Should Elizabeth Warren Run for President?

As the manufactured debt ceiling crisis provides an unflattering window into the reckless incompetence of pretty much all of our elected officials in DC, more and more readers have been calling for Elizabeth Warren to run for President.

The idea of punishing Obama by introducing a wild card into his stacked deck is enormously appealing. The assumption that he can abuse his everyman base as badly as he wants to because they won’t vote for someone further to the right (no matter how little further to the right that really is) after the bait and switch of his campaign is still seen as a viable strategy by most political commentators.

But discomfiting Obama isn’t a very good reason for Warren to consider throwing her hat into the ring. And as we’ve observed in past posts, the Harvard professor attracts a tremendous amount of projection. It would be hard for her, or anyone, to live up to the hopes vested in her.

We’ll take a dispassionate look at the notion of having Warren run for President. The bottom line is there is a sound case to be made for the idea, and it trumps having her run for the Senate. And if she is to go this route, she should primary Obama rather than run as a third party candidate.

What Could Warren Accomplish by Running for President?

The obvious defect of a Warren bid for the Presidency is that she won’t win. Obama is expected to raise $1 billion for his campaign, as his Republican opponent presumably will. Warren has been branded as a scourge of banks. Even though it should be common sense that selling exploding toasters is bad business, the fact that she talks repeatedly and persuasively about the need for rules to have markets work well makes her a threat to much of Corporate America. Note that their heated opposition to the idea of fair play reveals the importance of treating customers badly, looting the official coffers, or both to their business models.

So why should she bother? She has become a forceful, self appointed advocate for middle class American families. She has thrown her weight behind this objective since she worked on the Harvard Bankruptcy Project more than a decade ago (it served as the basis for her and her daughter’s book The Two Income Trap). Whether you agree with the wisdom of her choice or not, that was what motivated her to take the position as advisor to the Treasury and President and start up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and suffer an aggressive hazing in Congress and in the media by banking industry shills operating through the Republican party. So she is willing to take pain and less than certain bets to advance her goals (we thought she was never going to be head of the new agency, but the people who wanted her inside the tent pissing out no doubt overrepresented the odds she’d get the nod).

Her strength is that she is a Reagan-level Great Communicator. And unlike Obama, a patrician wannabe who sees Reagan as a role model, she taps into deeply rooted traditional American values, that of a just society. Obama, by contrast, exploited the intense frustration with eight years of misrule by Bush the Second, and his liberal posturing was merely a market positioning exercise, to further differentiate him from Brand Republican.

Her position, which sounds dogmatic leftie to those lacking historical perspective, would have been dead center circa the early to mid 1980s, a Javits/Rockefeller Republican or a pretty tame Democrat of that era. But she has arrived at her views not out of ideology but out of pragmatism and rock solid knowledge of the terrain. For instance, in The Two Income Trap, she identified a bidding war for homes in decent school districts, and secondarily, the shift of bank business models to target consumers they can get on a debt treadmill, as the drivers of middle class bankruptcy, which had risen to disconcertingly high levels as of 2003. Her main solutions were simple: more widely distributed aid to schools, so that parents would have more decent districts to choose from (basically increasing the supply of good public schools) and usury ceilings (set as a spread over funding costs), which would force banks to revert to older pricing/product schemes where all consumers paid for services, as opposed to non/infrequent borrowers being subsidized by the heavy users of credit.

So the logic of having her run would be to change the terms of discourse in this country. In case you have managed to miss it, ideas that might interfere with the perquisites of those at the top of the food chain and their hired hands are virtually banned from the mainstream media.

The onetime bastion of the what passes for the left in the US, the New York Times, has (relatively speaking) moved further to the right than the country as a whole (I date the change from its late 1990s decision to become a national newspaper; Michael Thomas argues it started earlier, when Pinch Sulzberger joined the board of the Met and “had to dine with people he should have been dining on”). While it is reliably pinko on domestic social issues like gay rights and abortion, it hews to the corporate Democratic party line on the real power issues in the US, namely finance and economics, and has at most only timidly questioned America’s appalling foreign policy and human rights stance.

As we’ve noted, the lack of strong voices for what used to be the middle in this country has become even more pronounced as well heeled anti-middle class operatives like the Peterson Foundation have successfully executed soft takeovers of supposedly liberal organizations like the Roosevelt Institute, and Obama has targeted and taken out progressive groups that refused to carry the Adminstration’s water.

Although it isn’t as obvious, Warren also stands for a second set of ideas, that of competence and accountability in government. Not only did she build a major organization in an impressively short period of time, but she understands the importance of what we call in the consulting world “deliverables”, that is, providing tangible evidence of progress. She got various government agencies and banks to agree on a simplified mortgage disclosure form, a “to do” on the banking officialdom’s list that had somehow been too complicated to get done until Warren took it on. And this isn’t just good for consumers, it will also lower costs to banks.

By contrast, not only did Obama make a spectacular set of campaign promises that he failed to honor, he is completely unapologetic about those lies. While there is, sadly, a certain amount of misrepresentation that is considered normal among politicians, Obama’s looks to have set a new standard.

Warren has been most effective operating outside traditional power structures (and let us stress being a professor specializing in bankruptcy is not a power position, even at Harvard Law School). She managed to persuade the Clinton Administration to reverse itself on the pro-bank bankruptcy bill that eventually did pass in 2005. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her brainchild and as a de facto unpaid lobbyist operating as a one woman think tank, got in into Dodd Frank despite being considerably outmanned by the well greased financial services industry apparatus (there are now five financial services industry lobbyists for each Congressman).

By contrast, Warren has been less successful operating from the core of the system. Even by all accounts she did a very good job at the Congressional Oversight Panel, it was a role of very limited real power. What did it accomplish save proving that the Treasury broke promises regarding transparency and accountability and making Geithner squirm?

Similarly, even though she did everything she could to build a CFPB with a strong team and good internal procedures, as we’ve noted, bad leadership can destroy an organization in remarkably short order. It would not be hard for a negligent or ideologically hostile CFPB chief to undo what she created. The main outcome of her taking that position, ironically, may not be that she created a successful agency, but that she demonstrated considerable organizational and executive skills (setting up an organization, particularly a large one, is a vastly more daunting task than running one).

So the real point of a Warren run would be to give her an even bigger megaphone for broadcasting the fallen standing of the US middle class and what can and should be done about it. Australian economist John Quggin wrote in a recent post argues that, “The wealth that has accrued to those in the top 1 per cent of the US income distribution is so massive that any serious policy program must begin by clawing it back. ” He argued that an Obama primary challenge would be an important step in making that seem both possible and reasonable:

It seems to me that a good place to start would be a primary challenge to Obama…. It would be impossible for the media to ignore completely, and might get enough votes to shift the Overton window. Whether such a challenge could form the basis of a mass movement, I don’t really know, but it seems to be worth a try.

Warren’s status as an outsider, someone who is not part of the old boy network, is particularly important for primary voters (women are a big force in Democratic primaries) and in terms of her branding generally. And the fact that she has just been part of the Administration and would choose to challenge it frontally would add to media interest.

Primarying Obama trumps having Warren run as a third party candidate. Primaries get national coverage. Quixotic third party candidates by contrast have to buy media and she will never be in the Ross Perot/Michael Bloomberg spending league. And unsuccessful primary challenges can have a lasting impact. Even if you (presumably) loathe his ideas, Pat Buchanan’s failed presidential bids played a meaningful role in moving the Republican party further to the right.

How Does Running for President Compare to Her Other Options for Effecting Change?

Warren has spent the better part of the last two years in high pressure, high visibility roles in DC. She may quite reasonably prefer to return to some semblance of her prior life. Nevertheless, two things are clear. First, that if she does want to return to the political arena, running for President is a far better option for her than running for Senate. Second, she can advance her agenda without campaigning for office.

As we have discussed in earlier posts, having Warren run for Senate might be a nice idea for the Democratic party, but it certainly isn’t a very good idea for her. If you had any doubts, the spectacle of the last few weeks should serve as proof of the Senate as “America’s Most Ineffective Body“, in the words of Marcy Wheeler. As Matt Stoller points out, Martha Coakley should count herself lucky to have lost:

Had Coakley beaten Scott Brown, she wouldn’t have been able to resist the banks as AG. She would have been in the Senate, fruitlessly whining.

For Warren to go to the Senate is simply to hobble her. Congress is dominated by a pay to play system described by Tom Ferguson in a recent Financial Times comment:

…tired recitations of astronomical campaign finance spending totals miss the bigger picture. For a tidal wave of cash has structurally transformed Congress, sweeping away the old seniority system that governed leadership selection and committee assignments. In its place, the major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy or Target.

Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, US congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process….

The practice makes cash flow the basic determinant of the very structure of lawmaking. Instead of possibly buffering Congress from at least some outside forces, committees and leadership posts reflect the shape of political money. Outside investors and interest groups become decisive in resolving leadership struggles within the parties…

The real rub is the way the system now centralises power in the hands of top congressional leaders….The leadership’s hold over the swelling coffers of the national party campaign committees, along with the huge fixed investments in polling, research, and media capabilities these committees maintain, provide them with the extra resources they need to cajole and threaten candidates to toe the party line.

In addition, freshman Senators are supposed to maintain a low profile and any member of Congress is expected to support a President that hails from his party most of the time. Not playing ball with the party apparatus means having pretty zero change of getting any support for your own initiatives. And it isn’t as if Warren is the only candidate the Democrats could field against Scott Brown. Both Martha Coakley and Rachel Maddow poll better.

If Warren were to decide against running for a national office, there are plenty of things she could do to keep pressing for a better deal for middle class families. One would be to see if she could get a television show or a regular guest feature that would focus on middle class finances and discus a mix of pragmatic and policy issues, ideally with it including ordinary people.

Another idea would be to form a shadow CFPB to keep the real one honest. Warren built the CFPB to have a strong research function, so it would have a firm grasp of the actual practices of financial services players and their impact on consumers. She could replicate a good bit of that at Harvard by forming a not for profit that would draw on students as the backbone of its research team. They could design web-based tools that would allow consumers to upload contracts, correspondence, and add notes and call logs. This would enable the investigators to look at examples of questionable bank behavior and they could engage in outreach to other consumer groups to determine whether these cases were outliers or were examples of broad-based conduct. Warren’s profile and her strong relationships with the media would enable her group to publicize any adverse findings and pressure (or at least embarrass) regulators, in particular the CFPB if it goes asleep at the switch.

Dangers of Projection

As we noted in March:

The reactions to Warren, both on the right and left, are becoming divorced from reality. She has assumed iconic status as a lone mediagenic figure in the officialdom who reliably speaks out for the average person, a Joan of Arc for the little guy. And she drives the right crazy because she is rock solid competent and plays their game better than they do. She sticks to simple, compelling soundbites and images without the benefit of Roger Ailes and Madison Avenue packaging, and she speaks to an even broader constituency, Americans done wrong by the banks, than they target. No wonder they want to burn her at the stake.

If anything, the efforts to sanctify Warren have grown. She is treated as the last, best hope of the tattered progressives, when it isn’t even clear how much she supports their agenda. She would presumably promote policies that would stem or reverse the concentration of income and wealth in the top 1%, but her view on other issues is unclear. What is her stand on our military commitments? On gay marriage? On immigration? On our broken health care system? On out of control college costs that result in most new graduates being debt slaves? On climate change? On China? She’s a formidable policy wonk and no doubt a quick study, but even smart people who step outside their areas of expertise can become hostage to bad orthodox thinking or its ugly cousin, leading edge conventional wisdom. And well advised or not, Warren may not be as liberal as her fans like to believe.

But even if she fails to be the Great Liberal Hope, she is an influential counterweight on the most pressing battleground, that of the rearchitecting of our political and economic structures to assure and extend rent extraction by the top 1% (indeed, the top 0.1%).

The other open question is whether she can be a successful candidate. Even though Warren has done remarkably well every time she has been thrown in the deep end of the pool, this is yet another new realm, one where a lot of battlefield judgments are required (like how to respond to swiftboating).

