Elizabeth Warren for Vice President! That's the exciting idea that came to mind when I finished reading her new memoir, A FIGHTING CHANCE (Metropolitan). Yes, I am still going to campaign for Hillary Clinton if she chooses to run for President in 2016, and from what I gather today that is a good possibility. But imagine the strength of a Democratic ticket with these two strong, capable and charismatic women on it. So I pass this suggestion along to the powers-that-be and hope they will seriously consider it. Why am I now such a strong proponent of the 64-year old Senator from Massachusetts? Quite simply, it was this new book, which introduced me to the story of her life and beliefs. The book begins this way: "I'm Elizabeth Warren. I'm a wife, a mother, and a grandmother." She was born in Oklahoma in 1949, the youngest of four children, When she was twelve years old, her father - a carpet salesman for Montgomery Ward - had a heart attack and lost his job. The family lost its car and might have lost its house if Elizabeth's 50-year old mother hadn't managed to get a menial cataloguing job at Sears. Elizabeth went to college on a debating-society scholarship, but she dropped out when she was 19 to marry an old high-school boyfriend, Jim Warren. Later she finished college and moved with her husband to New Jersey, since he had been transferred there by his employer, IBM. She began working as a schoolteacher and by the end of her first year teaching , when she was 21, she was pregnant. "Somewhere in between diapers and breast-feeding, I hatched the idea of going back to school," she wrote. Jim asked her not to go full-time but agreed that she could take some classes, and Elizabeth chose law school because of the lawyers she saw on TV. She tells us of how every day she took her daughter, Amelia, to a woman who ran a shelter for several such kids and then went to class at Rutgers Law School. By the end of her third school year she was pregnant again, and gave birth to Alex. When her husband was going to be transferred to Houston, she applied for and got a job teaching at the Houston Law Center. The work-and-child caring was overwhelming, she was exhausted and wanted to give up, but her 80-year old aunt Bea from Oklahoma saved her by moving to Houston, while her marriage fell apart. Then her parents moved there to also help, and in 1980 she fell in love and remarried. Because of her family's past, desperate financial situations she took to studying the laws of contracts and bankruptcy while teaching at the University of Texas Law School. In 1987 she began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and then went on to Harvard in 1995, all the time writing and counseling on the hideous bankruptcy situation then and now in the country. (The original title of her book was "Rigged," which says it all.)
She entered the political arena in 1995 when she was appointed to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission by the Clinton administration. As she says, she found the work thrilling and the results maddening. In the book she details some of chicanery of the banking industry in its false reporting. "I'd spent nearly 20 years sweating over every detail in a string of serious academic studies, agonizing over sample sizes and statistical significance to make certain that whatever I reported was exactly right. Now the banks just write a check, commissioned a friendly study and purchased their own facts." She explains that the financial crisis was preceded by congressional and court decisions that shredded public protection from high interest rates and predatory banking practices during the 80s and 90s. "Gradually the banker's strategy emerged. Target families who were already in a little trouble, lend them more money, get them entangled in high fees and astronomical interest rates, then block the doors to the bankruptcy exit if they really get in over their heads."
We see in the book how the private mother became the public figure, in 2003 writing a popular and controversial treatise called "The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke" with her now-grown daughter, Amelia. (The premise is that the two-income family actually contributes to the increased bankruptcy rate. She humorously noted that collaborating with your daughter was not for sissies.) I vividly remember seeing her on the "Today" show and then "Dr. Phil," (whom I intensely dislike for some reason); she appeared there with a family which was emeshed in debt not of their making. "Year in and year out I'd been fighting as hard as I could, but by spending a few minutes talking to that family on his show, and to about the six million other people who were looking on, I might have done more good than an entire year as a professor." She tells us how, in 2008, she was appointed to a five-person congressional oversight panel whose creation was mandated by the $700 billion bank bailout. In the past weeks I've seen several of her interviews where she tells the story in the book of how, after the commission's report came out critical of the bailout, she was taken in 2009 to a fancy Washington dinner by Larry Summers (a deft, dangerous man), who advised her that if she desired to be an 'insider,' she must understand that they don't criticize other insiders. She told Jon Stewart later that was when she decided to run for office! (She writes that she threw up twice before going on with Stewart: "I would have wanted to be anywhere else on earth.")
I was pretty conversant with her battle to get the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau mandated, and how Obama fell victim to Republican bullying to prevent her from heading the agency, which of course backfired on the opponents when she ran against Scott Brown for the Senate in Ted Kennedy's old seat and won. She stumped on a platform which did emphasize that she had been a struggling single mother for awhile, and even mentioned that she had some Native American blood on an old law school job application....which was blown up all out of context by the Republicans. While running for the Senate she is careful to introduce herself to young girls by leaning down and saying: "I'm Elizabeth and I'm running for the Senate, because that's what girls do."
This week a New York Republican congressman, Michael Grimm, was indicted by the FBI, which made her description of her meeting with him even more peculiar: He opposed her work out of sheer ignorance. "When I launched into an enthusiastic description of what we were trying to get done at the agency, the congressman looked surprised. After a bit he cut me off so he could make one thing clear; he didn't believe in government, He didn't see that regulating the banks is exactly like putting cops on drug corners."
In A Fighting Chance, Elizabeth makes a strong argument that the unregulated banking and Wall Street people have done much to destroy the middle class. As Bill Moyer said on his Sunday show, we are headed for a country controlled by the 'oligarchy' of a few, the so-called 1%. But she does go into great detail about the familiar, troubling moments of her every day life, from making peach cobbler to burnt frying pans. I teared up at a paragraph where she said: "Sometimes, late at night, when the house was quiet, I'd scoop up Lavinia (her granddaughter) out of her crib and hold her. Not because she needed it but because I did." You gotta love a woman who says that. Or this: In an age of debt (we all know about this), "Divorce, an unhappy second marriage, a serious illness, no job...a turn here, a turn there, and my life might have been very different too."
So why am I such a fierce new fan of this woman? Well, it's just that I think she would - someday (2024?) - make a sensational president. She's just the kind of person we need, madly intelligent, enormously compassionate, quick to learn and better to clearly explain complex issues. So....it just don't get better, as someone recently said. "She leads from conviction." On CBS Sunday morning, she said: "I wrote this book because I can't wait any longer. It's written out of gratitude for my start and the opportunity that America built for me, and how I think that's what we've got to do again." See what I mean. Yes, Elizabeth Warren for Vice President!
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues) email him at email@example.com.