Elizabeth Warren Escalates Fight over Treasury Nominee Antonio Weiss, Goes to War with Wall Street Wing of Democratic Party

Earlier this week, we wrote about how the New York Times’ Dealbook, the creature of Wall Street sycophant Andrew Ross Sorkin, had launched a fierce campaign against Elizabeth Warren’s latest move, her opposition to the Obama administration’s nomination of Lazard’s Antonio Weiss, a mergers and acquisitions banker. Warren’s grounds for objecting to Weiss were straightforward: his experience was no fit for the requirements of his proposed Treasury role. On top of that, he had been involved in and therefore profited from acquisitions called inversions that Treasury opposes because they reduce the taxes paid by the acquirer, which uses the acquired company to move its headquarters to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

Dealbook published three Warren-bashing columns in as many weeks; the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal ran editorials making similar arguments, suggesting that all were picking up on the same talking points out of Treasury. One tell: the Times had to issue a correction on one of its pieces because it relied on a Treasury document that exaggerated Weiss’ accomplishments.

Warren upped the ante in a speech on Tuesday, making Weiss, who is now head of investment banking at Lazard, a symbol of what is wrong with the relationship between the government and Big Finance: that of far too much coziness between the large, influential players and financial regulators. And in sharpening and further documenting her critique, she has put the Robert Rubin wing of the Democratic party in her crosshairs.

It is hard to exaggerate Rubin’s role in shaping Democratic party economic and financial regulatory policy. Rubin was a former Goldman co-chairman before becoming Treasury secretary and was later a board member and vice-chariman of Citigroup. All Democratic party Treasury secretaries after his time in office were proteges of his. A boatload of former Goldman and Citigroup employees that have rotated through major government posts are also members of what a regulatory expert calls the Rubino gang. Rubin’s support was also critical to Obama’s rise. Rubin has exercised intellectual influence over the Democratic party through the Hamilton Project, which has sponsored a raft of good for banks, bad for the middle class policies such as unfettered free trade, a strong dollar, financial services deregulation, and balanced budgets.

Make no mistake about how forceful Warren’s critique was and how it took aim at Rubin operatives. We’ve embedded it at the end of the post and encourage you to read it in full.*

As Dave Dayen wrote in The New Republic:

Warren made clear that her fight is about much more than one nominee at the Treasury Department. She crafted a direct challenge to three decades of bipartisan collusion between government and Wall Street, in a highly unusual manner for any politician, let alone one recently drafted into the Senate Democratic leadership. The Weiss affair has become secondary to this bigger competition for what principles will shape the Democratic Party, and what role Warren will play in it.

Dayen does not tease the bigger impllications out, but Warren is playing high-stakes poker. Whether she is seriously interested in running for President or not, she’s being groomed as the Hillary fallback. The dissent-grounding-out organization known as MoveOn plans to spend $1 million on Warren as a 2016 contender. Warren has nothing to lose by playing along (provided she does not get captured) since it enhances her prestige and influence. The thinly-disguised attack on the Clinton/Obama personal ties to major financiers reinforces her differentiation from Hillary and sets the stage for a Main Street versus Wall Street campaign.

Warren catalogues how much sway major financial firms have over bank-related regulations, including the scale of the revolving door, with nearly 1500 former Federal employees now working as lobbyists. And mind you, that’s before you get to all the stuff that isn’t formal lobbying that is carried on through think tanks and public relations efforts. DC insiders estimate that for every dollar classified as lobbying, another $2 is spent on other forms of influence. Look, for instance, at Larry Summers’ post Treasury career. He regularly gives finance-friendly speeches, op-eds, and small-group meetings, yet none of of his influence-peddaling is classified as lobbying.

The most striking statistic from Warren is how outgunned ordinary citizens are in the effort to sway regulators:

The Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, took a look at all of the meeting logs from 2010 to 2012 of the Treasury Department, the CFTC, and the Fed. It found that those agencies reported meeting with one of 20 big banks or banking associations a combined 12.5 times per week- about five times as often as all reform-oriented groups combined… Goldman and JP Morgan each met with those agencies at least 175 times- or nearly twice per week, every week, on average.

Do the math. Goldman and JP Morgan alone got nearly as many meetings as all the finance critics combined.

Warren spends most of the speech with a more detailed shellacking of the Antonio Weiss nomination than she provided in her Huffington Post article that first made her case. She spent the most time on the big bone of contention, that being a senior financier meant Weiss was qualified to perform any banking-related role. That idea would be laughed out of the room by any Wall Street recruiter, given how narrow and specialized the various profit centers are, and Warren patiently walks through why international mergers and acquisitions experience is utterly irrelevant to the Undersecretary of Domestic Finance position.

She also rebuts a bizarre argument mounted by Weiss’ backers, that the public should be grateful and happy that Lazard will accelerate the payout of Weiss’ unvested income, which will give him an estimated $21 million payday. This is for a man with a net worth estimated ate between $54 and $203 million. As Warren tartly notes:

So what is this all really about? Why call out the cavalry for a guy whose experience doesn’t match the job he’s been nominated for? Why circle the wagons around a guy who is picking up $20 million to take a public service job?

It’s all about the revolving door- that well-oiled mechanism that sends Wall Street executives to make policies in the government and that sends government policymakers straight to Wall Street. Weiss defenders are all in, loudly defending the revolving door and telling America how lucky we are that Wall Street is willing to run the economy and the government. In fact, Weiss supporters even defend golden parachutes like the $20 million payment Weiss will receive from Lazard to take this government job. Why? They say it is an important tool for making sure Wall Street executives will continue to be willing to run government policy making.

If that sounds ridiculous to you, you’re not alone. Sheila Bair, a Republican and the former head of the FDIC, responded that “only in the Wonderland of Wall Street logic could one argue that this looks like anything other than a bribe.” End Quote. She went on: “We want people entering public service because they want to serve the public. Frankly, if they need a $20 million incentive, I’d rather they stay away.”

