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Shooting a few fish in a barrel

uncommonsenseblog writes that he thinks Scott Brown is polling neck and neck with Elizabeth Warren …

… mainly due to her being a terrible candidate (I always say she’s like Coakley minus the charisma, credentials, and credibility) overall, her off putting personality (as demonstrated in her shrill and angry delivery of her anti-capitalist remarks in this video), and the controversy over her ancestry …

It seems you’ve outlined three reasons for opposition to Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy.

  1. You think she doesn’t have charisma, credentials, or credibility
  2. Her voice is “shrill”
  3. Her ancestry is “controversial”

I’m a bit concerned about each of these. First, if one of Harvard’s better-known law professors, the chairman of the TARP oversight panel, one of the more influential women in the world, and the Special Assistant to the President on the CFPB doesn’t have “credentials or credibility,” it’s not clear who would.

Second, “shrill”? So … Warren’s voice really isn’t high-pitched and whistle-like. So I assume you mean “shrill” in the way that the word is traditionally used to attack female politicians. As in “characteristic of those noises women make when I’m trying to ignore them.” Not cool.

Third, “controversial ancestry.” The concern is that Elizabeth Warren has been listed, in some cases, as having Cherokee ancestry. Upon investigation, it appears she would need to go back about five generations—and things get pretty murky there. To a lot of conservatives, this seems to suggest that Warren was a “diversity hire.” Or, to put it slightly differently, “not a white man and therefore presumptively unqualified, despite the mountain of obvious qualifications.” Not cool.1

Of course, that’s only half the concern with the “ancestry.” The other half is that it gives guys like Austin a chance to talk about “Fauxcahontas” because to them any mention of Native American people invokes a Disney Princess and is really just a laugh line. This too is not cool.

So what else have you got? I’d love to debate Warren and Brown’s relative qualifications. But could you start out with something reasonably relevant and not rooted in sexist or racist stereotypes? Bring it.

  1. If you’re genuinely concerned that Harvard might be padding its diversity statistics to make itself look more diverse than it actually is, that’s an issue worth discussing. But the people harping on this story aren’t really concerned about whether Harvard is gaming its diversity numbers. 

A funny thing happening in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a high profile Senate race with two unquestionably qualified candidates. On the Democrats’ side, Elizabeth Warren has a resume that includes being a Law Professor at Harvard and being listed three times on Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. (She is also one of the very few people who I would vote for over President Obama.) On the Republican’s side is Scott Brown, whose resume includes being elected to the Senate in Massachusetts as a Republican. (I’m totally serious when I say that’s a huge accomplishment). Considering the important issues at stake and the high qualifications of the candidates, we might hope for some actual policy discussion in this race.

Unfortunately, we’re getting a lot of jokes about whether or not Elizabeth Warren is 1/16 Cherokee. Or maybe 1/32. Apparently she checked herself off as Native American in a directory listing fifteen years ago but when pressed on her ancestry suggested that it was mostly family stories—presumably like one or two of my great, great grandparents who were Czech, though I couldn’t tell you their names. Let’s count the ways in which this is stupid:

  1. Checking a box in a directory listing.
  2. Fifteen years ago.
  3. How many of us know the names of more than two or three of our sixteen great, great grandparents? Tracking and classifying Warren’s ancestors that far back is a genealogical question so messy it’s tedious..
  4. Under the relevant tribal rules, 1/16 is still enough to claim membership, depending on whether that ancestor can be traced back to the right census.
  5. Who deputized the racial-identity police? And why?

Now Scott Brown’s campaign is suggesting that Warren somehow leveraged this into her position at Harvard. It’s absurd—because Warren is pretty unambiguously one of the most qualified, talented law professors out there. But to Brown’s campaign’s credit, the story has legs. It makes Warren look a bit silly. I leave the exercise of counting all the ways this is racist and horrible to the reader.

But I’ll offer one: The Republicans are asking us to disregard a woman’s myriad qualifications based on … her race. Enough of this.

