Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Elizabeth Warren Redux

Noman admits it.  Elizabeth Warren gives him the heebee-jeebees.   The very idea of a charm offensive offends his sensiblities for being so transparently phony, strategic and self-serving a concept.  Nevertheless, today she courted the US Chamber of Commerce in her continued drive for the Directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a position to be filled by July 1st.  (See also "Will the Real Elizabeth Warren Please Stand Up" (3/15/11), and "For Lovers of Unchecked Power" (3/17/11))

"Rules should be focused, and those that are not useful should be revised or eliminated."  Hear, hear!  But, can she be trusted?  Or will she be like Cass Sunstein, another legal academic who before being named President Obama's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs co-wrote a book in behavioral economics entitled "Nudge," which argued for structuring social policy in a way to nudge people to "freely" choose what's in their best interest.  Putting aside the philosophical questions about what he means by "best interest," Noman notes that Sunstein (like Warren) is an influential advisor to this Administration, and has advised it in a way that leads Noman to believe that his book might more appropriately have been entitled "Bludgeon."  Given Sunstein's recent work concerning the manipulative use of psychology by fraudulent and deceptive means to achieve governmental purposes--by cognitively infiltrating online groups and websites--perhaps his next book will be entitled "Indoctrinate."  The point is, it doesn't matter what academic regulatory wannabes say while everyone is looking; it's what they say when only their insular communities are paying attention that counts. 

The trouble for Warren is twofold. Part of it is particular to her.  She has spent her career advocating for the agency she currently "advises," and was instrumental in getting it created through the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill  (2010).  Her second problem is that this ill-considered law was hustled through Congress and signed by President Obama before the President's own Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission had issued its final report, while the Republicans were but an ineffectual minority, and while the nation was still shocked and reeling from the crisis, not to mention from the torrid pace of menacing legislative initiatives intended to seize the "opportunity" of the financial crisis, in Rahm Emmanuel's telling phrase.  Warren took advantage of crisis circumstances--that her brainchild, incidentally, would have done nothing to prevent, or resolve--while Republicans and the people were unable to stop the Democratic blitzkrieg in DC.  This behavior, while Democrats held unimpeded sway in the Capitol, does not inspire confidence in her charm offensive, or in what she says while on it.   Democrats exhibited brazen opportunism for two entire years, and bragged about it on television to like-minded reporters.  Elizabeth Warren is cut from the same cloth.  And, should conditions change to enable her to drop the show of empathy and understanding--should she be confirmed to the director position she so transparently craves, for instance--Noman doesn't doubt that she'll seize the opportunity once again to "advocate for consumers" according to her liberal lights, without giving a second thought to industry concerns, or even those of actual (as opposed to idealized) consumers. 

Noman neither believes nor trusts her.  Fortunately, neither do a number of Senators who will be called upon to confirm her to the post should she be nominated.   Unfortunately, she can count on most of the media to run interference for her, and her party still controls the Senate.  One can only hope that the specter of the 2010 elections still haunts those Democrats up for reelection in 2012.

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