Warren may not win this fight in a narrow sense. She may not even be able to prevail in blocking the Antonio Weiss nomination, although the AFL-CIO is uncharacteristically opposing the Administration and siding with Warren. But anyone with an operating brain cell can see that the Democratic party strategy of siding with Big Business and Big Finance to the point of abandoning the middle class has failed. Appealing to identity politics and hot-button special interests aren’t sufficient to rally the base, particularly after the blatant Obama 2008 bait and switch. There are acceptable degrees of political lying, and Obama has repeatedly gone well beyond their boundaries. The even-worse-than-expected midterm losses were a wake-up call.

The conundrum is that for party leaders as individuals, selling out to monied interests is often still a wining strategy, no matter what it costs the party, so Warren’s rearguard action may well fail. But the flip side is she is demonstrating that opposing the anti-middle class members of the 1% is a viable political position, not just from the standpoint of public profile, but fundraising. The fact that Warren has gotten as far as she has is due to her standing as a donation magnet. So even if she appears to lose these fights, she wins longer-term by demonstrating she can make her opponents’ victories costly, de-legitimizing the power of Big Finance, and paving the way for other Main Street candidates.

* A nice touch: Dave Dayen and this blog were cited in the footnotes.

2014-12-9 Senator Warren remarks-1

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  1. wbgonne

    I like Elizabeth Warren, who is my senator. However, I will say here what I put in an email to her yesterday. Warren is delusional if she thinks she can fundamentally transform the Democratic Party while Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party presidential nominee or — god forbid — the President. Either Warren runs for president and directly challenges Clinton and the Wall Street wing, or Warren will become the Democrats’ pet Progressive, trotted out for fundraising and public relations and otherwise patted on the head or ignored.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Clinton hasn’t even announced her candidacy. And a lot can happen in two years. Clinton is vulnerable precisely by virtue of being annointed so far in advance. She’s tied to the unpopular Obama Administration. Bill is no longer the secret weapon he used to be, he’s been too much the stooge of the 1%.

      She looks very unhealthy, frankly, and she already had what is probably a mini-stroke. I have been saying for some time I don’t think she can stand up physically to the demands of campaigning.

      And you don’t appear to understand the point made about winning by losing. For instance, I played a minor role in the opposition to Bernanke’s reappointment. I recall when a Congressional staffer called me and said, “I want Bernanke not reappointed. We’ll lose, but we’ll do some damage.” And indeed we did. There were five holds placed on Bernanke, an unheard of level of opposition. Obama had to whip personally to get Bernanke through, and even so, Bernanke had a record level of nay votes for a Fed chairman.

      The message got through. In the Greenberg-AIG trial, Bernanke said the Fed had been damaged by the way it handled the bailouts. That vote plus Audit the Fed, which got cut back from its original scope, were the start of a continuing process to get the Fed under more democratic control. The fact that Congress is now talking about having the Government rather than the Fed advisory boards nominate regional Fed presidents and having Congress rather than the Board of Governors approve them is another sign of how the Fed’s standing has fallen. It no longer has assumed credibility and is treated with much less deference.

      As past NC regular Richard Kline wrote:

      The nut of the matter is this: you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, they give up. As someone who has protested, and studied the process, it’s plain that one spends most of one’s time begin defeated. That’s painful, humiliating, and intimidating. One can’t expect typically, as in a battle, to get a clean shot at a clear win. What you do with protest is just what Hari discusses, you change the context, and that change moves the goalposts on your opponent, grounds out the current in their machine. The nonviolent resistance in Hungary in the 1860s (yes, that’s in the 19th century) is an excellent example. Communist rule in Russia and its dependencies didn’t fail because protestors ‘won’ but because most simply withdrew their cooperation to the point it suffocated.


      That is how Warren can win by losing. If she reverses the undue respect given to senior bankers by officials and the media, she’s won the real battle. And that would change the Democratic Party as a side effect.

      1. vlade

        The point of battling human stupidity is not to win – you can’t. It’s to keep the battle going, as the real loss is to give up.

        Can’t remember who said it, but it applies here too.

      2. wbgonne

        you don’t appear to understand the point made about winning by losing

        I do undertand that point. I also understand that, generally speaking, you win a lot more by winning than by losing.

        More to the point, the Democratic Party today is in the death-grip of the Clinton-Obama Wall Street Wing. They will not voluntarily relinquish that power so it must be wrest from them. That could be accomplished by a bottom-up uprising of the partisans, but the Obama experience proves that is exceedingly unlikely. OTOH, a charismatic leader directly challenging the power structure could catalyze the process. For various reasons, Elizabeth Warren is the only viable candidate for that role today. But she can’t do it unless she actually runs. Shooting spitballs from the sidelines is not adequate under the circumstances. Yes, Warren can occasionally embarrass the Wall Street Wing and may even win a skirmish or two, but that is not enough when the corruption is this deep. Tinkering around the edges won’t do it, not when the plutocratic powers are in firm control and amassing and consolidating ever more power. Moreover, while limited rear-guard actions are sometimes the only viable tactical option (and therefore worthy efforts), that is certainly not the case here: for the reasons you note, Warren could beat Clinton and probably would. This is the time for a full frontal assault. Anything else will bounce off or be co-opted. IMHO.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Funders won’t continue to support a party that can’t deliver voters. Turnout at the midterms was at record low levels and the Democrats that did best were the bona fide progressives. The cowardly centrists like Martha Coakley lost. Now the Dems can run on brand fumes for quite a while, but how long is an open question.

          And look what the Tea Party has done to the Republicans. Their fundraising has been centralized for longer than in the Democratic party, yet they’ve had great difficulty containing the rabble. That was one of the reasons they lost in 2012 when they should have had a cakewalk v. Obama (admittedly, the massive operational failure of Project Orca was a major own goal). Their midterm success was in large measure due to getting them leashed and collared for a while, but the Tea Party is still going to make it hard for the Republicans to govern effectively (and that includes getting maximum advantage of their Congressional majorities). They are the best hope for Democrats.

          So I think you greatly underestimate the power of insurgents, particularly when the Democrats are failing to deliver things that mainstream voters want, most of all decent jobs, which is the core brand promise of the Democratic party, as Bill Clinton stressed in the 1990s.