I just read the National Review’s hit piece on Elizabeth Warren

I was amazed by how ambivalent the article was. It’s sort of a misfired madlib. I has all the usual, generic stuff Republicans say about every Democratic candidate. (Her election would be a disaster. She’s radical.) But the writer, Kevin Williamson, was supposed to put the where specific negatives should have been inserted mostly talk about how intelligent and accomplished Warren is. The worst the Williamson managed to say was that she didn’t fit in very well in South Boston on St. Patrick’s day as she’s not particularly prone to ribald humor and heavy drinking.

It’s like Wiliamson got the template:

Democratic candidate NAME would be a disaster because Democrats are Occupy Wall Street communists and this candidate embodies communist flaws by being NEGATIVE ADJECTIVE, NEGATIVE PERSONAL DETAIL_, and MASSIVE CHARACTER FLAW. All right thinking people should vote for the Republican, NAME, who is ADJECTIVE.

He filled it out something like this:

Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren would be a disaster because Democrats are communists and this candidate embodies communist flaws so smart, honestly kind of pretty_, and not a very heavy drinker. All right thinking people should vote for the Republican, Scott Brown, who is mostly a Republican.

Williamson only cites specific proposals of Warrens where he considers them pretty reasonable. Most of the article is spent discussing supposed personal or political failings that Williamson clearly doesn’t consider actual failings to suggest that she is “out of touch.” Or at least “out of touch with South Boston on St. Patrick’s day.” She is “smart,” “tough,” “principled.” I’ve been a huge fan of Elizabeth Warren since long before her candidacy was announced. But even I could write a more persuasive critique.

Tip to the National Review: Even if you’ve already commissioned the drawing of Elizabeth Warren with a hand drum, a bunch of tents, and a vacant expression and are proud of your headline, “The Occupy Candidate,” you can still spike the article. Every once in a while, we try to write something that just doesn’t come together. Let it stew in the drafts folder for a few months.

I’m going to keep fighting for middle class families, for working people. Whether I fight as an outsider or fight from the floor of the Senate

Why not Elizabeth Warren

In response to the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Buearu, robot-heart-politics writes:

Any idea why Warren was passed over? Tensions with the Republicans?

Short answer: No. But I can offer a few possibilities.

It’s possible entirely plausible that Elizabeth Warren herself suggested Cordray. She was the one who recruited him for the CFPB. If she was asked who she thought the right person to lead it was, she could very well have named Cordray.

It’s possible that Cordray was nominated for his resume. Unlike Warren, he has a background leading the enforcement of consumer protection laws. Cordray is an extremely qualified candidate. This could help in any confirmation battle. While Warren is extraordinarily gifted as a thinker and speaker, I don’t know whether her talents extend to the dull and bureaucratic matters an agency head will need. Does being a law professor qualify you to lead the consumer watchdog you invented?

It’s also possible that Cordray was nominated because he might be less of a lightning rod than Warren. While Cordray is not likely to be more palatable to the banks, his national profile is somewhat lower. Because battle lines had been drawn against Warren, there would have been a certain level of “Screw you, republicans” to nominating her. Perhaps nominating Cordray is a … more polite way to accomplish the same end. Or maybe it’s simply a way for Obama to say, “Confirm Cordray or I’ll do a recess appointment of Warren.” Perhaps Cordray, as a politician, has made fewer potentially incendiary statements than Warren.

Finally, it’s possible that Warren has other plans for the future. A nomination to lead an agency would effectively remove her as a pro-consumer thought leader for an awfully long time. Does she want to do the day to day leadership of the agency? Does she have other plans? Would Scott Brown’s Senate seat fit her more comfortably?

Again, I have no idea why Warren was passed over. If I had to choose a leader of the CFPB, Cordray would have been a close second to Warren. Any number of factors could have tipped it to him.

