Progressive Obama-hater Thomas Frank just scored an interview with Elizabeth Warren and published the results under the headline EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Warren on Barack Obama: "They protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. And it happened over and over and over." Warren does say this in the interview, about Obama's Wall Street-oriented economic advisers, not Obama himself. She does blame Obama for picking people who acted that way. She also defends him for fighting to establish and preserve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She's very careful to say that we should consider the latter as well as the former in assessing Obama.
What I find noteworthy, however, is that Warren utterly rejects Frank's attempt to invoke the Greeen Lantern theory of the presidency, defined by Brendan Nyhan as "the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics." Frank is obviously a fundamentalist believer in this theory (and would clearly like Warren to be our Green Lantern). But Warren is having none of it:
Here's the penultimate question: everything you're saying are issues that have been important to me most of my adult life. In 2008, I thought I had a candidate who was going to address these things. Right? Barack Obama. Today, my friends and I are pretty disappointed with what he's done. I wonder if you feel he has been forthright enough on these subjects. And I also wonder if you think that someone can take any of this stuff on without being president. You know, there are a lot of good politicians in America who have their heart in the right place. But they're not the president. Well anyhow. You understand my frustration...
I understand your frustration, Tom and, actually, I talk about this in the book. When I think about the president, for me, it's about both halves. If Barack Obama had not been president of the United States we would not have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Period. I'm completely convinced of that. And I go through the details in the book, and I could tell them to you. But he was the one who refused to throw the agency under the bus and made sure that his team kept the agency alive and on the table. Now there was a lot of other stuff that also had to happen for it to happen. But if he hadn't been there, we wouldn’t have gotten the agency. At the same time, he picked his economic team and when the going got tough, his economic team picked Wall Street.
You might say, "always." Just about every time they had to compromise, they compromised in the direction of Wall Street.
That's right. They protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over. So I see both of those things and they both matter.
Is there anything someone can do about all the things we're describing, short of being president?
But we keep fighting back. The way to think about this is not.... Yes, we want the right person for president. You bet. But it's all of us fighting back.... This is, and actually, this is where we almost started this conversation -- how, as a people, we reclaim our government. How we, as a people, force Washington to work for us, not just for those with money and power. So I just gave a speech this morning. It's interesting you would catch me on this particular day. I spoke to the New England Council so we had lots of CEOs and COOs -- about 300 people -- and I spoke on a not very sexy topic, on infrastructure and basic research. And I made the pitch about the importance of both of those. You know, gave some of the basic stats on why both are so important to building a future for this country. Then I did the basic stats on how we’re falling short. Where we're cutting our investments -- where we’ve been cutting our investments for 30 years. The Society of Civil Engineers says we've got $3.4 trillion in infrastructure underfunding -- work that we need to do to bring our infrastructure up to current standards. So I talked about this and about the importance of it in building a future.
But the third part of the speech was the political part. It was the democracy part. I said, "So how could this happen in a country like America? I mean, I'm sitting here with you. You're business leaders. Nobody would run a business like this. To under-invest in the key pieces to help build a future. So how does this happen?" It happens because there are a lot of people in Washington who say the answer to everything is, cut taxes. And when you've cut them as much as you can, cut them some more. And a lot of people have the corollary to that, and that is -- cut spending. And it's spending in all of the basics that help build a future: cut spending in education, in resource management, in infrastructure, in research, in core pieces we need to build a future.
"It’s there," I said. "Look, get out there and fight back against this. I'm glad to do it. But I can't do it alone. You have to get out there. You're business leaders! You have to say 'enough is enough.' We have to build a future going forward." And I said, "We need your voices. You have to be out there on the front lines. I'm glad to be out here. I'll take the point. I'll be in the leadership spot. I'll talk about it, I'll be loud, I’ll be blunt. But we need your voices in this. That's the way we build a future." And I feel like it's all this series of issues we talked about, we have got to bring more people in.
You know, the other side has its advantage, and boy have they played it out for 30 years now -- concentrated money and concentrated power. And you can do a lot with concentrated money and concentrated power. But our side -- we have our voices and we have our votes. If people get engaged on the issues, the votes are on our side. Seventy-five percent of America wants to raise the minimum wage. That's where we'll head.
I have some problems with what Warren says -- I think we're way too far gone to be saved by a Frank Capra/Norman Rockwell upwelling of democracy, or by a handful or enlightened capitalists -- but when she talks about "concentrated money and concentrated power," she's absolutely right. If it takes a billion dollars to run an effective campaign for president, of course there's no way a candidate can rise to the top who seriously challenges the plutocrats. And that's the fault of the plutocrats, and the system, and the people who tolerate the system. It's not 100% the fault of a Democrat who might emerge from the process as president
A populist president -- even Warren -- would still have to work with the same damn Congress and the same damn lobbyists. Superhero powers are not relevant. The entire system has to change, not just the Oval Office's occupant.
Crossposted at No More Mister Nice Blog.