          Whether Warren is willing to go that far outside the pale in her opposition is an open question, however. Despite her populist position on middle class issues, she is also a technocrat and likes policy wonkery, which will likely limit how much she will break with members of the elite (the intellectuals, as opposed to the moneybags). But the flip side is she was by all accounts a formidable bureaucratic infighter at Harvard, so one should not underestimate her internal game.

          1. bh2

            I truly hope you are right about Warren’s ability to carry the fight, Yves, but (visible and invisible) forces arrayed against her are formidable because they have access to virtually unlimited resources, public and private.

            As long as the people who make the sausage can boldly lie about what’s in it and profit in their arrogance of power from their deceptions, there’s no possibility the basic recipe will ever be fit for public consumption.

            This isn’t a problem of not passing enough laws. Indeed, to again quote Tacitus:

            “The more the laws, the more corrupt the nation.”

      3. Carolinian

        Did the Soviet Union collapse because “protest works” or though systemic collapse? Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that protest works when people are ready to pay attention. Clearly that’s not yet the case when it comes to our major media organs and the financial system. But if we do have another big crisis it would be great if someone like Warren could step into the breach. While some have been bashing her foreign policy views, she strikes me as sincere and a lot more authentic than the nakedly ambitious Obama. Unfortunately for that reason it seems unlikely that the Dem establishment–as opposed to their base–will ever accept her. They’d rather go down with the ship than resign as captains. It’s all summed up in Lambert’s fave: Jonathan Schwarz’ “Iron Law of Institutions.” What matters is the pecking order, not what gets pecked.

        1. Matt Stoller

          Unfortunately for that reason it seems unlikely that the Dem establishment–as opposed to their base–will ever accept her.

          That’s nonsense. She’s a U.S. Senator. She served in the administration. She raised more $$$ than any other Senatorial campaign. She’s already brought four Senators along with her. Jeanne Shaheen just announced opposition to Weiss today. What do you think the establishment is?

      4. Banger

        Very good–the idea here is not to make a difference in the current power-arrangements but to change perceptions so that there is some chance for change. I often say the media is controlled by the oligarchs, they control, largely, by limiting the areas of discourse to a fairly narrow band. However, the areas of Wall Street fraud/income-disparity and now police/CIA brutality are discourses that are leaking out from underneath the blanket–in my view because we are seeing a mighty struggle for power within the oligarchy just as they seemed to have achieved invulnerability (falling out among thieves). This is a very good sign of hope in our society. The media knows that people are not as easily fooled today and that the terrorist “threat” is not what it was made out to be. The raison d’etre for not only the increase in authoritarianism but the unleashing Wall Street from scrutiny was the focus was largely imaginary terrorist plots.

      5. Banger

        Excellent–perception, at this point in our history, is critical. Winning or losing on this is not important at this time.

        1. wbgonne

          Winning or losing on this is not important at this time.

          That is an astonishing statement. We are on the brink of collapse politically, economically and environmentally. Just when does winning become important?

          1. Doug Terpstra

            Perhaps the point is that winning is not possible at this point. It will only be possible (and critically important) after the collapse.

            1. wbgonne

              That is unnecessarily defeatist, IMO. If Warren were to run she would have a fair shot at securing the nomination and winning the presidency. The time is now. This is a golden opportunity. Waiting for the collapse is a very very dangerous game.

                1. wbgonne

                  No one’s saying wait until the collapse except you.

                  What a curious statement. First of all, the comment I replied suggested that explicitly. Secondly, the implication of leaving Warren in the Senate does precisely that . . . unless you believe that that Warren can reform the Democratic Party from within as a sitting senator even as the party continues to be led a neoliberal president and/or presidential candidate. For the reasons I have explained in other comments, I don’t think that is realistic. And one point I will add to that analysis: the Clintons know how to strangle their enemies.

            2. impermanence

              What most people fail to grasp is that the collapse has already taken place. This is the response to the collapse. Everything is in place for what will follow…problem is that people fail to transcend their own narrow view and embrace the new reality.

              Just as we ponder retrospectively, most will look back at this period and wonder how it was possible that people could not see what was transpiring, how the vast majority held on so dearly to that which was simply non-existent.

      6. DJG

        Excellent comment, and I’d relate it to Vaclav Havel’s ideas of the power of the powerless. On the other hand, I’m not sure that I have Havel’s stamina, which consisted of some thirty or forty years of losing, over and over and over.

      7. Jim Haygood

        ‘Clinton hasn’t even announced her candidacy.’


        We’ve been through this before. Throughout her 2006 campaign for a second term in Senate, Clinton coyly parried all questions about her presidential ambitions. No sooner than the new Senate reconvened in January 2007, she announced her exploratory committee for the presidential nomination.

        It would have been quite relevant to her constituents to know that her Senate seat was just a convenient stepping stone, to be cast aside as soon as a better post came into view. But as always with the Clintons, triangulation prevailed over straight shooting with the little people.

        With her puppet group Stand With Hillary putting out videos featuring ‘2016’ scrawled in lipstick, it’s idle to play along with the silly ‘will she or won’t she’ head game. Fool me twice, shame on … well, we won’t get fooled again!

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          What is this about? I’m not a Democrat. I’ve consistently voted for third party candidates for President. I’m embarrassed to have voted for Obama in 2008, but I was more voting against Palin than for Obama. Warren is doing good work here. I don’t understand all the negative reactions. We (Stoller and I) were actually opposed to her running for the Senate. We both thought she’d get more done as a finance version of a Ralph Nader at Harvard Law. She has accomplished more at the Senate than I expected. She brought the unfixed issues in banking back to the fore. The Administration had heretofore succeeded getting that out of MSM coverage. However, all she really has at the Senate is a bully pulpit. One of the few concrete things a Senator can do is block nominations, and this is an important nomination.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Elizabeth Warren is the Democrats’ “progressive hood ornament” as one NC commenter put it recently. She also has a serious prostrate condition triggered by AIPAC and Israeli issues. It’s great that she is clearly defining the obvious when it comes to tax avoidance, rigged trade and crony-capitalists’ reaming of the middle class, but I seem to recall another campaigner making grandiloquent orations and myriad promises about such issues and world peace back in 08. That and Warren’s endorsement by “the dissent-grounding-out organization known as MoveOn” is a bright cautionary flag for me. Any DP candidate now has an almost insurmountable hurdle to my vote.

