforts to rally behind this Administration should be assumed to be wrongheaded until proven otherwise.