These are gambles a large number of Americans would like to see Warren take on their behalf. She said in March in a Huffington Post interview, “My first choice is a strong consumer agency…My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”

Perhaps Warren has since come to realize that her pugnacious impulse was right. No consumer agency or any effort that threatens the banks and plutocrats can succeed unless the fundamental terms of political discourse in this country change. Warren may be able to give that effort the impetus it desperately needs.

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  1. James Myers

    an extraordinarily bad idea born of honest frustration. EW is reality based, part of her appeal. Running for offices with no chance of winning is both a fools errand and a desperate stunt. EW running for officice is doing the devils work for him. We actually want to win the MA seat back as a t-part Senate would cost the US mightily. Running at O from the left puts the T-party in the WH. That’s a nightmare. Her reputation as a serious financial reformer is damaged every time she looses. Her & our best bet is that O holds on for a second term and that the political winds change so she can be appointed to some financial office toward the end of the next term, otherwise her public service career is largely over. And that would be a shame. A deep bench of financial reformers with her CV is essential, few were minted under Clinton, and none so far under O. She’s too valuble to squander in a cheap political stunt.

    1. Foppe

      I take it you’re a believer in the idea that poor Obama is just outmaneuvered at every turn by those dastardly tea partiers? And that the fellow desperately wants to do the right thing, but simply has no idea how he can put the heat on the other side, as he has no idea how to utilize the media to create a narrative (like, say, “yes we can”)?
      Might I suggest you watch this video?

    2. Yves Smith Post author


      With all due respect, you either cannot read or did not bother to.

      If she primaries Obama, she will not be in the general election. Duh. He will win the Democratic nomination (unless he drops dead of a heart attack and it not running at all). I clearly nixed a third party run. So there is no risk of her throwing the election to the Tea Party.

      And you are smoking a lot of hopium if you think he will win. If the economy continues on its downward trajectory or merely stays flat (almost assured) Obama will lose. HIs engineering of phony debt ceiling crisis to ram through austerian policies is proof he is not worthy of support. I have diehard lefties who are so mad at Obama that they will vote for the Republican candidate just to screw him.

      And are you actually in Mass? I hear from both liberals and centrists in that state that Scott Brown is very well liked. He is perceived to be doing a good job for Massachusetts. He will easily raise 2-3x the money Warren would raise, he has the advantages of an incumbent, and she will dissipate funds in a primary campaign (there is an existing candidate she’d have to beat).

      I’d much rather have her run for President and lose, that enhances her stature and gives her lots of national media play. Running in Mass and losing would be taken as proof that her agenda lacks popular support.

      I can’t imagine she will run for the Senate. 44 Senators have already said they hate her guts. We’ve discussed at length in this and other posts why having her run for the Senate is a way of cashiering her.

      1. Middle Seaman

        Senators are professional politician. They spend their time in committees, constituent work and raising money. Warren cannot and should not become a politician; it will hamper her main work: work for the poor and the middle class.

        Obama is the enemy of the American people; he is inept, lacks basic smarts, the worst negotiator ever born and a reactionary. Warren, Howard Dean and may be Admiral Mullen should run against Obama in the primaries.

        Most of my friends, colleagues at work (academia) and I are not going to vote for Obama. Doing so is voting for the Tea Party.

      2. and i

        “I have diehard lefties who are so mad at Obama that they will vote for the Republican candidate just to screw him. ”

        Ha ha! That’s me! I thought I was one of the only ones, I’m looking forward to Voting for the crazy lady, and maybe even more, telling Obamabots about it and watching them writhe.

        : )

      3. okie farmer

        Yves, when you say about Warren:
        “but her view on other issues is unclear. What is her stand on our military commitments? On gay marriage? On immigration? On our broken health care system? On out of control college costs that result in most new graduates being debt slaves? On climate change? On China?”
        you are obfuscating that politics might be about something besides money. All of the issues you mention except gay rights are about money. Politicians decide who gets it.

        When Samuel Huntington prescribed, in “Crisis of Democracy” (1973), to make elections too expensive for ordinary people to run for office, he was drawing up a blueprint for the financial sector to take over our politics. (Incidently, the blueprint has been followed precisely – read the book.)

        Warren knows politics is almost entirely about money. I see no reason she couldn’t just make that the meme of her primary challenge. Follow the money on every issue you mention and real education will take place. The single most important thing that about 98% of our citizenry need to learn is that 98% of politics is about money and who gets it.

        And, YES! I’m one of those angry leftists looking for the craziest Repub I can find to vote for as Prez. Its already apparent that the Tea Party will be all there is of the Republicans soon enough, if it isn’t already the case. That will take us further down the path described by Gore Vidal, “two right wing parties”, and maybe – just maybe – get us to a new third party.

      4. spark

        “…I have diehard lefties who are so mad at Obama that they will vote for the Republican candidate just to screw him…”


    3. PSP

      The problem with Elizabeth Warren running for Senate is that the Massachusetts Democratic Party isn’t that liberal and has a long history of giving no support to liberals in general elections. Support for Ted Kennedy was tribal, in spite of his liberalism, not because of it.

      She will win in Cambridge and Amherst, lose the Western suburbs, and not make up the difference in the cities. The Boston machine won’t go all out to support a Cambridge liberal. Richie Neal and the Springfield machine won’t lift a finger. The cities have repeatedly failed to produce a sufficient turnout for a true liberal to win statewide.

      Where are the votes for a Harvard professor to beat a Boston suburbs republican? I can’t see how she wins the Senate.

    4. Notorious P.A.T.

      “Running for offices with no chance of winning is both a fools errand and a desperate stunt.”

      Right. Remember how Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful run for president in 1976 and Barry Goldwater’s run in 1964 did nothing to advance the conservative agenda? I have heard sooo many conservatives say they wish that had never happened!

    5. Foppe

      This post by Glenn Greenwald sums it up fairly well (his second post on this topic in 24hrs; somewhat uncharacteristic): ‘The myth of Obama’s “blunders” and “weakness”‘

      With the details of the pending debt deal now emerging (and for a very good explanation of the key terms, see this post by former Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein), a consensus is solidifying that (1) this is a virtually full-scale victory for the GOP and defeat for the President (who all along insisted on a “balanced” approach that included tax increases), but (2) the President, as usual, was too weak in standing up to right-wing intransigence — or simply had no options given their willingness to allow default — and was thus forced into this deal against his will. This depiction of Obama as occupying a largely powerless, toothless office incapable of standing up to Congress — or, at best, that the bad outcome happened because he’s just a weak negotiator who “blundered” — is the one that is invariably trotted out to explain away most of the bad things he does.

      It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal. But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced — either by his own strategic “blunders” or the “weakness” of his office — into accepting them. The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got: these severe domestic budget cuts and even ones well beyond these, including Social Security and Medicare, which he is likely to get with the Super-Committee created by this bill (as Robert Reich described the bill: “No tax increases on rich yet almost certain cuts in Med[icare] and Social Security . . . . Ds can no longer campaign on R’s desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it”).

  2. WFMortModScam

    While I would personally like to see someone as smart and dedicated to the greater good run for president, I don’t think she’d stand a chance. She’d get called an “intellectual” by people who think that’s a bad thing and a “socialist” by people who don’t know the meaning of the word.

    It would be amusing, though, to see the reactions of some of those over-inflated Congressmen who railed against her so outrageously.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think you missed the point. Please reread the post.

      She won’t win. I made that clear. The idea of having her run is not to win but to make it acceptable to say things that were once middle of the road but are now banished from popular discourse. Moving the terms of debate to the left (which is merely back to what was the center) is the objective of this exercise.

      1. CMike

        Would you expect Warren, if she were to mount a primary challenge, to commit to enthusiastically supporting the president if he is renominated?

        1. Peter T

          Warren has repeatedly criticized the Republicans in congress who were dead-set against her financial consumer protection agency. I believe that she would not be silent in a general election between Obama and a Republican but would support Obama (I don’t know how enthusiastically).

      2. Jay B

        Changing the discourse is badly needed. But, someone who challenges Obama in a primary may be able to accomplish much more. Potentially they could drive him from the race.
        I’m remembering Eugene McCarthy driving President Lyndon Johnson from the race in 1968. McCarthy won a surprisingly large number of votes in the New Hampshire primary which showed Johnson how vulnerable he was and other Democrats that Johnson could be beaten. Johnson withdrew from the primaries.
        I suggest we need a sacrificial candidate to both change the terms of the debate and show whether Obama can be beaten in the primaries.

        1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

          Then Kucinich is our man!

          Or Kucinich takes what’s left of the Democratic Party and exits stage left! If there ever was a chance to shift the debate from right and far right back to something resembling “normal” political discourse this might be it.

          Doing so would likely push the Southern Democrats to the Republicans which is where they really belong and provide a clear delineation of party along ideological lines. We might end up with three political parties: The TEA Party, Republicans and Southern Democrats, and the remnants of the Democrats in a left-oriented party.

          There would be clear discernible party lines – an improvement over the muddle of the New Deal Coalition which always had the deadweight of Southern Democrats to retard progress. Besides the Democratic Party – New Deal Coalition – has been dying, if not dead, for 40 years. Opposition to Obama from within the Democratic Party by Kucinich or someone similar may kill it off once and for all. Requiescat en pace!

      3. fflambeau

        Yves, I enjoy your writing but I think you miss several key points here.

        1) You seem to think that a challenge by a primary candidate to Obama with the idea that they will lose is a good thing. Just to bring up policies and other possibilities. But couldn’t Warren do that in the senate too, be another gadfly as Sen. Sanders is?

        2) why, on the other hand, do you seem to believe she will lose to Obama so easily. Remember Eugene McCarthy/Bobby Kennedy in 1969? No one thought they had a shadow of a chance against the might LBJ. Yet, LBJ was forced out of the presidency just days before the Wisconsin primary in 1968 because polls showed he would lose the election handily. You cite record unemployment, broken campaign promises, and a sense that after 3 years, Obama still is an unknown factor as reasons he will lose in 2012 to a Republican. Those same factors will come into play in the primaries: I think someone, whether Warren, Dean, Kucinich, or Russ Feingold, could take Obama out in the primaries. Obama knew in 2008 that his hardest job was not getting elected in the general election, it was getting the nomination (that’s also one of the reason he falsely portrayed himself as a liberal).

        3. Another problem in your overall analysis is that you fail to ask whether Warren is really that much different from Obama. She is, after all, at HLS, not a hot bed of progressivism or liberalism. She has said repeatedly that Obama is doing a good job (which seems to indicate that she is closer to Hillary’s estimation of Obama rather than someone willing to challenge him). So why, if she likes Obama, thinks he is doing a good job, and was happy that she worked with him in the Obama administration, would she challenge Obama? It doesn’t make much sense.

        4. We DON’T know her position on a whole host of other issues (we do know more about the positions of established politicians like Dean, Feingold, Kuchinich etc.). We made the same mistake with Obama in 2008 by supporting someone who was pretty much a blank slate (and who avoided difficult issues by voting “present” dozens of times). Shouldn’t we know her ideas on important issues of the day before we endorse her as a presidential primary candidate?

  3. Fifi

    Liberals must get off that mindset of finding a savior. We’re seeing what’s happening with Obama. Same deal with anyone else.

    Liberals must stop wasting their energy on Democrats and move towards a new party with their own candidates, their own structures, starting at the local level, not necessarily running against the Democrats, probably most often working with Democrats, but not within the Democratic party.

    Otherwise, nothing will change and liberals will keep, rightfully, being taken for granted by Democrats.

    1. attempter

      That could accomplish something under three conditions:

      1. The base isn’t “liberals”, who by definition support the criminal system, but democratic citizens.

      2. History proves that alternative political parties can’t be conjured out of nothing. They can only be built upon a pre-existing movement base, a movement dedicated to systematic action beyond the political realm. See Lawrence Goodwyn’s The Populist Moment for more on this.

      3. Such a movement and any political party built upon it must generate any leadership (for example political candidates; the structure must remain truly democratic, not Leader-controlled) out of itself. It must be indigenous.