      Politico notes that Treas-Sec Jacob Lew actually chose Weiss on Obama’s behalf, which makes sense, since Obama’s economic policy is wholly run by Wall Street tribal cronies.

      1. Matt Stoller

        There’s evidence to the contrary. She helped stop Larry Summers from being Fed Chair, she’s done oversight over regulators. She sees her role as dealing with banking and political economy. She also has set up a line in the sand for Democrats, which they understand. They can cross it, but the costs are high to do so.
        This is actually a fight within the party. You can ignore the evidence, and that might feel good to do so, but that is cynicism, not skepticism.

        1. Doug Terpstra

          Obama has made me a realist where politicians are concerned. I don’t believe any get to office without presenting a duly-notarized receipt for their souls. But in Warren’s case, her unreserved allegiance to Israel is a dealbreaker for me. One man’s cynicism is another man’s skepticism, but thanks for your opinion..

        2. Lambert Strether

          Yes, it is a fight within the party, but then Obama vs. Clinton was a fight within the party.

          I like the phrase “a hermeneutic of suspicion.” I mean, it’s not like there’s not a history here:

          “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day,” the blogger, Susan Madrak of Crooks and Liars, pointedly told Axelrod on the call, which was organzied for liberal bloggers and progressive media.

          I’d love it if Warren turned out to be different. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m open to being convinced, but Weiss isn’t enough for me. Show me more!

    3. zeev kirsh

      warren is a politician. the problem with you people is you put your faith in politicians because you are too old and resigned to the status quo at large. you’re so old you do not even realize what the status quo at large is, so you believe the status quo is a just a few basic policies that a politician has the power to change.

      they do not. they are politicians . you do not live in a democracy. you live in an oligarchy. politicians do not have the power to ‘fix’ oligarchies. politicians are the people telling you they can fix humpty dumpty when the wise and the young people simply ignore them and the old faithful wait around talking junk about how they might fix humpty.

      1. Lambert Strether

        I’m not a fan of counsels of despair. And oligarchs are not new the country, as anybody who looks at the Framers, or the Gilded Age, knows. But I’m not a fan of disempowering potential voters. Really, there have been politicians who were the real deal in the past; FDR and Lincoln come to mind. Warren has yet to be tested. It would make more sense to put her to the test than to assume, a priori, that nothing can come of it. It’s a lot like Pascal’s Wager, except that the risk is a lot lower.

        1. John Mc

          Agreed Lambert.

          Nonetheless, this is a big ask for the most ardent radicals after the past eight years of paying fielty to Obama’s use of hope, the post-racial memes while talking left and walking right. It is not far from our collective unconscious to see how the same template could be used to co-opt Warren using the poles of gender, the first woman president, and her first-to-the-deregulated rigged Wall Street consumer finance bona fides as “brand quality”.

          One might say this a road map for how the oligarchs could destroy trust and progressive politics simultaneously, which are highly profitable endeavors for those who benefit from resource volatility.

          If Warren wants my vote, I want an educated public discussion in major media outlets about what Neoliberalism is and how financialization has amplified it. If she is going to run for President, the monied interests must not be able to co-opt her.

  2. Northeaster

    Until or unless someone from the DoJ is put in front of Warren’s Committee to answer why no one is in jail, then all her parading of various regulators with zero criminal prosecution powers is just for show. We know regulatory capture plays a role here, but playing political Party footsie’s isn’t going to do anything. We already know Wall Street “owns the joint”, so really, what’s it going to take? Fines are just the cost of business here.

    If The Fed’s Consumer Survey was any indication of what is happening to 90% of us, it may not matter anyway as we’ll have to ride it to its ultimate dystopian conclusion.

    1. Banger

      It is the “show” that counts at this point in history. There are, technically, no avenues for those that oppose the oligarchs other than altering the “show”, i.e., public perceptions. At this point the “democratic” part of our political system appears to be dead. Both parties exist almost entirely for the benefit of the moneyed class and this must be a notion that enters into the mainstream culture as a bad thing. I am sure that this is Warren’s thinking on this matter which is why she is not choosing to run. She knows as well as I do that the Presidency is a debased institutions and other forces rule–however you want to call them.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Well, politics (electoral and otherwise) is one way “the show” gets changed, and culture generally. I’ve been listening to pod-casts on the Roman Empire and on the English, American, and French revolutions, and one thing is very clear: Institutions can change and renew themselves (even if for the basest of motives). I think Matt draws a good line between cynicism and skepticism — “Show me,” I would urge, needs to be our attitude, not “nothing you can do or say will ever persuade me.” I grant, as above, that the Democrats have managed to set themselves a very high bar for the sort of showing they would need to make.

    1. RUKidding

      snort! made me laugh but more eloquently expressed exactly what I was feeling. Hat tip!

      What’s the Non-Wall St part of the D Branch of the UniParty? Who, exactly, is in that section? Would love to know bc from where I sit, all I see are Wall St lackeys and stooges with the maybe possible exception of Warren (albeit I wouldn’t count on her to NOT head straight to Wall St should she not get re-elected. Let’s get real here).

      1. Jess

        Me, too. Aside from possibly Warren, there is no part of the Democrap party that is not totally beholden to Wall Street.

  3. Eric B

    It’s depressing that actually being an actively, unapologetically liberal senator is so rare in the Democratic Party that it’s assumed by many to be positioning for a presidential run. But the fact that it *is* so rare means that if Senator Warren did run, she’d instantly become the Sacrificial Liberal in the race, ignored or condescended to by all the Very Serious People.

    The only possible reason for her to change her mind and enter the race would be to “change the discussion”, but she’s actually having more of a real effect on the discussion right now, doing what she’s doing, than she would if she became the Sacrificial Liberal. Yves’ point about Senator Warren “playing along” with Move On et al is well-taken, but not really necessary. Obviously all it takes is Warren being Warren.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      What I find sort of depressing is that Warren is seen as being liberal. She is against single payer and her student debt reforms were pathetic. She is aggressive only on a relative narrow set of issues which is consumer finance and her opposition to what Simon Johnson called the quiet coup of the Wall Street becoming the dominant oligarchs in the US. If she makes progress on those, that’s very important, but that is not the same as her being a liberal in a general sense. She started out as a Republican, and looks relatively liberal only by virtue of having stayed in place while the country moved rightward.

