I have beaten up on the Obama White House enough that I'm no longer very welcome by many of the top staffers there, and on no issue have I been tougher on them than on their policies regarding dealing with the biggest banks and the TARP program. This morning, though, I am all smiles, delighted to my core, because the reports, confirmed multiple times, about the appointment of Elizabeth Warren are a big home run.
I am more than a little biased, because Elizabeth has become a good friend over the past few years, and because I have rarely seen the kinds of guts and tough bargaining strategy that I watched her show during the financial reform fight and the TARP oversight work. She publicly and repeatedly faced down Tim Geithner on a series of major issues around TARP and the overall handling of the financial crisis. She privately went nose to nose with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and Treasury during negotiations over the financial reform bill. She had to time and again back Dodd down when he was getting ready to make bad compromises on the consumer agency. (Why do you think Dodd has fought so hard to keep Warren from being nominated?) She is the real deal, a fighter for middle class and poor families through and through.
Now, some progressives are arguing this joint appointment to the White House and Treasury is somehow a weak attempt to fool us, that Warren is being given the job as window dressing but will have no real power. The people arguing that just don't know Elizabeth very well, or understand what motivates her. I do not believe for a minute that she would meekly accept a powerless window dressing job, or would put up with it very long if that is what it turned into. She has never been interested in being in government for the sake of a title, and she isn't going to start now. The impressive thing is that I think Obama understands that, too, and gave her the job anyway.
For Elizabeth, the options here were the choice of basically being put on ice for several months at least during an extended confirmation battle, a time where she couldn't speak out or do any actual work on the agency while Geithner was free to start building it any way he wanted; being at Treasury reporting solely to Geithner, who I believe would do everything he could to undermine and disempower her; or this intriguing combination of working with Treasury to craft the agency while also reporting directly to the President. I don't know exactly how this deal went down, but it looks to me like Elizabeth helped craft something that might actually work in her mission to help consumers in dealing with the big banks. She always has the option of walking away if it doesn't- and knowing her, she would have the guts to do just that.
I think this is one time when we can give Obama credit for doing the right thing. Wall Street was determined in its opposition, and establishment insiders like Dodd did everything they could to derail Elizabeth from having any role in creating this agency. But the progressive movement fought like crazy to make this happen, Elizabeth showed her usual savvy and toughness once again, and the President did the right thing.
And here's the deal: this really does matter. I am constantly frustrated by the brain dead politics and corporate oriented policies of many of the people in the Democratic party, but there remain two reasons I still work hard to get Democrats elected. The first is that the Republicans scare the hell out of me with their extremism, but the second is that at least some of the time, Democrats who really care about working people and the poor do get placed in positions of power. Cecilia Munoz being the one to negotiate with Governors over how poor people are treated under government programs in the states matters. Melody Barnes playing a role in the crafting of domestic programs in the federal budget matters. Hilda Solis being in charge of running OSHA matters in terms of workers safety. And Elizabeth Warren being given the job of building an agency to make sure consumers are treated fairly by the big banks who dominate our country's economy is a very big deal.
This is a great day for America's working families, and we should celebrate.