      It would be a disaster for a “third party” to arise under the Leadership of the likes of Bloomberg or any other system elite. This would do nothing but astroturf the nascent rejectionist mass into voting for what’s nothing more than an identical third system gang. In that case the rejection of the two Washington gangs would end up having made no progress, and we’d remain where we started, wasting time we can’t afford to waste.

      If Warren really decided to primary Obama, and her goal really was nothing but to force the discourse in a pro-citizen direction, then that could be worthwhile. Anything else would not be, and people should stop wasting time and energy reposing their fantasies of “better elites” in her.

      1. K Ackermann

        I’m scratching my head on your first point. I’m a liberal, and I want to smash the system. I don’t understand how you can say liberals support the corrupt system. (Warning: accurate language)

        Don’t ask us to add Radical ourselves. That honorary is bestowed by others.

        P.S. Obama blows.

        1. attempter

          OK, I’ll ask you a question I’ve asked before and never got an answer.

          What does it mean to say: “I reject the system, but I’m not a socialist, I’m a liberal/progressive”?

          What is the principle substance of this, and what’s the policy prescription?

          So far as I can see, by definition liberals support capitalism and the representative government scam. That is, they support the expropriation of political and economic sovereignty from, respectively, the citizenry and the workers. In both cases, such expropriation is illegitimate and nothing but robbery.

          Ergo, they support the elitist system, and are elitists themselves.

          1. K Ackermann

            No, no, no… you just ran through a chain of bad assumptions, but let me come at it from a different angle…

            If you can remove your footprint from my life, then you can exit the system.

            But if I have to smell your garbage, or pull over to let the ambulance carry you to the hospital, or pay for the firefighters who died saving your children because you didn’t use smoke detectors, then we have to come to some agreement, and it will involve cooperation and sacrefice.

            Also, when you need a place to stay after your house burns down, I have a couch. In fact, when your father becomes an alcoholic, I’ll chip in a little to help, knowing that mine could too. That mentally retarded kid you had when you knocked up that 18-year-old girl? Well, what are we going to do about her? Could happen to anyone.

            When I say smash the system, I’m talking about closing 600 of the 700 foreign military bases. I’m talking about public campaign finance, personhood for people, term limits, etc.

            I could go on, and on, and on…

            The system used to work. Capitalism should now declare victory. It has won. Enough money has been amassed to purchase the rules, laws and the courts. It now wanders around, scavanging short-term morsels, without any care of anything else. It is now feasting on itself.

          2. attempter

            Since you don’t specify which bad assumptions you think I made, I have no idea what they may be.

            When I say smash the system, I’m talking about closing 600 of the 700 foreign military bases. I’m talking about public campaign finance, personhood for people, term limits, etc.

            IOW you want to reform the system, not smash it. And you clearly say there that you support representative government (“reformed”, of course), i.e. political elitism. So that certainly wasn’t one of my bad assumptions.

            Why, after capitalism has so abysmally failed at all those things, and the “invisible hand” has been proven to be a Big Lie, do you still think capitalism’s a better way to seek those things than economic democracy?

            Why, after representative government has failed so badly at all those things do you think it’s a better way to seek those things than true participatory political democracy?

      2. rafael bolero

        I think you need a fourth point : 4. The third party gets main-stream media coverage, is allowed on TV debates, gets on Sunday ‘talk shows,’ etc. This is how the who;e marketing/election malarkey works. Ask Nader. They physically kept him out of the room, the auditorium. Shut his mouth and pushed him out.

      3. Leviathan

        I do not agree with your take on third parties. I predict that within 4 years the Tea Party will have separated from the Republicans, and that shortly thereafter a left of center American Social Democrat-style party will arise to counteract it. We will then have four parties, at least for a time. This will be a healthy, even necessary phase of the American experiment.

        The mainstream parties are no longer responsive to minority interests (political minorities, not racial–they are TOO preoccupied with race). This is not only bad politics. It is dangerous. Disaffected minorities (again, political, not racial) breed extremist movements, which breed “rogue elements.” We all need a stake in the system. When we are cut out, there will be consequences.

        The parties are money-raising, influence-peddling machines. They must be challenged. They cannot be reformed from within. The debates that are being stifled within the parties today are the ones that need public airing: how will we cut spending? how will we reform Wall Street? How will we get the American economy going again, so that it works for ALL of us?

        I have been one of those readers saying Warren should run for president, not senate. I’m glad to see it getting some traction. I agree with everything Yves says here. This is separate from creating third parties. This is a symbolic movement. But political movements will emerge from this crisis too. We should welcome them. They may be all that can save us.

        1. attempter

          We’d already have something like that if we had a proportional system. But under this antidemocratic winner-take-all system, and with all the other ways the system is rigged against confected parties who are basically willing to play by the rules, how do you expect such parties to achieve critical power mass within the system so they can remove the barriers to their becoming real powers?

          And that’s assuming you’re right about the tea partiers renouncing the Reps. No sign of that yet. (As for a phony baloney “social democrat” party, let’s hope not. Aren’t we seeing them in action in Greece and elsewhere right now?)

          1. Peter T

            You are right about the party system – in an election system with plurality (first past the post), there will be necessarily two major parties and some off-springs who try to become one of the two major parties. I wouldn’t call it anti-democratic – you should see how the parties in a proportional system barter with positions and policies after most elections and the voters can only watch the game. There are some small modifications to plurality votes, like Ranked Choice Voting, that allow the existence and influence of third parties.

            Why are you set against Social democrats? Sweden and Norway have been dominated by Social democrats in their history, and look how well they are doing today? That doesn’t mean they are without fault, of course.

          2. Leviathan

            The Tea Party is developing the infrastructure and grass roots organization necessary to run candidates at the local, state and federal level. It is just a matter of time before they cut the cord linking them to the mother-ship.

            Similarly, grumblings on the left are ignored to Obama and the Democratic leadership’s peril. These people are the activists, the ones who know how to run campaigns, and the ones whose links have been cemented by Move-on, blogs, etc.

            Again, both mainstream parties concentrate almost completely on raising money from big donors and spending it via professional campaign staff. Money is the only grease they care about. If the doers and idealists left their orbit, what would happen? There’d be a lot of scrambling.

            If something CAN happen, it eventually WILL happen. Then there would have to be coalitions and real deal-making, not the faux unity (smile and take it for the team) that paralyzes us today.

            Two parties works well enough in stable times, but in periods of crisis and change we need more options. Bull Moose 2012. There’s the ticket.

          3. attempter

            Why are you set against Social democrats?

            Because in most European countries they’re the most ardent austerians of all. The social democrats are in power in Greece, to give the most obvious example.

            Nor is that anything new. Their conduct was similar during the Great Depression, which is why the communists called them “Social Fascist” parties.

            To try to form yet another such party would not be an answer to our problems. It would still be temporizing with a terminally evil and destructive kleptocracy.

            Why are we still thinking in terms of conventional “parties” at all? Haven’t we had enough of politicians by now? Don’t we know what they always are?

        2. kievite

          “The parties are money-raising, influence-peddling machines. They must be challenged. They cannot be reformed from within”

          The first and third statement are true. As for “must be challenged”, it’s not that easy.

          In reality Democratic Party in not a separate party, but a part of the two prong bait-and-switch system that prevents meaningful reform. In other words it is a branch of single party, the party of oligarchy but it is a branch with a special function, the function of a spoiler. While the second part is allowed to show its true face, this one is not.

          If selection of candidates is performed strictly by party machine, then elections became a farce. You always face a choice between bas and worse. For example, between Obama and Tea Party candidate. In this situation the vote for any third candidate became a vote for Tea Party. So electorate is held hostage by two, preselected by oligarchy, candidates and is allowed only to chose between them.

          Classic example of this mechanism in action was the the role of Nader in Gore vs. Bush election.

          This is the key mechanism of “managed democracy” or as it is called “inverted totalitarianism”.

          Such system is actually remarkably effective in enforcing the rule of oligarchy. This is a perfect system for a small group to rule, as all “mass participation” is confined to choosing between two preselected by party brass candidates. In other work elections are just a puppet show controlled by oligarchy much like elections controlled by party nomenklatura of the USSR when only a single candidate existed but still elections were called and votes were counted.

          “Winner takes all” system automatically, by design, co-opt small parties into either Democratic Party or Republican Party camp, before they can get any level of maturity.

          That means that, unfortunately, within the “winner takes all” framework emergence of third party is temporal and they are quickly co-opted into one of two wings of the establishment party.

          Another term used for this political mechanism is polyarchy:

          Polyarchy: A system where the participation of masses of people is limited to voting among one or another representatives of the elite in periodic elections. Between elections the masses are now expected to keep quiet, to go back to life as usual while the elite make decisions and run the world until they can choose between one or another elite another four years later. So polyarchy is a system of elite rule, and a system of elite rule that is little bit more soft-core than the elite rule that we would see under a military dictatorship. But what we see is that under a polyarchy the basic socio-economic system does not change, it does not become democratized.
          ▬William I. Robinson, Behind the Veil, Minute 1:29:15


    2. Jessica

      I agree that leaving the empty husk of the Democratic Party is where we need to get to, but with the first presidential primaries only half a year away and the electorate not ready yet to bolt the Democratic Party for something new, I think that a run by Elizabeth Warren could help us get there for 2016. Even if only the show the limits of the current system.
      If it were up to me, I would prefer building a new set of institutions outside the current electoral reality show. But I think a lot of the people who we are going to need to be our allies, who we are going to need to be us, they are not ready.
      Right now, there is much despair in the nation. I think it will be healthy for people to at least have a sane, Javits Republican option in our Goldwater-only electoral world. No, she will not stand a chance of winning. She may have an outside chance of creating a 1952 or 1968, where the challenger reveals the incumbent’s unpopularity and causes them to withdraw from the election. But even if that is impossible, there is a large part of the population that knows that Obama, Romney, and Bachmann are not on their side and deserve to have an option on the ballot.
      And in the end, if she gets some vanishingly tiny percentage of the vote, that will settle the question of whether elections are meaningful in the current money politics climate.

      1. MB

        Check it out. Answer the questions.

        Of course now per today’s reportage:

        A last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses.

        Everything you say and do ~ every condom, coffee and thought will be recorded. my proposal: Go cash and barter if you can.

        Check out that link above – it was the most optimistic thing I’ve seen since O was elected.

  4. GLH

    Someone should challenge O. O is destroying the Democratic party – if he hasn’t already. I have voted for Dems for over forty years, but unless there is a challenge, I won’t vote Dem again. At least if Sarah Palin is President there will be a chance that the Dems in Congress will grow a pair.

  5. Peter T

    I most emphatically agree with Warren NOT running as third-party candidate but as Obama’s primary opponent: On the federal level, a third party candidate has no chance in 2012 and can only harm the party closer to its program. As primary opponent, she might gain enough support to generate high pressure on Obama to debate her.

    To her chances: She can’t win out of her own power, but Obama can loose due to his own mistakes. Considering how Obama handled the artificial debt ceiling crisis and how part of his democratic base lost their respect for him, there is a chance larger than zero that he will repeat his bad negotiation performance/sell-out of Democratic priorities and becomes too much of a burden for Democrats.

    I for my part would love to see a serious primary challenger to Obama, may it be Warren, may it be Dean.

    1. propertius

      On the federal level, a third party candidate has no chance in 2012 and can only harm the party closer to its program.

      And which party would that be?

      1. Peter T

        Any third party with a presidential candidate, regardless if the party exists today like the Green Party or would need to be built first, like a hypothetical “Real Democrats for Bernie Sanders party”. The time is too short, the next president will either be a Democrat, likely Obama, or a Republican.

  6. Ed Monberg

    Diogenes Dog says:
    Obama, the Great Appeaser !

    Imagine: Barry gets away with deceit, lies, fraud, and infidelity to his agreements and promises (as in “promissory note”).
    Then ask yourself: Isn’t what what Barry lets the Military-Industrial-Banking crowd get away with unscathed daily ?

    (Unlike FDR or RFK, Barry appears to not care – no, to not even THINK – about the bottom 20% of our population who share the bottom 0.1% of our wealth)

    Any incongruences here ?
    Any Surprises ?

