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Why Elizabeth Warren is Important

July 25th, 2010 No comments

I’m on fire today, as you’ll know if you read the post below. I’m temporarily without internet access so until I take this computer to somewhere with a WiFi signal I can’t waste any time doing research and finding relevant links and videos—which is the most time-consuming part of blogging. So today I’m going old-school and just ranting straight from my head. As such I’m only covering the really important stuff—Sarah Palin will have to wait.

You wouldn’t know it unless you’ve been paying really close attention, but we’re approaching what will be one of the most defining moments of the Obama presidency. In fact, it may be the most important cross-roads that Barack Obama has ever come to. He’s faced with a choice—a choice that only he can make and for which the responsibility will rest on his shoulders alone. It would seem like a small decision, like just one of a thousand little decisions the president makes every day, but taken in the broader context it’s a decision that will define how he is perceived by the public for the remainder of his presidency. The decision is over who to appoint as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It’s no secret that the financial reform legislation that came out of the senate is weak and watered-down. It won’t change the way Wall Street does business and it won’t prevent future bailouts. The only thing it does that has the potential to do real, substantial good on behalf of the American people is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which would serve as a much-needed watchdog to protect consumers from corporate greed and abuses of power.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will only be as strong as the people who control it. It it’s run by establishment insiders and friends of Wall Street bankers, it’s probably not going to do too much to protect consumers. It’ll just exist for the sake of public perception, to make it look like Obama accomplished reform.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether Obama wanted real reform and was just forced to accept what he could get from a congress drowning in Wall Street money, or whether he’s as complicit as they are and has no interest in changing the status quo either. When Obama chooses who to appoint as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we’ll know the answer.

Elizabeth Warren is the person who came up with the idea in the first place. From her current position as chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel, she has been an incredibly forceful advocate on behalf of the middle-class and her zeal for standing up to big corporations on behalf of the little guy is well-known and celebrated by progressives everywhere. If she were put in control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there is no doubt that she would give the corporations a run for their money. She would take the strongest possible approach to dealing with Wall Street and while she might still not have the power to prevent another financial crisis, she’d be able to warn everyone when she sees it coming, and people would have to listen to her because she would be in a position of power. We need a progressive in a position of power. We need someone who is not beholden to Wall Street with the capability to exert pressure on Wall Street.

If Obama appoints Elizabeth Warren, then nearly all of my cynicism about the financial reform legislation will evaporate. I’ll bow my head and concede that at least in this instance, Obama delivered on some of the Change he promised.

Obviously, the rich and powerful are completely opposed to Elizabeth Warren. She’s their worst nightmare. They’d rather have anyone but Elizabeth Warren at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Preferably, they want someone who isn’t really interested in protecting consumers. Someone like Tim Geithner whom they already know and whom they’re buddies with. Someone whose top priority will be protecting Wall Street first, and protecting consumers only insofar as it doesn’t interfere with the way Wall Street does business.

If Obama appoints someone other than Elizabeth Warren (assuming it’s not another progressive like Paul Krugman or Robert Reich), then you can rip the “Change We Can Believe In” sticker off your bumper and bury it six feet under ground, because the promise of the Obama presidency will be dead. It will be completely over. He will have raised the white flag and surrendered to the very establishment he said he was going to change.

Why is this decision so important as compared to all the others? Why will this be more of an indicator of Obama’s true character than, say, the fight over the public option? Because this time, there’s no one else to blame. This time the decision is squarely on his shoulders and there are no Joe Liebermans, Blanche Lincolns or Ben Nelsons to hide behind.

You can already see indications that the White House is leaning away from appointing Warren. They don’t want to piss off progressives too much so they keep insisting how much they like her and how great she is, but

The ‘but’ is key. They’ll say “But there are other good options” when in reality the only other names being thrown around are friends of Tim Geithner—people with the Wall Street stamp of approval. They’ll say “But she’s unconfirmable because republicans will filibuster her” but in reality Obama could appoint her with the stroke of a pen. I’m pretty sure the way the legislation is written she doesn’t need senate confirmation, but even if she does there’s the option of a recess appointment.