      1. Spring Texasn

        Yes. But she’s a honest person and one who has genuine concern for average individuals. After all the shills like Obama, this is indeed extraordinary.

        However, I do not want her to run for president. I think she is more effective as a senator.

        1. Lambert Strether

          I don’t care much about her personality characteristics; I think we focus too much on minutiae like that. If Huey Long could get the policies I want, I’d vote for Huey Long.

      2. RUKidding

        Thanks, Yves. I heartily agree. I think citizens who consider themselves “progressive” or “left” or whatever are like the proverbial cartoon character stranded in the desert seeing water mirages. Warren has her good points, I concede, and I’m willing to support her, if I can in some way, on the issues elaborated by you and others here at NC.

        That said, Warren is NOT a progressive. Not. At. All. Her stands on Israel, for one, preclude her emphatically from anything akin to be progressive, and IMO, she’s still pretty much an old school Republican.

        Fact: there simply are NO progressives in Congress whatsoever, and don’t get me started about Bernie, the Sell Out, Sanders.

      3. Ulysses

        “She started out as a Republican, and looks relatively liberal only by virtue of having stayed in place while the country moved rightward.”

        Yes, that’s correct! We won’t see anything like a real reigning in of the kleptocrats– who currently call the tune– until someone like Sen. Warren is perceived as being on the right side of the Overton window. The main purpose that MoveOn type fauxgressives serve for their Wall St. masters is to deceive the public into thinking that they are wild-eyed ” far-leftists” and that serious government should be in the hands of the “center-left, and “center-right.” This so-called “center” is actually corporate fascist, on all issues that matter to the bottom line of the banksters, with the only meaningful differences between right and left relating to social issues like gay marriage.

      4. Demeter

        I have two reasons to trust Elizabeth Warren: she can learn, and she can find the ethical center, still.
        If she loses either of those abilities, she becomes another political hack and status quo shill.

    2. wbgonne

      Bernie Sanders will be the Sacrificial Liberal but Warren would likely beat Clinton. If Warren were to run, even if she did lose, she would do far more to “change the discussion” than she will from the sidelines. Once the election season starts — very soon — only the players will matter. The MSM scriveners report what the players say and little else. Let me use this example: If Obama began talking seriously and repeatedly about AGW, it would be all over the MSM. But he doesn’t so it isn’t and the fact that Sen. Whitehouse, et al, talk about AGW all the time barely registers.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Excellent observation about Sanders being the sacrificial lamb and yes Warren would win over Hillary, but i just can’t see her being allowed to run by TPTB for the very reasons you point out: the discussion might get real. Sanders can (and will) be painted as a radical buffoon by a media/system that has perfected the technique and the process, but that would be much harder to do to Warren.

        1. Code Name D

          Agreed. Heck the party by-laws make it a top down system. To run, you need party nominations, which you need fundraising to get, which needs party nominations… The game is rigged in such a way that only large campaign contributions gets you in the door – and that means making nice with the neo-liberals.

          I have seen these internal revolts before. They end up making a lot of noise, but little else. I can even see Warren giving her barbed and fiery speech to an empty chamber with not but the janitor dumping trash cans to hear what she has to say. (Assuming they speak English.)

          I join with the “Show me!” crowd. I need more than barbed speeches. I need actions or at least the attempt at actions before I can get behind her. Until then, she is just another stuffed suit.

          Throwing on her own names for the post would be a start. Placing a competent person in contrast to Weiss, and make Obama put down the competent alternative in order to defend his insider pick. Have the guy/girl stand in front of a locked White House gate, reading off his résumé and credentials. Get it on you-tube. (Is her speech even on You-tube? Or is she happy giving a lecture in front of an empty chamber?)

  4. Banger

    Warren is an extraordinary figure. Many here don’t like her because she is not, in fact, a liberal as Yves points out. She is a moderate Republican. The difference between her and most of the other politicians is that she is not a servant of the rich but someone interested in a return to a Republic where rule-of-law and an ordered society based on traditional civic virtues can be instituted for the benefit of most of the people. Today, because both parties along with nearly all levels of government, the private sector, and even NGOs are deeply corrupt she appears to be a radical. She is a moderate and everyone else is a radical! Both political parties in one way or the other advocate an Imperial regime throughout the world that is ruled, not by democratically-oriented societies but by feudal lords and ladies. We are at the outskirts right now of a full-fledged neo-feudal world and, in fact, we may be into that territory already and whether you like her or not E. Warren is one of the only major political figures who is standing against the flow.

    1. Carolinian

      When you vote for President you vote for the person more than a set of policies which, as often as not, don’t get implemented anyway. So I agree that Warren’s “liberal-ness” matters less than her perspective as an individual and a personality. Plus surely it’s time for an intelligent woman to take the helm…a woman that isn’t Hillary that is. As many have pointed out it was the female regulators who tended to be right during the last couple of decades of financial deform.

      At any rate this discussion is surely premature at this point.

    2. Alejandro

      “a return to a Republic where rule-of-law and an ordered society based on traditional civic virtues can be instituted for the benefit of most of the people.”
      That sounds so lofty and enticing that I’m compelled to ask, when was it ever so? Seems to me that “winning” and “losing” take on different meanings, depending on which side of the yoke you happen to be on. Whether the yoke is physical, financial or psycho-“logical”, the struggle has always seemed to “be” between loosening and tightening or placing and removing ad infinitum…

    3. Spring Texan

      She’s a terrific person who works hard and honestly and is willing NOT to be an insider. That’s outstanding.

      And she has a real sense of what life is like for ordinary people which is also exceptional. It’s little noted that she wrote with her daughter an outstanding book on money management for ordinary people: All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan amazon.com/All-Your-Worth-Ultimate-Lifetime/dp/0743269888/ref=sr_1_1
      First-rate and a book to give your children.