  7. IF

    Two questions:
    1) Is this academic or does EW read nc?
    2) If Obama did not mind lying during the first campaign why would he care about having to do so again in the second campaign? In other words I can’t see how, even if EW forces him to change/acknowledge other positions during the primaries, this will change his (or the nations) long term behavior.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Again, this is not about changing Obama. This is about expanding the window of acceptable discourse. This is actually a very important concept in journalism.

      The right wing started working on changing the terms of debate BEFORE they started backing candidates who were aligned with their position. They got a twofer with Reagan, an indeologically sympatico leader who was also great at hammering core messages.

      Warren did read NC I believe when at the CFPB, or at least her staff did and I assume would put stuff they found germane before her. I have no idea whether she does now but we do know several people in common, so I suspect this post will eventually catch up with her.

      1. Rex

        “This is about expanding the window of acceptable discourse.”

        The debt “crisis” is a poster child for that problem. I haven’t seen anything in the main media in the last few weeks that didn’t begin with the stated or tacit assumption that we really did have a big debt problem that now needed fixing. Beginning from a lob like that, a slam shot on SS or Medicare was easy. Especially with Oschmucko pushing them forward as the obvious sacrificial targets.

      2. Ignim Brites

        But if she gets in and gets blown away, taking under 10% of the vote, won’t that close the “window of discourse”? And will the MSM be sympathetic? I doubt it. Obama is their guy. Their fate and his are intertwined. Consumer Financial Protection is a fine idea and interestingly very much in tune with Rothbardian libertarianism (e.g. all demand deposits are frauds perpetrated by banks) but it is not really the kind of proposal that galvanizes movements. If progressives really want to challenge Obama, they’ll need to look for someone within the leadership of organized labor.

      3. CS Thompson

        Ms. Smith, I agree, but think it’s OK to aim also at “changing” Obama. This amounts to accepting him as he is: an utterly conventional pol. A pro-Warren insurgency arising where he thought himself most secure ought to send him scrambling back to cover the original “principles” he has deserted, don’t you think?

        I have tremendous personal sympathy for Ms. Warren, who must be reading this and similar pieces, saying to herself, “Jeez, why me?” I’m growing uncomfortable with my own (and others’) pontificating about what someone else should be doing. What should I be doing right now, as a citizen and as someone who cares about our country’s disaster-in-progress?

        1. optimader

          rather than “changing” Obama, and in light of the less than stellar R choices, how about a little truth in advertising and cut a deal to have him change parties?

      4. fflambeau


        You seem to feel that the only way Warren can open the “window of discourse” is to challenge Obama in the primaries. But that could also be done in the Senate where Bernie Sanders DOES act as a gadfly? It is true that that body is ultra conservative, but certainly she would get air time as a Senator from Mass. And for any change to happen in America, either the Senate has to be done away with (so we have only one house; this is what happened in the UK); or, more progressives have to replace the conservatives there now. There are only two choices.

        Secondly, I agree with you that Obama should be primaried but do not feel that Warren is the proper candidate. She has zero political experience, and if we learned anything from the Obama fiasco, it is that our leaders need to have actual positions of leadership before they become presidents. Moreover, we don’t know Waren’s views or positions on a whole slate of important issues: foreign policy, the military industrial complex, torture, the expanded role of the presidency, human rights, funding for education and social security, her proposals for solving the unemployment/economic crisis. We do have some progressive politicians who have established careers already and whose long standing positions are well known: Dean, Kucinich, Feingold, among others. Any of those would be a better candidate to primary Obama than the untested (and largely unknown) Warren.

        Finally, another major flaw in your analysis is that Warren would want to challenge Obama. After all, she worked comfortably with him for a couple years in the Obama administration. Why do you just seem to assume that she would even want to challenge him? I think you are making the same mistake of projection that most of us made with Obama in 2008: let’s know more about the candidate before we dream of them as presidents. We DO HAVE several candidates who could (if they choose) already primary Obama, who does need to be challenged by primary in 2012.

  8. CMike

    This Warren lecture from 2007 is even more powerful to listen to today than it was when it first delivered. It’s title is “The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class.” If the material is new to you and you can get six or seven minutes into the lecture I bet you’ll watch the whole fifty minutes.

    1. financial matters

      Pretty much all she needs for a campaign platform. The middle class just needs to realize who’s really got their back.

  9. Taylor

    Healthcare reform only got the attention it did in the 2008 primaries because of John Edwards.

    The disappearing middle class will only get mentioned in the 2012 primaries if someone like Warren forces people to talk about it. Otherwise voters will just get to listen to bankster candidates discussing bankster issues.

    I don’t think we’ll get a Eugene McCarthy moment (NH in 1968) if Warren runs, but something must be done to protest on the left, before the Tea Party becomes the only significant voice of political protest in this country.

    1. Rex

      “before the Tea Party becomes the only significant voice of political protest in this country.”

      I’d like to offer the editorial suggestion that you forgot to put quotes around the term “political protest” in the Tea Party context.

  10. propertius

    The person who primaries Obama had better be in it to win. A symbolic challenge from the Left won’t move him to the Left – it’ll just be an excuse for more “aprés moi, la Bachmann” fear-mongering, followed by 10 rounds of hippie-punching.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t think Warren is capable of doing anything halfway. She’d be fighting to win even though she knows, absent a coup de foudre, that she will lose.

      1. attempter

        The record is that she temporizes (assuming she really has these ideals everyone imputes to her) where she’s “trying to win”, for example setting up that bogus agency.

        So I’d bet that if she’s consciously trying to win, she’ll listen to everyone telling her to tack in a pro-bank direction. (Not that she’d have all that far to go. She’s always supported the Bailout in general, although everyone seems to keep forgetting that.)

        “I don’t think Warren is capable of doing anything halfway.”

        Well, if she has two goals (winning and moving the discourse) which she comes to believe on some level are in conflict, then at least one of them will suffer, and I think we know which.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I don’t agree with you at all on your “bogus agency charge. I suspect you haven’t read her book. The very fact that the banks and the WSJ were utterly hysterical and mounted a worse than Spitzer attack on her (given that they couldn’t find real dirt on her) says both the agency and she are regarded as real threats.

          In addition, the idea that people can’t have multiple objectives is naive, In fact, it is well documented that in complex systems, having simple goals produces worse outcomes that more complex strategies, Read John Kay’s book Obliquity for a long form treatment.

          1. psychohistorain

            Thanks for posting this Yves because we are in need of some sort of movement.

            Two points as I read your posting and the comments.

            In your list of things that we don’t know about her you left out “her stand on abortion” which, IMO, is unfortunately a key issue that the brainwashed public has been trained to react to….

            Elizabeth Warren is a woman. We exist in a patriarchal world, unfortunately, and the powers that be want to keep it that way. If she were a man and try to do this they would find some way to kill her. Being a woman and especially given her life history they cannot kill her without serious consequences and so her running would bring out the sickest of the marketing and sales smears, obfuscation and lie after lie after lie…..maybe a REAL education for the masses.

            May the force be with her…..

          2. ex-PFC Chuck

            I just finished reading Obliquity the other day and it is indeed an insightful read.

          3. attempter

            The very fact that the banks and the WSJ were utterly hysterical and mounted a worse than Spitzer attack on her (given that they couldn’t find real dirt on her) says both the agency and she are regarded as real threats.

            There’s no necessary connection between a bankster tantrum over affronts to their authoritah (how many times has Dimon publicly acted like a three-year-old over mere bad PR?) and any real threat.

            You really think the WSJ gets hysterical only over real things?

            In addition, the idea that people can’t have multiple objectives is naive, In fact, it is well documented that in complex systems, having simple goals produces worse outcomes that more complex strategies

            1. I didn’t people can’t have multiple objectives or that those objectives need hinder one another if they’re all on the same vector.

            I said that if the objectives are in conflict, or are perceived to be in conflict, then it’s likely that they will hinder one another.

            In Warren’s case, wanting to win and speaking the truth can be mutually reinforcing goals.

            But if Warren convinces herself or lets herself be convinced that she needs to tone down her message (and the record is clear, that’s what everyone has always done), that will directly hinder the goal of moving the Overton window. Assuming that’s still one of her goals at all.

            2. A goal isn’t the same thing as a strategy. Rather, the strategy is a plan to achieve the goal. Historically, simple goals have always had a huge advantage over complex ones, regardless of how complex the strategy had to be.

            Case in point: It’s a truism that a big advantage the Allies had in WWII was the simplicity of their goal (defeat the enemy) compared to the extreme complexity of aggressive Axis goals.

          4. Yves Smith Post author

            Yes. Spitzer was a real threat. He drove Hank Greenberg, the most ruthless SOB in Corporate America and head of one of its richest and most powerful companies, from his post. If Sptizer could take on and beat Greenberg, any corporate miscreant was vulnerable.

      2. Max424

        re: a coup de foudre

        You never know; Liz could catch fire.

        I’m booking her as a 25-1 underdog to win the whole shebang (that’s whup Obama in the semis then crush Bachmann/Palin in the finals).

        (Hey, I’ve won pool tournaments facing bigger odds. Twice.)

        Note: She needs to get started, though. Raising 3 or 4 hundred million honest dollars (what she’ll need for the upset) ain’t gonna be easy, and it will take time.

      3. MB


        Your comment is right:

        “Again, this is not about changing Obama. This is about expanding the window of acceptable discourse. This is actually a very important concept in journalism.

        The right wing started working on changing the terms of debate BEFORE they started backing candidates who were aligned with their position. They got a twofer with Reagan, an indeologically sympatico leader who was also great at hammering core messages.”

        What this means is no matter if it’s EW, Dean, Spitzer, .Ron Paul or any other person (maybe Senator Levin – he’s onto Treasure Islands, right?) alternatives need to emerge. There is argument that a third party wouldn’t stand a chance. Do you recall the “Ralph Don’t Run” campaign? This was a grassroots video that had an effect in 2000 when it warned of splitting the Gore/Bush vote. Who knew that the voting machines would be rigged via Diebold, right? Hm? Then we had the Supreme Court “arbitrate” the election results, with disenfranchised voters and hanging chads.

        I think a 3rd party COULD represent the middle. Call it something that the middle class could identify, such as THE MODERATE PARTY. Get a few disgusted Democrats and Republicans and Independents to join in. Identify the position of the party via an online resource, such as:

        (Amercian’s Elect)

        Let the nominees rise instead of pinning all hopes on one person, just in case the worry of that one person being “eliminated” exists. Of course, nobody wants to volunteer for that kind of mission, but it’s coming down to something along that line. The country is being decimated by corporatocracy.

        Challenge Obama within his own party? Why bother? I actually harbor a notion that he has been co-opted because (and this is my spy thriller imagination, mind you) someone delivered the message to him get out of the way, or they’d get he and his family out of the way. How pessimistic, right? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. I think the best route is to change the systemic paradigm – legitimately.

        1. MB

          Correction: Or, Ralph Don’t Run may have been in 2004. Time flies when the system is being co-opted.

    2. fflambeau

      Very good point, ProP. Indeed I pretty much threw my hands up in the air when Yves writes that she “knows” that Warren would lose to Obama but that she must primary him anyway. That’s the kind of useless defeatism before a battle that has so often afflicted the left.

      Obama DOES need to under the test of primaries in 2012, but not by a candidate who is in it for symbolic reasons. Look back at 1968 and you will see that Gene McCarthy thought he COULD beat LFJ (when no one else believed he could). The “mighty” LBJ announced his withdrawal from the presidency just days before the Wisconsin primary, where polls showed him losing badly to McCarthy.

      I personally think Obama has clay feet and that given the record unemployment, economic uncertainty, record number of wars and foreign involvement, and general sense of hopelessness, that Obama will fall like a house of cards to an energetic, full-throated populist/progressive. But I doubt that candidate is Warren.

  11. TC

    I better like the idea of Charlie Rangel running as an Independent. Our fascist-in-chief would be finished.

  12. Seth

    My first choice is Warren as the Democratic nominee. My second choice is someone else with a lot of his blood and teeth on the floor.

