I’m disappointed to have learned from a credible source that despite her public “I”m taking some time off to think about it” stance, Elizabeth Warren has formed a committee to run for Senate in Massachusetts. I’m told she could repurpose it for a Presidential campaign but my sense is the odds are against it.
My mole, who has done granular work on Massachusetts elections, is pretty confident her bid will fail despite the fact that Scott Brown does not have terribly deep support by the center and left. He says (as we and others have) that out of state money corporate money would pour into Scott’s coffers, making it even harder to overcome the advantages he enjoys as an incumbent. In addition, Harvard professors are not a demographic that plays well in much of the state. And this reading comes from someone who is ideologically sympathetic and would support her campaign.
Whatever reasons Warren may have for launching a Senate campaign, they will pale in comparison to the perceptions that will mount whether she fails or succeeds.
Warren appears to have no clue as to how badly she and the CFPB will be damaged if she runs for the Senate and loses. If she can’t get the votes in a perceived-to-be-pinko state like Massachusetts, politicians will think nothing of ignoring her and her issues. By contrast, she would not be expected to win a Presidential campaign, and that effort would raise her profile and give her a chance to carry her message to new audiences.
After having been badly used by the Administration (the lack of visible support and the persistent pressure for her to leave was palpable), it is remarkable that she is willing to sign up for further exploitation by the Democrats. She was betrayed by Tom Miller and the Obama Administration on the mortgage settlement negotiations. Someone from the AG/federal regulator side of the table leaked that the CFPB was playing a prominent role, which was tantamount to throwing bloody meat into a tank of Republican piranhas.
This hatchet job might have been the handiwork of bank-lobbyist-in-regulator’s-clothing Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. However, the fact that absolutely no one, not Geithner, not Miller, defended her when Republican Congresscritters started calling for her scalp says this was a sanctioned effort, and not mere inter-regulaory sniping.
From the standpoint of the Democratic apparatus, having Warren run is a no-lose proposition. If she were to win, she would be expected to carry the party’s water. Make no mistake about it, that is required of a Senator.
For someone who has presented herself as a stanch defender of the middle class, to put herself in the position of being a Democratic pol, subject to the requirement of going along to get along, is a Colin Powell “there are WMDs in Iraq” level PR poly. And the long term damage to Warren’s reputation is likely to be as severe as Powell’s taking a bullet for the Bush Administration proved to be.
Running for Senate means Warren has implicitly agreed to support Obama on:
1. Balancing the budget on the backs of middle class families, in particular cutting Social Security and Medicare
2. Standing with Obama on his bank friendly policies, such as:
– Not prosecuting the banks for fraud and mortgage abuses
– Remaining silent as the CFPB is neutered (she can’t do her promise “blood and teeth on the floor” routine from within the Senate; she’d be restricted to letters asking
obnoxiouspointed questions in letters and hearings)
3. Supporting the war in Libya
4. Refusing to take unemployment seriously
5. Continuing the policies of extraordinary rendition and torture, which put US soldiers at risk and damages US credibility around the world
Even if Warren bucks the will of the party with some frequency, she will nevertheless be perceived to have sacrificed her independence and agreed to serve as a standard-bearer for all that Obama and corporatist Dems stand for. I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with house nemesis Dan Duncan:
Right now Warren’s beauty as a candidate is frozen in time. She should keep it that way….
In this frame, she is free from time, yet she is simultaneously frozen in time. She is free to singularly co-exist as being both a “DC Outsider” and a Status Quo Harvard Insider. She does not have to confront compromise and “the process of governance”. She is “Forever Progressive.”
If Warren thinks she will need to have “plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor,” the Senate is no place for her.
Remember further that Obama has been actively working to neutralize progressives to reinforce the message that they have no home and the best option they have is a corporate-serving Democratic party that is slightly less rapacious than the Republicans. Obama and his operatives would not be disappointed to see Warren lead quixotic liberals to a crushing defeat while diverting GOP money to Massachusetts. Whatever promises they are making to her, they are lying, and they have already thrown one female Massachusetts Senate candidate under the bus. Warren appears to be trusting Democratic party apparatchiks who pretend to share her priorities but are animated entirely by the party hierarchy. She’s been burned yet seems willing to come back for more of the same.
But separate from the Democratic hackocracy’s calculus, what does would a Senate seat do for Warren? It is not an exaggeration to say that she has become a national asset. She has become a clear spoken and effective advocate for the middle class. She has excellent relationships with the media and has enhanced her stature by being willing to take fire for her beliefs.
In business, successful leaders think carefully about the highest and best use of their assets, skills, and opportunities. As we’ve stressed in earlier posts, running for Senate is , such as primarying Obama or setting up a shadow CFPB. And none of these alternatives has the downside risk of undermining her tenacious effort to make the CFPB a reality.
I can see I’ve misread her. I had mistaken stubbornness in standing up to the Administration for courage. They gave her the rope they thought she’d hang herself with. When she exceeded pretty much everyone’s expectations, they failed to come to her aid when outraged Republicans set their sights on her. The Administration’s allies then tried to press her to make a Senate bid to give them a graceful way out of their obvious plan not to nominate her as head of the CFPB, but she stayed in her post and forced them to pass her over.
I have no idea whether Warren probable decision to again become a pawn of people whose interests are not aligned with hers results from Stockholm Syndrome, bad advice, ego, intellectual capture, or being an incrementalist and thus unable to recognize that the system is broken and more radical courses of action are warranted. And ultimately, it is moot, because whatever her motivations are, Warren looks to be willing to give her good name to a bad cause, namely, an Administration which has been far too soft on bank misconduct and has no compunctions about throwing the middle class under the bus. For a while, she managed to escape the worst of what looked like a Faustian pact. Perhaps the devil has now come to demand his due.