Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Elizabeth Warren

On Christmas, or thereabouts, I got a couple hits from searches for Elizabeth Warren, whom I mentioned in passing when talking about ads on facebook.

It seems like I should say more about her. If someone is coming here looking for Elizabeth Warren info there ought to be more here for them than the fact that facebook thinks I have money to donate to her.

As I said before, I would donate to her enthusiastically if I had the money.

It's difficult to know how much of a difference one senator can make in an age when everything gets filibustered, but unless we're going to give up on the idea of democracy we still have to try to get the best people in office. That means electing Warren and people like her.

It seems like anything that I can say about her has already been said better by someone else, and honestly I think the best thing you can do is just listen to her speak. Listen to her talk about the causes of the financial crisis, or what we need to do to fix things. Listen to her address the talking point that people get rich all on their own with no help from anyone. Listen to her talk about predatory credit practices. Listen to her talk about more or less anything.

This, for example, is her speaking on the debt and the idea that asking rich people to pay their fair share is class warfare. It seems like pretty simple straightforward stuff, but for some reason very few people seem to be be saying it. Roads, for example. Roads are paid for by taxes, anyone who makes money using roads, be it directly or indirectly, is getting government help. They should give back so that the roads can be maintained. For some reason many politicians fail to understand this. Elizabeth Warren gets that. More importantly, she's willing to make the argument instead of backing down the moment someone tries to relabel common sense as class warfare.

I think she speaks better when she's not trying to stick to a speech, as in the thing I just linked to, but she can do speeches well. I once came across, on a channel I didn't know I had, a lecture she gave at UC Berkeley. I decided to watch it and then immediately looked up to see if it would be playing again because I wanted to catch the beginning.

The lecture was largely on the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she fought to create but I think that what she says there shows a lot about how she thinks and what she stands for beyond that agency. The lecture is available on youtube. Around 42 minutes into the video she says she feels like it's a boring speech, I disagree, but I'm certainty willing to give some highlights.

Of particular note is when she talks about what government does right. That needs to be said more often. I think a part of the problem is that people don't make that argument. When government works right people ignore it and it becomes invisible as a result. When it doesn't work people shout it from the rooftops. As a result the message ends up being entirely negative. If we only talk about what government does wrong and never about what it does right then it's unsurprising people assume that government is always the problem and never the solution.

Someone needs to argue on behalf of government. Warren is willing to do it. That shouldn't be notable, anyone who wants to work in government should be willing to do it, but it is notable because right now almost no one is and someone needs to.

She talks about the problems of the middle class this past generation. This is important because you can't fix the problems if you don't understand them or worse insist on pretending they don't exist at all. This present crisis was decades in the making, and if people pretend it's only a temporary aberration, that it began in 2008 or thereabout, then they will not offer real solutions because they won't be addressing the real problem.

At the end she takes questions:

Asked about the possibility of reinstating usury laws she briefly describes the history of credit and how credit has changed, the games played, and how she hopes the CFPB will work better than usury laws would.

Asked about what she thinks will happen when the Republicans take power (this was in 2010 before the midterm elections) and how she plans to keep the agency from being captured she speaks of her plans.

Asked about whether it is really possible to eliminate the fine print in credit offers she talks about the problems with how things stand and says that she believes that contracts should involve both sides understanding the deal.

Asked about the responsibilities of consumers she points out that the fine print is written with the goal of the consumer not understanding. She includes and anecdote about class of people who have almost graduated Harvard law trying to work out what a single credit card agreement actually says. Also the wonderful line, “If toasters were exploding we would not say, 'People need better engineering degrees.'”

When the product is broken in a way that destroys people's lives, the problem is the product. This, need to be said more often. There's personal responsibility, yes, but it is the responsibility of the seller to make sure their product isn't hideously flawed. That sellers can make things that are intentionally hideously flawed but designed in such a way as to hide the flaw is not a sign consumers need to to go to law school before getting a credit card, it is a sign there's something wrong with the latitude we give to sellers.

Asked “Will you have a website to receive information from consumers and will someone read the information?” She talks about the plans for the website, and then when talking about the fact that we can't forget the human stories behind data she talked about a study she once did that involved families that filed for bankruptcy. If you're like me you'll cry when she talks about reading their stories.

For some people how she responded to those people's stories would be a disqualifier. I know that one of the reasons Ed Muskie never got a shot at the presidency is that he might have cried in public one time. I know that there are those who think that anyone who files for unemployment is parasite not worthy of our respect. I know that empathy has become a dirty word in some circles.

For me it's a sign of what's right about Warren. Politicians in both parties have a tendency to forget that the people they're having an effect upon are people. They become numbers, statistics, lines in the budget, ways to score political points. They can be treated with a scorn and hate because they're not real to the ones doing it. Or, if they are, they're firmly on the side of Them instead of Us.

To be a politician one has to be successful. Someone who is currently bankrupt after spending all of their money and more money that they didn't have to try to save their child is unlikely to seek or gain the nomination for office, much less the office itself. It is important, and unfortunately rare, that politicians remember that those who aren't as successful as they are are still people worthy of just as much respect as everyone else.

That Warren even thought to ask why people went bankrupt instead of just assuming that they brought it on themselves through stupidity or greed already sets her apart from many of the people currently in government. That she cared to ask does as well. But how she responded is just as important. She didn't recoil from the stories and try to convince herself that it could never happen to her by claiming that they all deserved it, she didn't push away their experiences or try to other them. She accepted them for what they were and reacted with empathy.

She cares about those people. The least amoung us. And that, that caring, is such a big part of why I believe that she will do good. I hope she will do well; I am convinced that given the chance she will do good.

She understands our problems, and that's important. She understands what needs to be done to fix them, and that is likewise important. But neither of those things means much of anything if a person doesn't care. Fixing things will require fighting tooth an nail against those who are perfectly happy with the way things are broken. That fight is going to drag on for a long time, it will be difficult, and at every step there will be incentives, financial and otherwise, to give up. Refusing to to see those who are affected by the fight as anything less than people isn't just a powerful motivation to keep going, it's also at the heart of good governance regardless.

All I've really done here is link to two youtube videos, and Warren deserves more support than that. Greater praises should be sung. The myriad reasons Warren would be good for America cannot be addressed in one post and all I've done is pick some things out of the videos I had closest at hand.

Still, I think that if one looks for themselves, they'll find all the reason to elect Warren that they need.

My only reservation about the idea of Senator Warren is that I was hoping for President Warren. I don't mean a primary challenge to Obama, I just mean that in 2016 I'd like to be able to vote for Elizabeth Warren for president. It's not unheard of for someone to have a successful run for president four years after a successful run for the Senate (see Obama himself) but I think it's pretty rare.

Still, she's running now, and given that the best thing we can do is elect her. Unfortunately she's running in Massachusetts and I happen to live in Maine (hence the Muskie reference above) so I'm not going to have a lot of say in whether or not she's elected.

More information about Elizabeth Warren can be found on her website.
The written version of the lecture I linked to (which isn't exactly the same as the actual one because she didn't stick to entirely and it doesn't include the questions) is available at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

No comments:

Post a Comment