    1. Nowhuffo

      Great article. Of course she should run. Of course a third party is out of the question. She would also have strong appeal to a lot of Republicans and it would move the debate.
      Consider what Ron Paul has accomplished in a few short election cycles. It is very possible her appeal is even stronger, especially as the times seem to become more desperate.

  13. hermanas

    @Warren’s disadvantage,” Obama is expected to raise $1 billion for his campaign, as his Republican opponent presumably will.”
    Yes, and an empty barrel makes the most noise.

    1. optimader

      spending $1BB of corporate money lying could be his undoing vis a vie a competent underdog telling the truth to the majotity of americans that have been financially hustled , then put in the can that was kicked down the road.

      No amount of corporate resources can compete w/ a determined public. File under: Shah of Iran

  14. Dave of Maryland

    Tell me again why Warren should make this suicide run? Merely to please the impotent?

    The day she announces is the day the Stop Warren campaign starts. With unlimited funding and vast resources. They will crush her. They will crush anyone. If not crush, then bribe or blackmail. They have in the past.

    If she wants to run, the best way is to not run. To force the Democrats to draft her. The longer she refuses, the more enticing she becomes. She is only of interest now because she is not running. As soon as she declares, she has lost. By definition, the Stop Warren campaign cannot start in earnest until she declares. So why should she?

    If the Democrats want her, the Democrats must create a party that will forcibly seize her. Only a party that is strong can possibly change anything. Presently the Democratic party is weak and worthless. The Democrats must prove they deserve her. Can use her. If she’s worth having, what will the Democrats do to get her, what sacrifices will the Dems make?

    Already this process is underway. All Warren need do is: Nothing at all.

    If this sounds like enticing a reluctant lover, that’s exactly right. The Democrats need to pick themselves up out of the gutter, give up the booze, get rid of their stinking, flea-infested clothes, get deloused, get a bath, a shave, a haircut, put on presentable clothing and in all other ways, comport themselves as a serious suitor. Right now, they are trash.

    1. Ransome

      She would be running against the neoliberals, the economic freedom and unearned income crowd that has infiltrated both parties and infested the country. Her campaign would be infiltrated by agents. Her platform would be saving America from those that make money any way they can, regardless of consequence and without restriction. But most people are unconvinced, they think we need more “economic freedom”. The campaign would require a massive public education endeavor challenged at every turn by sound-bytes from every neolib media org., while the inside people worked their sabotage.

  15. Skippy

    Umm…could her greatest contribution be…being caught on camera…giving the folks that hate her guts (viscerally) soooo much…a two fisted fingers question…number of same species parents or IQ[!!!], for enabling such a grievous act upon their own countrymen and women. Status does matter whence manning the life boats…in the USA…eh.

    At some point, someone with some actual broad spectrum respectability, will have to call them out publicly and hopefully to their faces. The timing of such an act would need to be impeccable, the consequences displayed upon the big screen American politico canvas.

    Skippy…the national reaction to such an act, would in my opinion, define the next paradigm…scary stuff.

  16. Hayward C

    What a refreshing read! I too worry about the amount of projection going on with we on the left. I admire EW a great deal for her work with the financial straits of the bottom 80%, but we are facing multiple crises. We need to know where she stands on the climate change and energy policy, military intervention, trade policy, and most importantly does she have a plan for return to full employment.

    The best we can do is vet her ourselves and surround her with the best advisors that share our goals as well as the (grudging) respect of their peers.

    I would support her with what meager resources I have available. Warren for President, or at least teeth on the floor!!

    1. rafael bolero

      “…with us…” ; ‘us,’ (you, him, her, them), the object pronoun form or ‘case’, always follows a preposition : they are its ‘object’ ; sorry, but too basic to let pass on such an ‘educated’ site.

  17. ex-PFC Chuck

    Yves, I’m pleased to see you come out so forcefully for Elizabeth Warren as a primary opponent to Obama and couldn’t agree more. I’d like to pile on by discussing a strong supporting reason that you did not address, and also suggest that Ms. Warren’s potential for upsetting the existing, dysfunctional political applecart may be considerably greater than you believe.

    What remains of the progressive values in the Democratic Party can be found in the party’s grass roots base and its candidates for state and local office, and these people are deeply dispirited by having been forsaken by most of its federal level officeholders and behind-the-scenes players. As a result these folks have little enthusiasm for the 2012 campaign, and without them being energized left-leaning voter turnouts will be insufficient to prevent another down-ticket Republican victory. This will be especially disastrous for state governments, and if this happens we can expect many more Wisconsins and Ohios. As we learned here in Minnesota, even if the state governing apparatus is not totally controlled by the GOP, what has recently become their our-way-or-no-way approach to “compromise” can devastate a state.

    A serious primary challenge to Barrack Obama for the presidential nomination is about the only thing that will energize the true progressives at in the states, cities and counties, and possibly induce primary challenges to some of the bought-and-paid-for Democratic members of Congress. And even if Ms. Warren ultimately loses the nomination she will have given cover to local office-seekers to stand up for the liberal values and positions that have been so badly undercut by the Obama presidency, and at least some of the enthusiasm generated by her run will continue through the general election beneficially for down-ticket races.

    As for Ms. Warren’s prospects, within the past day or two (so far I’ve been unable to find the link; maybe later in a comment) I saw a post somewhere to the effect that, unlike almost every other major political figures of recent years, Obama has virtually no truly passionate supporters, suggesting that while his support may be a mile wide it is barely an inch deep. If this is the case and Ms. Warren is able to arouse and inspire people at the grass-roots like Obama himself did in the run-up to 2008, it’s quite possible that she could do well in an early primary or caucus state or two. This could have the same sort of galvanic effect that Eugene McCarthy’s showing in the New Hampshire primary did in 1968, Obama would be perceived as vulnerable, and we’d be off to the races. The MSM would then find it impossible to keep Warren off of the front pages, and with any sort of luck for the American people she’d be able to keep her feet on the ground under which the grass roots grow.

    1. rafael bolero

      Perhaps as an investor and market analysis, Y. Smith is just being prudent in her forecast. I like your analysis. I am here in Wisconsin, have been to Madison often, since Feb. 14th, the first day the TA’s from UWM marched; I also take part in sustainability/local-food/alternative-consumption events and organizations, which are really consumer-protection entities, Warren’s exact focus. I think there would be a massive support for her, building quickly via internet as the media of publicity. People here are charged, ready for someone to back. We also have pretty-solid middle-class money. These people/we will show up with signs : if MSM does not cover her candidacy, their local/corporate offices can be picketed. It is time to picket the source of the message, not just the banks and state houses, but the buildings with the antennae on top, the first place one seizes in a revolution. I suppose they can choose to not cover themselves and just hide in the buildings, but how absurd can it get without someone inside the building deciding this is just no way to live and make money as a craven slave?

  18. craazYman

    To me, the obvious candidate is Robert Reich and EW can be VP.

    That takes the heat of her and we can joyfully call RR “The First Reich” — unless his wife lays down the law.

    That Saturday Night Live video he did cracked me up. where is it on youtube? can’t find it.

    He seems to make a lot of sense and he’d kick ass, I bet. He’d never win but so what. I don’t even care anymore who wins. I’m moving to Paris first chance I get — at least for a year or so, just to chil.

    America needs to channel itself. Too many slobs thinking money will solve all their problems — that includes whiny bankers and whiny slobs at Off Track Betting and fat hairy slobs at McDonalds with death-skull T-shirts on. Who makes these T-Shirts? Satan?

    I know it’s tempting to think throwing money at things like education makes things better. I’m not so sure. You could spend twice as much and get half as much — with all the consultants and deans and endowment managers in on the big loot. You can teach most things in a 1-room house with wooden desks and books. Really. The problem is the culture. right and left. there are too many idiots everywhere (i.e. ID-i-ots) who need a soul retrieval. Some sort of national exorcism is the answer, I think, but not from a Baptist Preacher of any denomination. Or a think tank liberal of any variety. LOL

    1. rafael bolero

      How about national electro shock via massive TV pulse during the Super Bowl? It is back in vogue.

      1. Jack Parsons

        There in the middle of the post is the answer: Elisabeth Warren -> Great Communicator -> TV.

        Reagan had this warm charisma while saying vicious lies. JG Ballard: In his commercials Reagan used the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring. A complete discontinuity existed between Reagan’s manner and body language, on the one hand, and his scarily simplistic far-right message on the other. Above all, it struck me that Reagan was the first politician to exploit the fact that his TV audience would not be listening too closely, if at all, to what he was saying, and indeed might well assume from his manner and presentation that he was saying the exact opposite of the words actually emerging from his mouth

        I think it’s more than that: it’s the one-two punch of opposing emotions that creates cognitive dissonance. Which then distracts you, leaving you vulnerable to the words just sinking into the subconscious.

        And do click the link.

  19. Eugene Villarreal

    Running not to Win is NOT a good ieda. Running to Win is a GOOD idea. You may not believe in the Tea Party’s ideas, but look at what they have done to force their ideas in the Debt Debate. It’s the minority group that keeps being persistant that accomplishes their goals, as it has been written lately. As a diehard democrat, it’s time for (another)”Change”. Obama has shown his true colors and it’s not black or white, it’s green. No promises kept for the middle class, liberals, independents and democrats. Even if he can raise a billion dollars, it won’t be from the from this group. All that money is does not a guarantee a win. Just look at what happened in California and Conn. Write-In candidates for all the seats in the Congress is the possibly. Look at what happened in Alska.

  20. The lives of others

    The “left” does not seem to have a committed minority of even ten percent:

    “An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.”
    Reported in:
    with reference:
    1.J. Xie, S. Sreenivasan, G. Korniss, W. Zhang, C. Lim, B. Szymanski. Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities. Physical Review E, 2011; 84 (1) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.84.011130

    1. JTFaraday

      You know, that’s exactly who I thought of when I saw the title of this post. Not because I want HRC to run, but because I think EW will *sound* exactly like HRC to prospective D-primary voters, who don’t have any idea that EW has actually been trying to fight the good fight (which I do not believe HRC would have done).

      Consequently, post-Obamapocalyse, EW will sound exactly like another lying D-Party politician, hypocritically mouthing the kinds of hypocritical crap they always mouth.

      I still remember HRC’s first campaign video in 2008, with her sitting in her livingroom in NY, droning on and on about “you and your families…you and your families…”

      Is this not exactly the same hackneyed “defender of middle class families” line that EW’s proponents are pushing *her* with?

      Granted, that HRC campaign video probably *particularly* grated on me because I don’t have a “you and your family” after the fashion as represented by Hillary as pertaining universally to us all, so perhaps I’m not a good case study for reactions of the D-Primary faithful.

      Quite possibly between the (not too critically probing) “you and your family” vote and the (probably still pissed off at the Obama campaign) woman vote, EW could do quite well in the D-Primary, (minus the inevitable “racist white woman” response from the Obama apparatchiks, for daring to cross their man).

      But I’m not sure that “EW: defender of middle class families” ALTERS the public political debate even one iota. It may well be true that the very popular Suze Orman would be hounded out of the halls of US government today, but it seems to me that pandering to “me and my family” is still going to be de rigueur out on the campaign trail.

      As things are shaping up, I can easily imagine, say, the navel-gazing youth wing of the Roosevelt Institute having EW, “defender of the middle class,” spending all her time promoting universal pre-K, and then having the privatizing Bill Gates Foundation swoop in for Team Obama with a big $ pledge and “save the day.”

      Can EW manage to rise above the framing of her own supporters and the political class impulse to pander on small bore policy issues in order to speak to our astounding crisis in governance these past 4 (and 8-12) years, and how that crisis in government rebounds into people’s everyday lives?

      Because if she can’t, then not only do I think she won’t change the terms of debate but she won’t even distinguish herself from any other recent hypocritical D-Party politician or any other readily co-opted recent liberal policy entrepreneur.

      In fact, the only person who seems poised to alter the terms of political discourse is Ron Paul. I am so desperate for someone to do this, that I am actually looking forward to seeing him make the attempt. However, the way in which his ideas lend themselves to Tea Party austerity certainly gives me pause.