The point is, it can be done and the only thing that would stop it is Obama deciding not to. He knows that progressives really want him to appoint Warren, but so far his whole governing strategy has been to ignore progressives and do everything he can to try and appear like a centrist moderate (see my rant below). So far, he seems to have done everything the establishment has wanted him to do.

Will the pattern continue? Will he decide not to appoint Warren because he’d take too much criticism from Fox News? There’s no doubt they’ll be throwing the entire Socialist/Maoist smear machine directly at her, but they’ll do that to anyone he appoints even it’s Lloyd Blankfein (the CEO of Goldman Sachs) himself!

Will he decide not to appoint Warren because Wall Street won’t stand for it? They’re almost certainly threatening to pull their funding from Democratic candidates this election if he goes with Warren, so he might think he has no choice but to cave in again.

Or will he just this once actually make the right decision and appoint Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Will he just this once accomplish some real Change? Will he listen to the people that got him elected just this once instead of spitting in their faces?

I doubt it. But I really hope more attention gets paid to this because it’s of monumental significance. This is a moment where Obama can really change course and begin to regain some of that progressive support he’s been losing since taking office by standing up to Wall Street and doing something that will actually help average Americans.

What’ll it be, Barack? Was the promise of Change just a big fat fucking lie that you had no intention of keeping? Or are you really trying to do the best you can? Your decision will reveal the answer, and we anxiously await it.

The Fox News Administration

July 25th, 2010 No comments

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember voting for Glenn Beck for president. I don’t think many Obama supporters, upon casting their vote in 2008, were hoping that once president he would bend over backwards to do everything he possibly could to appease Fox News. I could be wrong—maybe Obama voters were really hoping for a president who would ignore progressives and listen only to the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity—but somehow I find that hard to believe.

Excuse me for ranting but I’ve got the need. Cenk Uygur’s epic rant over the Shirley Sherrod debacle on Wednesday’s Young Turks got me fired up. Between that and a dozen other columns and blog entries I’ve read these last couple of days, it’s clear that this story is far more significant than I initially realized.

At first my anger was directed almost entirely at Fox News. I couldn’t believe how so many people can still see them as an actual news organization when they clearly have a political agenda and will rush to broadcast any story that fits their pre-existing narrative with a deliberate disregard for what the actual facts are. Their #1 agenda is to do political harm to Obama. When presented with a heavily-edited video that seemed to show an employee of Obama’s department of agriculture boasting about how she discriminated against a white farmer, they didn’t waste a single moment checking to see whether it was what it appeared to be.

They could have found the entire unedited video but didn’t. They could have tried to contact Sherrod for her side of the story but didn’t. Most egregiously, they didn’t even try to contact the white farmers who were supposedly the victims of this discrimination, as if they had they would have learned—as the rest of the country learned when actual journalists stepped onto the scene—that Sherrod actually helped them save their farm, and that the story she’d been telling in that video was about how she learned that it was wrong to discriminate based on color.

But the Obama White House fired Shirley Sherrod before any journalism was done—before any basic questions were even asked. Sherrod told reporters that she actually had to pull over to the side of the road and submit her resignation via text message because she had to be gone by the time Glenn Beck went on the air.

Brillliant move on the White House’s part. Obviously they learned their lesson from the Van Jones fiasco, when they let Fox News hammer them for days before finally getting rid of him. No doubt they were patting themselves on the back for swift, decisive action when they got rid of Sherrod within a single news cycle.

Surely they had fixed everything. Fox News, upon seeing how quickly the administration caved in to them, would undoubtedly give him all the credit in the world and begin reporting how they’d been wrong about him all along—that he’s really not a reverse-racist and that he should be applauded for getting rid of Sherrod.

Of course not. Their number one agenda, remember, is to harm Obama politically. So when he did exactly what they wanted him to do, they hammered him for that! How could he fire her so quickly before checking all the facts? I can’t believe he just threw that poor woman under the bus like that. I mean, we’re Fox News so it’s not our job to check the facts but surely the White House has a responsibility to get the whole story before taking action.