      That said, I don’t first of all think she could be nominated; second of all, she’s not as good on foreign policy/militarism/surveillance issues which is very important; and third, she doesn’t have the government experience that would really benefit a president (and the lack of which is one thing that’s made Obama bad). And she’s a terrific senator. Yes we need better candidates (and I don’t see that we are going to get them), but she’s FAR more useful in the Senate where she can do actual stuff and focus on the Wall Street stuff she’s best at, than as a candidate. Particularly if she can’t be nominated, the discussion stuff is overrated and she need to stick to what she is doing now — which I love.

    4. Brooklin Bridge

      You consider Lambert’s “hairball” remarks insulting. You might look to your own, Many here don’t like her because she is not, in fact, a liberal as Yves points out.

      I don’t know about many, but those I’ve seen here that are critical do like her – as they make clear – but they also accurately point out her limitations; specifically that to date at least, insulting a few of the players is not a game changer.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Moreover, what Yves said is that many people (not necessarily from NC) are not aware that Warren is not a liberal which does not jibe at all with the point you’re trying to make that many here at NC do not like her because she is not a liberal.

  5. DanB

    I’m also one of Warren’s constitutents and I have suspected she would run for president since I met her in August 2011, when she was “considering” running for the Senate. Last weekend Warren sent out one of her many emails to constituents, this time she was selling Warren T-shirts. In that email she wrote: “I’m not in Washington to work for Wall Street or Big Oil or the billionaires who have already made it. I’m not there to protect the tender fannies of the rich and powerful. I’m there to fight for those who can’t afford to hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists – and to fight to level the playing field for working people and families.” So I’m certain she is at least testing the waters for a presidential run (I think she’s only a fews years younger than Hillary, so her clock is ticking). My question: Is she actually bucking the party’s neoliberal hegemony? Or is she ramping up the rhetoric to do veal pen politics? My feeling is that if she really wants “to fight Wall Street for the common people” she will have to leave the Dems -or they will silence or neuter her anyway.

    1. Lexington

      My feeling is that if she really wants “to fight Wall Street for the common people” she will have to leave the Dems -or they will silence or neuter her anyway.

      This is the crux of the issue. As a practical matter the Democratic Party doesn’t have an open nomination system, the party nominee is chosen by establishment insiders and then anointed at a stage managed convention. Those who don’t respect the rules of the game (or naively believe party members actually choose the nominee) get run over – cf. under Howard Dean and John Edwards. Ergo Warren cannot win the nomination without the support of the party establishment, and even if Hillary doesn’t run she won’t get that support unless the establishment is sold on her populist schtick being an act to fool the rubes. Democratic candidates do have a history of running on the left and governing from the center. Those who aren’t clear on this may want to review the career of one Barack Obama.

      Warren is useful to the Democrats as long as they can point to her and say “Look, progressives still have a home in the party!” She doesn’t even have to be nominated, the Democrats are adept on playing on progressive guilt by saying, in effect, “sure centrists control the party, but if you abandon the Democrats you’re throw people like Warren under the bus and the centrists win!” Believe me, you’re going to be hearing a lot more of that meme as 2016 approaches.

      To the extent that Warren actually opposes the 1% and is a viable candidate she is a threat rather than an asset to the party establishment and will be dealt with accordingly.

  6. steelhead23

    “The conundrum is that for party leaders as individuals, selling out to monied interests is often still a wining strategy, no matter what it costs the party…”

    Pardon me Yves, but this seems an awful lot like one of the memes of your book – the agency dilemma. Taking WS money helps one get elected, but doing WS’s bidding separates not just the principal from his/her constituency, but drags the party down as well. In my view, without populist appeal, the party is dead, but leadership is so subsumed by monied interests that it has become Republican lite.

    Whether Liz chooses to run or not, the reaction she is ginning up is clear that the Main Street v Wall Street economic divide is a strong electoral divide as well and that the DLC wants to minimize its exposure as a Wall Street streetwalker. God I hope she runs.

  7. Brooklin Bridge

    I’ve seen a major systems like program that for a variety of reasons had become convoluted and unmanageable, recover because one individual made a significant move in the right direction with several modules of code. The ripple effect was almost magical and though it took time, what had appeared ready for the trash heap (the overall program) ended up being effectively re-built into a simplified workable whole that met all major criteria – largely because of that initial impetus of someone doing something right and thus shifting the direction (and somehow the spirit) of the project. Amazing as it was, the product never sold, partly because the company was going under due to self interested financial manipulation by upper mgmt. and no one wanted to invest in its products, a different but somehow related story.

    That said, I’m not sure Warren could save the Democratic party, even with magic. For one, as Wbgonne suggests, it’s rotten to the core. But besides that, or more accurately as a part of it, once it became clear just how much of a threat Warren posed, whether by a presidential run or simply by an effective effort at drawing back the curtain on the corruption in our financial sector – in a way that approached the consciousness of a people, she would have the full force of the media and TPTB turned against her efforts. It would be literally overwhelming – like turning off the lights in NYC and ceasing all mention of it, anywhere, as if it had never existed; powerful stuff like what is happening in Ukraine.

    1. James

      Or as simple as a scandal conveniently planted. Everyone’s got skeletons, and those who don’t can have them manufactured easy enough. If she ever got traction, which she won’t, big money would shut her down in the proverbial New York minute. No news here, just another apparition ginned up by what remains of the so-called “liberal left,” giving lie once again to that timeless rock and roll irony, “we won’t get fooled again.” Of course we will! Our entire political system depends on it!

      1. Lambert Strether

        I’m not so sure about that. As Yves points out, she’s a successful academic infighter. And her persona is effective. Granted, the Mighty Wurlitzer can gin up anything, but I think the Republicans have lost a step. They just don’t seem as feral as they were in the Rove era.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Good point about being a successful infighter, but it’s not Republican’s so much as big business she would be up against and “what ever it took” to keep her out might be a good balance between my comment and that of James.

        2. Ulysses

          John Edwards was a tough-minded, successful trial lawyer. That helped him not a whit when the Wall St. owners of the DP saw him as a potential threat to actually win the nomination– instead of their approved candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

    2. Lambert Strether

      I like the first paragraph better than the second. I’ve seen the same thing in a garden; get rid of one thing — say a tree blocking sun — and often the entire system will right itself.