      If EW could escape her framing and rise to the occasion, that would be a plus.

    1. psychohistorain

      I like that idea. Think of the contortions the right would get themselves into….it makes me smile to think about it.

  21. Steve

    Yves, this is a wonderful idea. I’d thought about EW running for president, but concluded it was too long a shot. Running in the primary is a fine idea.

    I am really not concerned about her stands in other areas that she hasn’t discussed. I would far rather have someone with honest, well reasoned opinions than someone who happens to agree with me this week. EW has integrity, that balances a huge amount of disagreement.

    If she loses and throws her support to Obama, in exiting she should be able to pin him down more solidly than just his campaign promises (one can only hope).

    She just might win. People desperately want something to change.

  22. Aquifer

    The person who suggested Obama will just lay it on thick during the primaries as he did in ’08 is spot on and, unfortunately, there are enough out there, scared witless by the prospect of a Rep., who will give him a buy. Having dispensed his opponent he will be free to pursue his same course. Warren, as a primary opponent, will be a blip on the screen, great for media fodder and blogs, but doomed to the same fate as all other non DLC opponents

    The other thing to consider is that it is not just Obama that is the problem – it is the Dem party as a whole – they could revolt against dear leader now if they had an ounce of principle left (or left principle) – they don’t. Kucinich, arguably heretofore the most progressive of the bunch, caved on healthcare.

    A Dem primary, IMO, is an exercise in necrophilia. The only way, if folks still actually want to, to revive the party is to demonstrate, unequivocally, again and again, that the left is willing to have the Dems lose until, as a poster above described, they clean up their act. Had the left voted for Nader in greater numbers in ’04 than in ’00, i guarantee you would have seen a “better” Dem party in ’08, only a viable, credible, threat of loss from the left will keep them on the “straight and narrow”.

    Threats or “promises” to abandon are useless unless acted upon (the progs who cry “wolf” over and over then lie down with the sheep have understandably no credibility left) and we have wasted too much time already. Think about it – if, in the face of continued Dem betrayals (I first noted them under Clinton/NAFTA), progs had voted 3rd party in increasing numbers – you might actually have had a decent Dem Party now. There is nothing so likely to refocus your attention as losing – especially when you KNOW you are losing, not because you are not Right enough, but because you are not Left enough.

    If you have decided Warren will lose anyway, let her lose as a principled true opposition – a 3rd party. The more and more principled folk who run outside the 2 parties, the harder it will be to dismiss them. I think a Warren/Nader, Nader/Warren ticket would be just the thing …..

  23. Dan Duncan

    Ode on a Progressive Urn.

    Right now Warren’s beauty as a candidate is frozen in time. She should keep it that way.

    Appreciate the urn, Yves. Appreciate the urn.

    Watch Warren, forever in the mad pursuit of bringing those evil corporations to justice.

    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.”

    The minute she runs, however, the illusion will be shattered; and the reality of Progressive Impotence will be all the more painful.

    This way, while you may not actually reach the point of hope, you will at least benumb your frustrations and revel in the fleeting respite of aesthetic suspension.

  24. Moopheus

    “She is treated as the last, best hope of the tattered progressives, when it isn’t even clear how much she supports their agenda. She would presumably promote policies that would stem or reverse the concentration of income and wealth in the top 1%, but her view on other issues is unclear. Warren may not be as liberal as her fans like to believe. ”

    She probably is not that liberal on many issues; she was at one time a Republican. I am reminded a little of twenty years ago when both parties tried to draft Colin Powell; he’d earned a lot of popular support for his handling of the first Iraq War, but almost nothing was known about his views on other issues.

    It’s true that she’s just one person, and no matter how smart and competent she is, she won’t be perfect. But considering that the if no one challenges Obama for the nomination, then the choice will be Romney or someone even worse than Romney. I for one would rather take a chance on the unknown.

  25. KRG

    I’d like to see a primary challenge if only to remind Obama that he’s got a base that he at least needs to acknowledge in the process, but after that, what about giving her the VP nod? That would, in the short term bring a more progressive push but also raise her profile to the point where she’d be the natural follow up in 2016

  26. toxymoron

    One more question.
    If she decides to run, how long before she’s shot? And what then?
    As long as there no ‘grassroots’ movement (they all seem to be Astroturf these days, hence the quotes) crying out for Liz as their representative, she should not run. Her candidacy should be the last step for a people taking their government back to where it belongs, not the first step.
    But I sincerely wish we had an EW here in France.

  27. Dan Friedman


    Let me begin by announcing that I consider you the most objective voice of reason we’ve got. That said, I want you to know that this piece is the first piece that you have written that I couldn’t finish reading. Mostly because the title brings much hope (which is what I expect will be the result of providing your objective voice of reason), but quickly informs the reader of its impossibility.

    Maybe it’s only me, but after so many years of governmental and organizational mind-fucking, I need to keep focused on what’s right, and not get side-tracked into what’s impossible. It is hard enough as it is not to lose my way.

    Dan Friedman

  28. Tim

    One word: Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Super PAC.

    Why pray tell would EW wanna work with Colbert?

    If you’re familiar with Colbert and his brilliant team – you’ll already know EW & the ideas she represents will get mass media from intelligently working with them. I bet they’re already been in discussions.

    By the way – I’d highly recommend donating all the money you normally donate to PACs – to the Colbert Super PAC.

  29. LAS

    To be sure I like EW, but it isn’t practical to expect her to go into battle alone. Individuals without proper support become martyrs or sell-outs; those are the two outcomes.

    WE need to change OUR behavior from choosing a superleader to choosing policy and promoting that policy ruthlessly. The Republicans have proved time and again, this approach works.

    The reason EW is effective to the extent that she is, happens because she says what she wants as policy over and over in (relatively) easy to understand language. That is a simple practical behavior we should be emulating collectively. From that we could create a new political party and attendant infrastructure that is robust against sell-outs. This new party is not about liberal or conservative so much as clear policy objectives versus bogus abstractions, charismatic individuals and moral corruption.

    The trouble with the middle class is it is mixed up by its own hopeful dependance and does not have strong policy positions. Middle class people think by working harder and harder they will become rich or be taken care of when it’s their turn and that policy has little impact over this. They don’t recognize the policies which benefit/hurt them most because these policies are not sung in the popular dialogues of the day, their day.

    Again, it is vain to depend on individuals. We have to muscle our so-called representatives into compliance by being able to call the goals and objectives very forcefully.

  30. Philip Pilkington

    “Her strength is that she is a Reagan-level Great Communicator. And unlike Obama, a patrician wannabe who sees Reagan as a role model, she taps into deeply rooted traditional American values, that of a just society. Obama, by contrast, exploited the intense frustration with eight years of misrule by Bush the Second, and his liberal posturing was merely a market positioning exercise, to further differentiate him from Brand Republican.”

    Very good. Very, very good.

    Obama the orator from the get-go always appeared to me to be Obama the blowhard. All his (catch)phrases rang hollow. He always appeared to me to be a walking soundbite that appealed to people only on the most superficial level — a bit like a mediocre lawyer, who uses his ‘smarter-than-thou’ elitist sneer-face to intimidate the jury into voting in his favour in case they risk coming off looking like idiots.

    The passion at his rallies was not the passion one saw at Reagan’s. It was watery and desperate. The weeping of an oft-times disappointed lover recording a YouTube diary.

    He always appeared to be the kind of guy that you might have a few drinks with — provided there were other more likeable, less elitist and more engaging people sitting around the table.

  31. Patrick

    I don’t know what she’d bother. In her place I’d be inclined to say “f*ck it” and go back to teaching and writing books. Why subject yourself to the herd of douche bags and wankers?

  32. b.

    “Would you expect Warren, if she were to mount a primary challenge, to commit to enthusiastically supporting the president if he is renominated?”

    I think this is The Question. I stated a while back that if Warren (or Feingold, for that matter) considered a Senate run, I would dismiss them out of hand, as they – and others with their leverage – have much better reasons to run in the primaries. I think Yves is correct that Warren will not win, but I propose that, in a democracy, you do not run to win, you run to offer a choice to the electorate. *That* is the moral imperative.

    Running to win moves us from principles and policies to tactical voting, and the last 30 years have demonstrated to what extent this poisons the well. Furthermore, a rejection of tactical “lesser evil” voting also should put to rest the canard that Nader is somehow to blame for an election that was Gore’s to let slip to a point where it could be tailored by a once-off Supreme Court decision that resulted in a constitutional crisis and discredited two of the core institutions – voting and highest court – of the republic.

    But Warren’s statements in the aftermath of Obama using his “resolution authority” with respect to her nomination indicate that if she ran in the primaries, she would not run in opposition to Obama. Consequently, we can fully expect her to support Obama’s nomination. From a principled point of view, Obama is a war criminal, torturer, and in violation of his oath of office, causing a constitutional crisis more severe and longer lasting than Bush. Warren, as much as she maybe be focused the the plight of the American People, does not seem to have an discernible objections to the full-spectrum assault Obama represents to the institutions of US democracy. To help the people – even by nothing more than to break open and shift the national discourse from the most visible debate platform – she will have to challenge not just the consensus regarding the necessity of progressive taxation, she will also have to make the connection between domestic spending, national debt, and trillions of dollars in military expenditures for illegal or – at best – pointless wars.

    If you cannot imagine Warren calling for a dedicated “war tax” required for any appropriations related to actual hostilities, or to denounce the military-industrial complex in the terms Eisenhower used to define it, then the service she could render to the people will be severely limited, to the point of being self-defeating. If you can imagine her supporting, not denouncing, Obama following his success in the primaries, then her running will be a waste of time.

    Put it this way: EW is not MLK. And MLK would not have contemplated running in the primaries. It is reasonable – to me – to say Warren should run for President if she runs for office at all. That is not the same as saying that her running for President would decisively change the deadlock on the national discourse, or the democratic process.

    At the end of the day, the latter are in the hands of the sovereign. If The People could bring themselves to abandon tactical voting and, as a matter of principle, remove any and all current incumbents from office, or took Election Day as an opportunity to effectively protest the lack of acceptable ballot choices – by civil disobedience to shut down the process itself – then the kabuki democracy would be challenged in ways more effective than any primary candidate ever could, simply because the primary process itself is integral part of the architecture of oligarchy. But then, accepting our own responsibility to make democracy work would mean an end to the “Messiah of the Week” debates.

  33. Minor Heretic

    While Warren is appealing in many ways, and the idea of her primary run likewise, the proposition misses the fundamental point – campaign finance.

    See the USPIRG study “The Wealth Primary.” The basic takeaway: Whichever candidate in a congressional primary spends the most money wins, 9 times out of 10. 80% of that money comes from millionaires and up. Ergo, anyone with beliefs that offend millionaires will almost always lose. Congress has been carefully filtered to remove 99% of the people with small-d democratic ideas.

    Changing the boundaries of the debate is great, but we’d still be trying to convince a congress that was preselected to disagree with us. And member of congress who had a change of heart would get filtered out in the next election.

    An arduous, long term, but ultimately more promising avenue is a civil rights type struggle for political equality with the wealthy. Lay out the class warfare right on the table – the 99% who work for a living vs. the 1% that invest. We keep pussyfooting around economic class because the concept is tainted with Marxism. Time to reclaim it.

  34. Mary Boston

    You should be encouraging, supporting her and inspiring her, not, Discouraging!

    So what! he has “money”, big deal. She is the one with
    Accountability, Integrity and REAL Transparency, let’s see how that matches up to the Retreat and Surrender campaign!

    come join FB Group:Elizabeth Warren Primary Obama 2012!

  35. Philip Pilkington

    Would she make a good president?


    And what about her positions on various other progressive issues?

    Well, on healthcare, she seems to be up-to-speed. Dean Baker’s ‘Taking Economics Seriously’ which deals in detail with many of these aspects has the following plug on the back:

    A terrific book. Dean Baker deconstructs the myth that big corporations have any interest in free markets and deregulation. And he is right: industry interests support government intervention all the time — when it helps them. They have thrown the free market under the bus to maximize profits, and Taking Economics Seriously explains how.
    – Elizabeth Warren.