(For full disclosure, I’ve met Richard Cordray briefly on at least two occasions. In one occasion, I was very young—and I don’t remember it. On another occasion, I approached him like a fan at a rock concert to tell him how awesome I thought his consumer protection efforts were. I don’t know how often he gets that.)

(Source: squashed, via )

I’m sensing some hesitance to share my excitement over the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Perhaps I can put his nomination in some context.

Cordray was recruited by Elizabeth Warren to head the enforcement division of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. His credentials to run this division when, as Ohio’s Attorney General, he aggressively pursued lenders for improperly foreclosing on homeowners. The most notable of the cases, State of Ohio v. GMAC is ongoing in federal court in Ohio. (Because the dummy affidavit issue is a little technical, I’ll omit the details of what that suit is about.)

The most important part of that is that Cordray is the enforcement guy. He’s not the guy in charge of drafting regulations or gathering information. He’s the guy in charge of suing.

I don’t know why Cordray was chosen over Warren. It could have been politics. It could have been that Obama considered him the more experienced candidate. It could be that Obama considered him the more confirmable candidate. It’s definitely not because he’s more palatable to Wall Street than Warren.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Richard Cordray

I count myself as one of Elizabeth Warren’s die-hard fans. When I saw that she had been passed over as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, My first impulse was to blog about how unhappy this made me. I checked that impulse and decided to wait to see whose name was actually tapped. Afterall, I thought, the cryptic reports that “somebody already working at the CFPB” could include Richard Cordray. As it turns out, that’s who Obama nominated.

If you were driving along M-14 in Ann Arbor this morning, you may have heard somebody shout, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” That was me. This is extremely good news for consumer advocates. Cordray was a fierce defender of consumers. He took a leading role in a fifty-state investigation into the banks’ use of fraudulent affidavits in consumer cases and has aggressively enforced Ohio’s consumer protection statutes against some large players.

If I could choose somebody to head the CFPB, it would still be Elizabeth Warren. But Richard Cordray is a very close second. Before anybody on the left calls Obama’s decision not to nominate Warren a “betrayal of consumers” or anything like that, take a minute to look at Cordray’s record. This is fantastic news.

A while back, Barney Frank blamed the Republican opposition to Warren on “sexism”

I wish he wouldn’t do that sort of thing. The Republicans oppose Warren not because she’s a woman but because she’s immensely competent and would make an excellent regulator. The idea of a strong, independent regulator terrifies an industry that prefers its regulators thoroughly captured. Warren knows the game—and doesn’t want to play it. In this case, the “good old boys club” is present—but in a completely figurative way.1

Barney Frank isn’t doing Warren any favors with this. Nor are the others who have echoed Frank’s remarks without his caveats.

With that said, I would like Obama to appoint Warren to lead the CFPB at the next congressional recess. By refusing to consider anyone for the position, the Republicans have abdicated their responsibility. If they wanted to filibuster a specific candidate—or work in good faith to find a candidate they liked more, the administration should work with them. But they’ve decided to take their ball and go home when they didn’t get to make all the rules.. That’s okay too. But the game has to go on.

  1. Yes, this would be a fine jumping off point for a blistering feminist critique of the Republicans, the lending industry, and regulators in general. But it should collapse into old-fashioned “bankers don’t like women.” 

Recess appointments

Generally speaking, I don’t like recess appointments. The Senate should have a chance to confirm Presidential nominees—and if the Senate has issues with a particular nominee, they should be able to conduct whatever investigation is reasonably necessary.

But at some point, recess appointments are necessary. If the Senate abdicates its authority, there is nothing wrong with a recess appointment. Fourty-four U.S. Senators have said that they will not confirm anybody as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless they get to make some changes to the law. It’s time for a recess appointment.

Filibustering a particular, controversial candidate is, in itself, problematic. Categoring filibustering every potential nominee until you get your way is a dereliction of Constitutional duty. There’s nothing wrong with a recess appointee.

Appoint Warren.