      Another metaphor is the “key log,” the single log which, if removed, would free up the whole logjam. Is Weiss that log? Perhaps. I doubt it. Our whole system is permeated by immunity for elite lawbreakers. I’m more inclined to think that throwing some bankers in jail would be that key log, but that said, breaking a log jam by finding and removing the key log was a job for experts, not onlookers.

  8. craazyman

    This one remains me of the Eddie Murphy riff back in the day when Jesse Jackson was running for president. Eddie was crackin on all the white people joking about a black man running for POTUS, makin fun, whitey pretending to vote for him, Eddie makin funny faces and prancing around . . . then he (Eddie) stopped cold and micking a wide-eyed incredulity of whitey stopped ded in his track after election day said: “He won?”

    It was funnier if you saw it. Probly on Youtube

    Warren may or may not win this particular one but there’s a tidal change going on now, slowly but decisively. The rain god isn’t making the rain anymore & the cultural belief structure is ceasing. This is now primarily at a stage of inarticulateness and only dim instinctive awareness among people, but that’s how these things work in a group psychology structure setting. There’s an emerging void and something has to fill it, some alternative belief system. Right now, that’s very much an open question, what it will be.

    This all makes me think of Hegel. It’s a very Hegelian process.

    Politicians actually have no power at all. Zero. Anything and everything they are able to do comes from voters. Lobbyists are irrelevant in the face of voters. However, voters make decisions based on their internal belief structures, which lobbyists certainly influence. And these structures are based on narratives, on stories voters tell themselves about reality and stories eventually have to be true in some sense to endure as valid belief systems. What’s the old saw “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Now it’s that time, when they’ve fooled all the people for too long.

    1. Lambert Strether

      I agree on the “tidal change.” It’s very evident, even if Steve Israel only noticed it two months ago (see today’s Water Cooler). And if there’s opportunity there, it would be nice* if opportunistic politicians took advantage of it; we wouldn’t want it any other way!

      * Adding, for some definition of nice.

  9. Doug Terpstra

    The old saw needs an Obama-era, Machiavellian update: “you can fool most of the people most of the time”. It’s all you need.

    1. Ulysses

      No, I think Craazyman is right. The people are no longer buying into the narrative– they will soon be willing to hear a new story. What concerns me is that the chance of them becoming enchanted by a clever demagogue– from the far-right– is at least as strong as the chance of them pulling back to the left in the direction of the labor/capital compromise of the New Dealers.

      We already have, as Bill Binney has pointed out, a turn-key totalitarian system ready to go. There is a very real danger that Americans will be duped into allowing someone they think of as a savior to turn the key and lock the door behind us.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Craazyman may be right, but for the time being so is Doug. They have perfected fooling enough of the people enough of the time and that is going to continue – and continue to work – for quite a while.

      2. Doug Terpstra

        For the better I hope, Obama may finally come to be seen as the pinnacle of an old era, the culmination of Reaganomics and perception management by carefully-crafted, orchestrated deceit, fostering greed, brutality, and military overreach. IOW, I agree with you but really hope it goes the other way, a decisive repudiation of the evil empire Obama has brought to its ultimate conclusion.

      3. Doug Terpstra

        I don’t disagree with craazyman either, BTW, or craazyboy FTM; who could? They’re sheer unaldulterated geniuses. I just think Obama made a unique political propaganda breakthru, based in part on racialism; one that I hope cannot be replicated (using gender for example) once clearly understood in post-collapse daylight.

      4. Lambert Strether

        Yes, but it depends on what the new story is, right? Check out “The Left Can Win” from Jacobin in today’s Links. “Peace, Land, Bread” was the new story “the bald guy” told, and the people bought it. Whether the Democrats can even tell a new story, let alone deliver on it, is at best an open question. I’m not sure that new story is to be found in fights about an undersecretary, subject to correction on how victory is framed.

        1. JIm

          In that same speech Pablo Iglesias stated “… that politics has nothing to do with being right, the politics is all about succeeding.”

          Assume for a moment–that Marxism had already collapsed in Europe with the so-called Bernstein or “revisionist” debate at the turn of the 20th century when it was realized that social democracy and Bismark’s politics had successfully integrated the labor movement within the logic of corporate capitalism.

          The radical Left was then desperately looking for an alternative avenue to power and along came a voluntaristic coup d’ etat, called the Bolshevik revolution, which was “successful” in terms of taking power and contradicting the determinist character of, then, orthodox Marxism.

          But the adoption of this model of “success” by the Left was the type of opportunism which the Left has still not recovered from.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I’m not sure I agree with that. Let me put the quote in context (apologies for length):

            [I’d reply to them], “Can’t you see that the problem is you? That politics has nothing to do with being right, that politics is about succeeding?”

            He’s speaking here to the strain of thought — common among Democrats — that the reason people don’t buy into their programs is that they’re stupid. So if “right” == accepting the policy proposals as presented, success will never come.

            One can have the best analysis [that is, be “right”], understand the keys to political developments since the sixteenth century, know that historical materialism is the key to understanding social processes. And what are you going to do — scream that to people? “You are workers and you don’t even know it!”

            The enemy wants nothing more than to laugh at you. You can wear a t-shirt with the hammer and sickle. You can even carry a huge flag, and then go back home with your flag, all while the enemy laughs at you. Because the people, the workers, they prefer the enemy to you. They believe him. They understand him when he speaks. They don’t understand you. And maybe you are right! Maybe you can ask your children to write that on your tombstone: “He was always right — but no one ever knew.”

            When you study successful transformational movements, you see that the key to success is to establish a certain identity* between your analysis and what the majority feels. And that is very hard. It implies riding out contradictions.

            I think that’s a more general, even rhetorical, approach. I don’t see it as Bernstein-ism caving, at least necessarily. And as for opportunism, well, a little opportunism is quite becoming in a politician :-)

            * Not sure what this means. It sounds like a translation issue.

  10. Jill

    Obama gave a lot of good talking points before he ran for president. We just had a torture report released. Obama used to say some very relevant, sane things regarding torture. Yet he still tortures and his AG say there’s nothing to prosecute here. I agree with Doug. Here is my take away on Warren.