    Hmmm… certainly looks like she read it.

    The rest of the issues? I hate to sound cynical, but are they not a bit less important right now. I mean, I can’t see her starting another war and barring that I think most things should take a backseat to economic reform right now. Besides, I doubt she’s the female equivalent of Glenn Beck on the other issues. I just don’t see her railing against the ‘immugrunts’ and the ‘queers’ — I really don’t.

  36. Alli

    Okay, this idea got way more words than it deserved. It only needed one: RIDICULOUS!

    Also: Reagan is not Obama’s role model. Mentioning his name a handful times to show today’s Republicans that their hero would disagree with them is not declaring that Reagan is your role model. And praising his political skills isn’t proof of that either. Is Reagan your role model? because you just said he has great communication skills.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      First of all, Reagan was a great communicator. Pity about what he was communicating, granted. But he had a warm charisma, where Obama has an almost distrusting coldness about him.

      As for the ‘role model’ thing, the media picked up on this on Reagan’s 100th birthday. And the White House Press Corps did nothing to stop it — indeed, they seem to have pushed this angle:

      Obama is a disgusting puppet-creature. I don’t know how long its going to take people to realise that. Reagan was appealing because he was honest and he believed in what he said. Obama, on the other hand, is a power-grabbing liar.

  37. Notorious P.A.T.

    Why in the world does anyone think she could do more good in the Senate than the White House? One senator rarely makes a difference. With a new president, however, we might at least stop attacking other countries and locking up whistleblowers.

  38. jcb


    I don’t disagree with you that almost anyone — okay, anyone — would be better than Obama. But with all due respect, I don’t see how Elizabeth Warren’s many virtues are somehow negated if she successfully runs for the Senate.

    Yes, Congress is a deeply corrupt body. But any member of the Senate has a 1% say in any law that passes, and a 2 1/2 % say if you include the filibuster. I rate her chances of successfully primarying Obama or successfully running for the presidency as an independent as much, much lower. And she actually might have a chance in Massachusetts.

    We’re all angry. But you are indulging in a kind of political nihilism that we will all regret. That nihilism involves invoking a pure moral voice that speaks truth by abnegating power in any but symbolic form, through unsuccessful candidacies. If you have a choice — and most of us don’t — you can have a large measure of the first and some measure of power as well.

    I am not arguing for political compromise, but for a different focus of effort. And this does not necessarily mean voting for Obama in the next election.

    1. jcb

      One more thing. What if I were to tell you that a single election as Senator can occasionally serve as a springboard to the presidency?

      1. Foppe

        And is that a cheeky reference to Obama’s great success? Do you perchance understand why he won, and why he got corporate support? And do you also appreciate that not every “one-term senator” would get the $ amount of support?
        I’m sure you enjoy breathing with your head in the sand, but please don’t force the rest of the world to do so as well, just so you can keep ignoring the fact that the democratic party is worth shit.

      1. jcb

        Well, Foppe, between breathing with my head in the sand and lulling you to sleep playing the nihilism “card” it looks like I’ve made quite a successful day of it!

        1. Foppe

          No genuine post starts out with “I respectfully disagree”, and then continues to pedantically and condescendingly decry “foolish and irresponsible/unSerious nihilism”.

          1. jcb

            “pedantically and condescendingly” . . .


            “And is that a cheeky reference … Do you perchance understand … And do you also appreciate… I’m sure you enjoy breathing… please don’t force the rest of the world … just so you can keep ignoring …
            Oh, ye gods….please. It makes me fall asleep.”

  39. Sufferin' Succotash

    “Another idea would be to form a shadow CFPB to keep the real one honest.”

    How about taking this notion to another level: an entire shadow Congress and Presidency to keep the real ones honest, elected by online balloting? An exercise in deliberative democracy on a nationwide scale?

  40. EmilianoZ

    Superb post! Full of great ideas. PDFed it for my archives. Should figure in any anthology of NC.

    “Obama, a patrician wannabe”
    This is the best characterization of Obama ever. LMAO!

    I hope Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone and Chris Hedges at Truthdig will support this. I don’t know where Baseline Scenario stands anymore. They have been completely silent on Elizabeth Warren being passed over. Years ago they had a guest post by her which I still treasure. It would be great to see independent bloggers uniting behind Elizabeth Warren.

    1. Foppe

      Most of the stuff I see on BS is neoliberal shilling and mainstream economic ‘analysis’. Wouldn’t expect too much of that platform.

  41. Martskers

    I could’ve sworn Yves gave EW “credit” for the
    ’05 bankruptcy “reform” act, you know, the one
    that eliminated bktcy courts’ ability to reform
    mortgages (as they can virtually any other
    contracts) so bankrupts could remain in their

    I don’t think EW would claim credit for that
    abomination, which bears a major part of
    the responsibility for the mortgage meltdown.
    It was the product of an earlier
    capitulation by Democrats to the financial
    services industry (which actually drafted the
    law). Proof of that: “my” congresscritter,
    Harold Ford, Jr., voted for the “reform” bill,
    in spite of the fact that his district has one
    of the highest percentage of poverty in the
    country. He also voted for Graham/Leach/Bliley,
    which eliminated the separation between commmercial
    and investment banking functions, and also bears
    responsibility for the meltdown. So, guess where
    Ford is now—yup, making
    millions in a figurehead position at Merrill Lynch.

    I suspect EW opposed the bankruptcy “reform”
    bill, since she has been so supportive of the
    abortive attempts to amend it to allow “cram-downs.”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I never attributed that monstrosity to Warren. She was a long standing opponent of the 2005 bankruptcy reform bill (the banks had several goes at it before they got it passed).

      1. Jack Parsons

        Yup! Previous attempts all died because… abortion-clinic terrorists declared bankruptcy to avoid paying massive fines. Their congressmen looked out for them!

  42. Anjon

    Great article, as always. Really sums up the contours of E Warren’s position inside the public sphere, an assessment of her capabilities, and what her viable courses of action are. In management consulting terms, I’d say this deliverable was a good “Analysis of Alternatives” (AoA) and a great SWOT!

    How about this Facebook group that has been around for a few weeks: Elizabeth Warren to PRIMARY Obama in 2012!/groups/141521932593562/

    Any thoughts on that?

  43. Evan Jackson

    Great idea, Yves. Your point that EW would be effectively silenced in the Senate is well taken.

    Of course we know that US presidents who face genuine primary opposition often go on to lose in the general election. However, I wouldn’t write off BO’s chances so glibly. He can raise enough money, and exert enough control over events and “facts” to create his own reality. At least to the majority of voters, who aren’t watching very closely. If the Repub nominee is one of their real Tea Party crazies, the economy may not matter – BO’s reelection may be considered the less scary alternative.

    I think the press & media would largely ignore EW, and portray her as being on a quixotic and personal mission. Lots of ill-informed Dems would wet their pants at what they would be encouraged to believe is an irresponsible move, threatening The Party’s very existence. The corporatist media would portray her as far to the left, a socialist, an out of touch intellectual, a liberal big spender, an unelectable dark horse, a business-unfriendly job-killer, all the usual noise to drown out her vital message. And if she has ever had an interesting sex life, forget about it!

    It’s asking a lot of her personally to undertake a campaign with so many obstacles and risks, not the least of which is her personal safety. With that said, I hope she does it. We need an honest and competent progressive candidate (if that’s what EW really is).

    The other alternative may be to conclude that democracy in the US died with Gore v. Bush, and it’s useless trying to deny it any longer, as we descend inexorably toward third world status. Sadly, that is becoming an increasingly sure bet.

  44. steelhead23

    The presumption that EW could not win is preposterous. A little over a decade ago a born-again, dim-wit whipped (OK, came close enough for the Supreme Court to decide the outcome) a bright, effective, politician. And look, you – and this blog in general – decry the tendency for decision-makers to ignore black swans. Sure, a victory by Liz Warren would be a pink polka-dotted black swan, but the possibility remains and frankly, victory must be possible for the kind of rhetorical combat you extol to really happen.

    Look, there is a ton of anger out there among American voters. While the Tea Party morphed into something its original supporters don’t recognize, it began as a backlash against TARP and other bailouts, not as a crusade against taxing the rich. That anger with the banks and their sycophants in Congress and the White House is an untapped well. Could EW tap into that discontent? Would a primary challenge to Obama really be the best way to gather such votes? Sorry Yves, your answers are based on your premises, and I simply cannot buy the premise. I don’t want EW to run in a vain attempt to drag Obama back to the left, I want her to run to win and then lead this country.

  45. allis

    There comes a time when one has to say, “Here I Stand” and do the right thing, no matter how futile it may be. The Trojan Horse Democrats strongest weapon is their knowledge that those of us on the Left are too spineless to do the right thing rather than the expedient thing.

    I will vote for Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic Primary, even if I have to write in her name. I have voted Democrat all my life, and in 2012 I will vote for someone. It will not be Obama.

  46. Jackrabbit

    I’m not sure that a Democratic primary run would be best for Warren. It seems likely to diminish her appeal to many independents. If she was serious about the run (as Yves points out, she would probably not run if she were’nt serious about running) then she would likely have to stake out positions that would please progressives/liberals.

    While every primary candidate has to take positions that please “the base” – then alter (“refine”) those positions for the general election, Warren may have to be more extreme than most because she would be running to unseat a Democrat that most in the party believe is likely to win the general.

    She has proven that she has mass appeal, organizational skills, and a dedication to public interest. Instead of risking that on a quixotic campaign to alter the debate in Washington, she might better apply those qualities to building a viable third party or supporting people who are working to do so.

    For the same reason, I don’t think a 3rd-party run with a true, fire-in-the-belly progressive is best either. (as suggested in an earlier comment: Nader-Warren or Warren-Nader).

    Only a successful third party is really going to change anything. Success means appealing to independents of both parties. This is where Warren shines. If she is not willing to lead such an effort (as Presidential candidate), she could give it a big boost with her support (especially if a VP candidate).

    Another interesting possibility is While helping to build a third party she may still be eligible as the AmericansElect candidate.

    1. DP

      Jackrabbit, I’m with you. I’d rather see Warren run as an independent where she can attack both parties of bought and paid for politicians and potentially appeal to Democrat, Republican and independent voters. And why does she need to raise an enormous amount of money to get her message out in the age of YouTube and Twitter?

      Imagine Warren doing a series of YouTube videos on subjects like:

      – The outrage of TARP, what kinds of bonuses the banksters who were bailed out are paying themselves and how their banks screw consumers at every chance they get.

      – The growing disparity between the incomes of the top 0.1% and 1% relative to everybody else and how the tax code is abused via large companies like ExxonMobil and GE that pay little or no U.S. income taxes and hedge fund managers who make tens of millions of dollars and pay 15% tax rates due to the “carried interest” loophole.

      – What percentage of campaign money for members of Congress in both parties are coming from lobbyists of various industries and how that relates to the breakdown of regulatory oversight from agencies like the FDA and the SEC.

      – How dire our financial situation is, how it got that way (Warren’s book speaks to that) and what should be done about it.

      The system has to be attacked from the outside. An honest and principled candidate has no chance of emerging from the primaries of either party.

  47. Don Lowell

    “” Hated by 44 senator’s”” Hey thats a big plus. She can ide in on a big white horse and save the country. Hell, she might even have a silver bullet. Hi Yo Liz!!

  48. Gordon T

    Hi Yves,
    I believe your instincts what EW is concerned are absolutely correct: The conversation has to be shifted and and doing so via a primary challenge is probably a good idea.
    Waht I do not understand however is, why you constantly choose to shove responsability for change in the direction of others! You have a fairly large (i would presume mostly progressive) audience, why not learn from what the “Tea Party” and the republicans quite obviously have achieved in terms of strategy(However much you dislike the politics)? Why not write a liberal/progressive pledge along the lines of what Norqwuist has done in terms of taxation, why not help to organize a (i.e.) “Rational Progressive Party” within the Democratic Party to make adherence to certain principles a litmus test and the question of whether one should even consider entering into a primary election?
    Just pushing EW to run for president seems like the easy way out.