And on that, they’re absolutely right. It’s not Fox News’s responsibility to report the truth—they are a propaganda network, not a news organization—but the White House does have a responsibility to make sure that the actions they take are based on hard facts and solid evidence.

But apparently that’s not how they operate. It would seem that they’ve got their eyes on Fox News at all times and stand ever poised to deflate whatever criticism that network might be leveling against them. They say Van Jones is a communist? Get rid of him. They say ACORN is full of criminals? Cut off its funding. Just please don’t hate us, right-wingers. We swear we’ll do whatever you say, Glenn Beck. Just stop saying mean things about us. What is it you want us to do? Just tell us who to fire and they’ll be out of here by 5 p.m.

Last year, in the midst of the health care debacle, I asked whether Obama was a pussy or a sell-out. I keep going back and forth on that question, but this drove me firmly back to the pussy side of the equation. Running the country based on Fox News talking points? How weak and pathetic can you possibly be?

What the hell do you think you’re actually accomplishing with this strategy? You think that if you keep caving in to Fox News, one day conservatives are suddenly going to change their minds about you? That if you keep compromising on all your progressive ideals and delivering watered-down, industry-friendly legislation, that right-wingers are going to start saying, “You know, maybe we were wrong about him. He might not be a radical socialist after all.”

News for you: That. Will. Never. Fucking. Happen.

So deal with it. Give up this absurd act of chasing your own tail all day long, turn off the goddamn Fox News channel, and run the country the way you would run it if there were no such thing as the Glenn Beck program.

Or better yet, listen to both sides. Progressives have criticisms too, and theirs are actually based in reality. Instead of only taking Bill O’Reilly’s advice, try listening to Rachel Maddow for once. Her advice is actually designed to help you.

The Shirley Sherrod thing, in itself, is just a small story. But taken in the larger context of the way Barack Obama has been conducting his administration, it’s one of the most important political events of his presidency. It’s one of those Wizard of Oz moments when the curtain is drawn back and you see who’s really running the show.

The strategy is clear: Don’t waste any time worrying about what liberals and progressives are saying because liberals and progressives don’t matter. They will never vote for republicans, so you gain nothing by doing anything more than the bare minimum to appease them. You win elections by appealing to swing-voters, to the moderate center, to the people who want to see both parties working together in a bipartisan fashion to accomplish things in Washington. When conservatives criticize you, you should immediately respond to that criticism in order to show how much of a centrist you are and how much you’re willing to listen to the other side.

The strategy is also dead wrong. I don’t know who this imaginary moderate centrist voter is, but I’ve never met him. Is there a single American voter who wasn’t sure about Obama until he dropped the public option, watered-down financial reform, called for more offshore oil drilling, fired Van Jones and de-funded ACORN? Seriously, I want to know how many people will go to the polls and vote for democrats this Fall because Obama proved to them that he’s not ‘too liberal’.

It’s complete and utter bullshit, and it’s so frustrating that Obama is so wrapped up inside his Washington bubble that he can’t even see it. He thinks that Bush’s approval ratings were so low because he spent too much time appeasing his base and never compromising with the other side. Wrong—Bush’s approval ratings were so low because everything he did as president was a total disaster. But at least he got shit done.

Why don’t you try that strategy for awhile, Obama? Why don’t you take a “Bring ‘em on” approach to Fox News and let them say whatever the hell they want to say while you deliver on the Change you promised? The Washington punditocracy will no doubt say you’ve gone off the deep-end, that you’re drifting perilously to the left and that this center-right country won’t stand for it. But you know what? You might find that in the Fall, liberals and progressives will actually come out and vote instead of staying home. You might even find that these all-important centrist-moderates you’re so concerned about actually come out and vote for democrats as well because…golly gee…it turns out they didn’t actually care about bipartisan posturing as much as they cared about government actually getting shit done.

Wake up, Obama. You’ve handed control of the country over to Fox News and you wonder why you’re heading for a failed presidency. In 2012 you should just let voters write in Glenn Beck’s name instead of yours so he can run the country directly without a middle-man.