    She is pro endless war. This negates her ability to bring about sane fiscal policies. We should take the information she is putting out and learn from it but that does not mean we should support the person herself. We can amplify and agree with what she is saying but that is no different from when Obama used to be against torture. Shoot, I agreed with Obama about that! I agree with Warren on these points. It’s just that this isn’t the whole picture or even the most important part of the picture.

    Pro-endless war. No economic justice from Warren.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Well, you have to hammer the wedge in more than once to split the log. Generally, unless you’re a master woodchopper, which I most definitely am not.

      So if Warren is genuinely better (and not a genuinely better speaker, as with Obama) then excellent. And then we ask the Democrats “What have you done for me lately?”

  11. Jackrabbit

    The experience of Ron Paul seems relevant to much of the discussion above. He is an equally heroic figure (to the other side) whose principled positions were unpalatable to the Republican Leadership.

    Some think that it is possible to ‘take back’ the Democratic Party. I refer you to today’s post about Bill Moyers look at Inequality.


    “Inequality is a rather bloodless term which doesn’t capture the extent to which our current level of inequality alters the social experience (class separation, hardships/privileges, popular disenfranchisement, etc.) I call it ‘economic apartheid‘.

    H O P

  12. Brooklin Bridge

    She [Clinton] looks very unhealthy, frankly, and she already had what is probably a mini-stroke. I have been saying for some time I don’t think she can stand up physically to the demands of campaigning. -Yves in a comment above

    I’ve noticed this also. She looks really tired – and one of the tip-offs is that many of the pictures you see of her in the MSM were taken 10 -20 years ago. But I imagine the lure of power is enough to make her keep up the motions regardless. It would be interesting if the whole theatrical piece gets set up with Hillary running in front and Sanders the well meaning radical buffoon being the sacrificial lamb, and then suddenly Hillary is forced to drop out due to health reasons. What would Sanders do? I suspect he would “behave” and limit his campaign to acceptable levels of criticism regarding the state of corruption of the system, but who knows?

    1. Lambert Strether

      I actually think Warren is more serious than Sanders. Serious as a person, serious as a thinker, serious as a politician. That doesn’t mean I think she’s nearly serious enough.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Agreed on all points. Also and partly for that reason, I don’t think Sanders would have a ghost of a chance, but that is of course why he would be selected in the first place. My point was only that I doubt he would make any real waves in a campaign even if by fluke he were suddenly given the chance to do so.

        As to Warren, if she were elected and followed through on her economic message of fair play and adhering to the rules, and consequences for not doing so, regardless of her success and regardless of her other strengths or failings, I think her stay in office, could easily be the key log in the log jamb being undone or the notion that any significant log can be the key log (perhaps by virtue of timing). I suspect it wouldn’t matter how conservative she is (though the “backbone” sometimes associated with being a conservative might help), she would effect significant change or at least create an atmosphere that had seminal results. But -other than the strong likelihood she won’t get the chance- would she follow through?

  13. Jim

    The populist revolt in the late 19th century managed to develop organization forms( for example, self-organized rural cooperatives and workingmen’s associations) that formed a structural basis for an agrarian populism.

    These forms of social organization grew out of a belief in the validity of an active citizenship as a necessary cornerstone to popular democracy.

    Unfortunately the industrial revolution in the US weakened such experiences and gradually narrowed the range of sanctioned political debate. The national market which materialized under both Big Capital and Big State yielded an enormous concentration of political/economic power that apparently persuaded enough active citizens to shift their focus from building popular democracy to consider utilizing the State as the essential instrument to ameliorate social inequality.

    What continued on in the 20th century and now into the 21st century is narrow arguments over the merits and useful extent of State participation in the economy. At the decision-making level, the need for popular participation tended to be downplayed as politics became more and more simply a truncated discussion among competing and co-operating elites.

    Such discussion and adjustment were brokered by political parties which represented these elites and were largely unoccupied by the average citizen who tended to visit them, only briefly, on election day.

    Such constrained limits of democratic possibility has became the norm in 20th and early 21st century politics–
    a norm which has been internalized by elites and non-elites alike.

    I’m opting for the creation of a potentially self-organized voluntary association outside of our two-party system, State intervention or a Leninist type party–as are only realistic option for the future.

  14. MichaelC

    I believe EW’s playing the long game.
    Sheks too clever to risk all at this early date for a presidential run.
    She’s already had an impact on getting sympatico senators elected and that abilility will be enhanced next election cycle.
    Shes forced HRC to respect the fact that her anti Rubinite position has legs and poses a huge risk to HRCs unflailing fealty to her fellow 1%-ers.
    I got a huge chuckle from Buffets cash bet on Hillary the other day.
    That act alone looked like a gift that will keep on giving for someone like EW if she wants to sit this cycle out. Best for her to cojtinue to destroy the Rubinista/Clintonista wing of the party first.
    I believe she has the ability to destroy the clintons dominance on the party and change the accepted inevitability of the dsparing prospect of another bush/clinton dynastic ascension tho at we rubes will have

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes and no. I would be willing to be that Warren is not planning to challenge Hillary. But she is positioning herself in case Hillary stumbles in a big way.

      1. MichaelC

        I don’t think EW has presidential aspirations,
        But the perceived threat (and implicit check ) she provides ,to Hillary’s ambitions is not unwelcome to me.
        I think she is fully aware of that advantage and knows full well how to use it..
        If EW succeeds in decimating HRCs unquestioned claim to the Presidency due to her (HRCs) attachment and fealty to her husbands constituency (i.e. Rubinites on the finance side). then she (EW) will have done the nation a great service.

  15. Phil Snead

    Worth the price of admission just to hear an issue – Weiss nomination – debated on its actual merits, rather than the usual trumped up hooey (e.g., what Warren’s opposition is trying to use to fog things up).

  16. Jay M

    She articulates the problems of the American family.
    Failure to diagnose empire is not her venue, and conventional feeling about foreign policy is to be expected, particularly from the Senator from such a prominent state. There needs to be a break from torture by the political class.

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