  49. Gordon T

    I don´t believe that politics of confrontation is the best way to go in a democratic society, but currently it pretty much seems like the “new middle/consensous” is the halfway distance between the last concession and new demands. I would be suprised to see that halting via anything enacted from the top down. If anything, the fact that tea partiers(however deluded) managed to put the lobbying machine into overdrive, should be taken as a positive sign.

  50. kaj

    While one is inclined to give Elizabeth Warren the benefit of doubt, her Republican past(one of recent listings on this blog) and the lack of thorough vetting should concern readers of this blog.

    Those of us who are concerned about the environment and global warming, the military-industrial complex and its ability to coerce and thrive in any political environment, issues of income distribution, concentrated media power, serious reform of the Supreme Court and the judicial process, the ability to amend this blighted Constitution, and the whole complex of peace issues need to be wary after having propelled Obama to the presidency.

    Proper vetting is a life and time consuming process. Let us have mortal combat in the primaries with Obama. I am similarly not sanguine about Howard Dean who by all appearances is a “moderate.”. I just hope that Elizabeth Warren is not a one-trick Sorry, pun not intended) pony.

    1. Foppe

      How much worse can it get than the current crop?
      As for the use of vetting: seeing how easily Obama sailed through, it seems to be of limited value.

  51. Deloss Brown

    I don’t want another Eugene McCarthy. I was around then. Saw what happened.

    I don’t want a third party, unless it’s the Tea Party. I’d love to see that happen.

    I’d like to see an Elizabeth Warren primary candidacy, and it begins to sound like Yves has struck a very responsive chord.

    Yves, who do we get to form her committee, please? Jane Hamsher, are you reading this?

  52. PaulArt

    Yves hits the nail on the head when she says that Warren should Primary Challenge Obama and not get into a Third Party run. The only problem is if we examine the re-emergence of the GOP post the Nixon-Watergate debacle a primary organizing tool they had were the Christian Evangelicals. The Moral Majority and all their goon squads and media apparatus. They also had no dearth of funding since most Pastors are beholden to the richest of their tithing flock. Who does the Left have? Labor is a joke – the Union leaders being only slightly better than the Pastors. The sad fact is, there is a total and deafening silence from the Left. Even if Warren does a Primary Challenge, the only benefit will be to pull Obama temporarily to the Left and he will do that S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R-L-Y. He lied in 2008, what prevents him from lying again in 2012? There are enough morons out there to believe him. We need a binding organizing force with the momentum of a Force 10 gale. Until then, we are toast.

  53. Jackrabbit

    IF (a big IF – see my earlier comment) Warren DID make a primary challenge – easily picking up the votes of the disenchanted progressives – would that entice Hillary to enter the fray?

    The race between Obama and Hilary was extremely close in 2008 when Obama was the darling of progressives. IF Obama lost a big part of that progressive vote, Hillary might have a very good chance to win.

  54. Eureka Springs

    I need to know much more about EW. That said, I know I am a minority, but I cannot fathom backing someone who thinks they could accomplish anything in or with the criminally bribed D party apparatus. I think outside, as an independent, is the only way to have any sincerity… and it couold change the conversation. Heck, pile up on outsiders… get a Libertarian, a fascist, a Green, a Socialist and Warren the Independent on a constant national discussion tour.

    Do not allow D’s or R’s. Banish them up front! We have far more ways to change the game than the criminal R vs D party box leads people to believe.

    The D party must be destroyed.

    As for the left, such as it is, we need a platform for the country… just so we all know what we are trying to achieve and can talk/act accordingly. This needs to happen before a person steps up to represent us! This platform formation could happen quickly with the internet.

    Now back to the no money sighs.

  55. F. Beard

    You liberals and progressives should side with the libertarians; we can work it out.

    We need to straighten out Ron Paul with regard to gold and the desirability of deficit spending but other than that he might make a great President. He could be the Nixon who says “We are all MMT believers now!”

    But expect to give a little; private currencies MUST be allowed both to keep government honest and to placate Ron’s base.

    1. Westcoastliberal

      Say F.B. I worked for and voted for Harry Browne and if Ron Paul is in the race against Obama and a Republicnot I might vote for Mr. Paul this time around. I think he needs to explain his policy on Social Security as I know he’s against it on the Federal level but am sure he wouldn’t have objections to the state’s having such a plan.

  56. Westcoastliberal

    I would vote for Ms Warren against Obama in the primary and would donate my time and money to her campaign.
    On the other hand, I’ll do nothing for Obama as he has done nothing for me or any other persons with Progressive viewpoints. IMHO he is a traitor to the Democratic party.

  57. Siggy


    Nice piece, full marks.

    As much as I like Mrs Warren, I don’t think she could win and my sense of her is that she will for the moment retire from the poltical stage and assess just what it is that she wants to do. I expect her to make a reasoned choice and I expect that choice to be in favor of a return to academia.

    It appears that she has done yeoman work in creating the Consumer Protection Bureau and while heading it would have been beneficial to country, I believe it would have been a considerable strain on her. She has done her share, it is now time for others to carry the effort forward.

    As an aside, this is an issue that is ripe for a quote from Hannah Arendt. Wo bist Herr Down South? Has he been banned? Is he well? One wonders.

  58. Habenicht

    Although I have never been politically active in my entire life, I could definitely see myself campaigning for this woman if the chance arose.

    What I find remarkable about Elizabeth Warren is that I feel like I can trust her. Perhaps this is naive, but the visceral reaction she has on banks makes me think that there is something fundamentally fair and/or good about her. In a system controlled by elites consumed by self serving greed and corruption, it is refreshing to read about a woman who is trying to promote fairness and transparency. (much like Yves here! I have learned so much on your site by the way)

    Still, I am puzzled by the comments which portray her chances as so slim though. I recognize that not having a huge bankroll to start is potentially an uphill struggle. But is there an Obama base that has not been totally sold out in the last 3 years? I would think that if a viable alternative to Obama emerged, voters that feel like Obama failed them could express their disappointment on election day (personally, I can’t wait to vote against him in some form and return the “favor”/”betrayal”).

    Remember that Obama himself was a bit of an underdog v Hilary Clinton running up to the 2008 election (I am guessing that Hilary was probably the more established and better funded primary candidate). I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to think that the increasing numbers of down and out in this country would look favorably to fresh alternative distinct from the “more of the same” pandering to banks, corporations, etc.

    As well, think back to this spring where we witnessed all of these “changes” in the arab world which seemed so sudden like bolts from the blue (at least to me, it seemed unexpected). So in today’s world, I think if the people are ready for change and the message is right, grass roots movements could really take off.

  59. Charles Peterson

    I think EW in primary challenge is a great idea!!! Of course she will be called far left, socialist, etc., by anyone in MSM who doesn’t entirely ignore her, but it will be so funny to see the same terms used to describe Obama later in the general, in the sorry but likely even he gets the nomination.

    Assuming we are sick of tinkle down economics and imperialism, who are the other choices?

    1) Sanders (nice to dream, probably almost impossible, if I were Soros I’d try bribing him)
    2) Kucinich again?
    3) Feingold better than any dem in national office (where does this effort stand?)
    4) Others I can’t think of now? Yves Smith!

    I’d like to see all of them! Heck, even Paul Krugman (who has said no many times I think to any public office).

    Electoral politics is still the only operational game. If you want to just sip expresso, that’s fine, or organize marches, that’s better, but don’t kick others who want to try something that could be operationally useful in national politics. I can’t see why a 3rd party effort would be any less counterproductive than any time since Teddy Roosevelt, and that was just because TR was a special guy who many thought of as far right conservative but was actually a radical progressive in all but rhetoric. OK, Perot helped Clinton win by taking votes from GHWB. Maybe we should try to get Paul Ryan on a third party ticket. But even though that might help Obama win, it wouldn’t help with changing Obama (impossible, all one can do is try to weaken his traitorous backroom dealing and steamrolling) or the terms of debate, in fact it would lead them further backwards, and he gets the air time (unlike Nader, et al).

  60. Jessica

    It is worth distinguishing between
    Running in 2012 for the sake of 2012
    Running in 2012 for the sake of 2016

  61. doom

    Shadow CFPB, now we’re talkin. Parallel government. That’s what we need more of, high-profile people highlighting the work the state fails to do and undercutting the government’s legitimacy. The judiciary urgently needs the same approach, with an NGO version of the obligatory human rights body that the state refuses to institute. The parties are firmly rigged and a primary challenge would be a cathartic stunt, with the right stuntwoman, but this monolithic kleptocracy has to be undermined. It’s beyond reform unless it’s fatally discredited and weakened.

    1. Charles Peterson

      doom> The parties are firmly rigged and a primary challenge would be a cathartic stunt, with the right stuntwoman,

      It’s not about catharsis, it’s about opening up the national dialog which is otherwise caught in a endless rightward spiral. If there’s no dialog, there’s no politics, and if there’s no politics, there’s no possibility of sustained change (even after government removal, which is inconceivable now anyway).

      Shadow government is a great idea too, but would require far more sustained effort and commitment from many people. Talk is cheap. We can see about shadow government best after primary challenges are so routine that pre-primary challenges are routine (and the winner of the pre-primary goes into the shadow government).

      1. doom

        Talk is cheap(er), yes, and badly needed, but I worry that discourse conducted in the party’s lair is awfully easy to distort or suppress. Of course, the Nader campaign shows that discourse conducted outside the party’s lair is also awfully easy to suppress. The deciding factor for me is that a programmatic NGO can win loyalty in a way that really challenges the state (that’s why programmatic NGOs like Planned Parenthood and ACORN have been attacked in the most bipartisan way.) So primary that sell-out corporate clerk, great, but supplant and shame the state itself too.

  62. Dan

    An Obama primary challenge is urgently needed. I could get behind an Elisabeth Warren / Brooksley Born ticket.

  63. cal

    I am all for a primary battle for the democratic ticket and Warren seems like a pretty good choice. Obama has completely let down the people who elected him. He has done more damage to progressive causes than even Ronald Reagan. He does not deserve an unchallenged primary. I can’t even think a democrat, in all of history, who more deserves a challenge. Even Johnson, who drug out Vietnam, gave us Medicare and Medicaid and the Civil Right Act. Obama is worthless as a democratic president. He tries to say he wants to compromise like LINCOLN. Give me a break. Lincoln compromised within the Union not with the Confederates. If Lincoln was like Obama, he would have given away as many States as they wanted AND promised to buy cotton from them. He is HORRIBLE!!!!! Absolutely HORRIBLE!! Shame on Obama.

  64. Peak Morpheus

    Well of course — you can now see where all of this leads. When you talk Fed Chairman you are talking finance, but when you talk President you talk abortion, Quaker, sun-tan, right-to-die, and rap-music. You are lost.

  65. Kat

    I’m working on a vision-in-progress…. after she’s had a bit of a rest, Elizabeth Warren establishes a banking institution. In all matters/structures, said institution will always operate in accordance with the basic principles and practices she believes in. It’s written in stone somewhere. So people who still have a shred of common sense start flocking to this bank. (Most have at least a shreds-worth left). It becomes hugely successful, solvent, and it becomes THE ENVY of the current players in the banking/financial world.

    That’s my nut-shell vision <–hold the wise-cracks, please. ;D

  66. Nick Kouros

    I am still reeling from the blunt realization that Obama was not truthful to the American people about what he represented. He had the charisma to get in and needed to do it for his ego. He has thrown middle America under the bus. I would totally support EW in the primary to get the dialog shifted back to middle America and the need for government spending. Her running mate should be Paul Krugman; after all, the whole election is going to be about the economy. PK is the anti-Geithner. I hope all these comments on the blogs, the editorials, the growing “noise” gets through to her, her people. It would be tremendously powerful and effective. I worry for us all. Obama has set it all up for the rest of his term: he’s open to blackmail.

  67. Adam

    Elizabeth Warren should definitely run for President, we need at least one voice of reason in this coming election!

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