Make Elizabeth Warren Hate Again

We don’t just need Elizabeth Warren’s ideas. We need her rage.

Moe Tkacik May 2, 2019

(Illustration by Terry LaBan)

I was rid­ing an Uber­Pool home from a demor­al­iz­ing dead win­ter din­ner shift in the midst of a preg­nan­cy scare when Eliz­a­beth Warren’s uni­ver­sal child care pro­pos­al hit my feeds. I had made $225.46 before tax­es that night; my babysit­ter had tak­en home $160, and she’d need a sub­stan­tial raise if I had a third. The War­ren plan promised to cap day care costs at 7% of house­hold income. If day care costs were income-based, I could have three wall-van­dal­iz­ing, juice­spilling, lip­stick-smear­ing, toi­let paper-unrav­el­ling, time-mur­der­ing chil­dren, and I wouldn’t even have to be a wait­ress to begin with. I could be an adjunct his­to­ry professor!

America fell in love with the Warren who went viral dressing down bank CEOs and oblivious regulators, who told Citigroup that the post-crash regulation should have “broken you up into little pieces.”

I gave $27.50 to the War­ren cam­paign that night. Giv­en her sin­gle-dig­it polling num­bers, I real­ized I stood a bet­ter chance of finagling my way into Nor­we­gian cit­i­zen­ship than she had of becom­ing pres­i­dent, but I want­ed the pro­pos­als to keep com­ing. It felt like I was get­ting some­thing for my mon­ey, like I was fund­ing a think tank, a real think tank, not a tax-exempt front for a con­fed­er­a­tion of lob­by­ing inter­ests staffed by for­mer Hillary aides, but an incu­ba­tor of vital ideas and solu­tions in wait­ing for a Sanders administration.

The pol­i­cy state­ment stream per­sist­ed: the pro­pos­al to undo Ama­zon and Facebook’s acqui­si­tion binges; the $500 bil­lion plan to build mil­lions of afford­able homes; the plan to force agri­cul­tur­al equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers to open-source oper­a­tions so farm­ers can repair their own machines; the $100 bil­lion plan to rad­i­cal­ly expand opi­oid addic­tion treat­ment; the pro­pos­al to ban fos­sil fuel extrac­tion on pub­licly owned lands and make pub­lic parks free; the $1.25 tril­lion plan to can­cel stu­dent loan debt and make col­lege free. And a raft of tar­get­ed new tax­es that would finance all these plans: on cor­po­rate prof­its high­er than $100 mil­lion, inher­i­tances more valu­able than $7 mil­lion, net worth greater than $50 million.

I would have glad­ly pitched in more tax dol­lars to fund most of her agen­da, but telling­ly, #TeamWar­ren nev­er asked. So I kept press­ing those irri­tat­ing DONATE but­tons. I wasn’t alone. By March the whole lamestream media, from the New York Times to CNBC, was singing the prais­es of Warren’s pro­pos­al mill. A typ­i­cal Guardian col­umn pro­nounced her the intel­lec­tu­al pow­er­house of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty.” Behind that pow­er­house, War­ren had amassed the 2020 contest’s largest salaried cam­paign staff, 161 strong by The Hill’s count.

But comb­ing Warren’s Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion fil­ings for names to put to this brain trust, I began to feel a bit sea­sick. Staffer after staffer had cut her (or his) teeth cam­paign­ing for Hillary. And upon clos­er inspec­tion, a fair num­ber of #TeamWarren’s plans reeked of Clin­tonite horse-shitism (also, pan­der­ing 12-fig­ure-pric­etag nev­er-gonna-hap­pen-ism.) One sec­tion of the hous­ing plan relies on lever­ag­ing” each dol­lar spent with 10 dol­lars in pri­vate sec­tor funds, which is to say, clas­sic neolib­er­al prof­i­teer­ing. The hys­ter­i­cal­ly priced $1.2 tril­lion stu­dent debt for­give­ness pack­age avoids any changes in Warren’s OG area of exper­tise, the fed­er­al bank­rupt­cy code — which, in deny­ing bank­rupt­cy (uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­ly) for stu­dent debt, quite lit­er­al­ly cre­at­ed the stu­dent loan dis­as­ter. I asked Alan Collinge of Stu­dent Loan Jus­tice what was up. He said Warren’s staff is mad­den­ing­ly weird on the issue: full of promis­es one month, inca­pable of return­ing an email the next, gen­er­al­ly more inter­est­ed in throw[ing] mon­ey at” the prob­lem than address­ing the salient struc­tur­al flaw. He sur­mised she was tak­ing orders from the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress (CAP). War­ren advi­sor Ganesh Sitara­man, whom Collinge iden­ti­fied as her point per­son on stu­dent loans, is a CAP senior fellow.

At best, as the Boston Globe has detailed, #TeamWar­ren is using the wonkspam as a mar­ket­ing tool: Churn out meaty white papers, then ask for cash to keep the ideas in the con­ver­sa­tion.” But it’s not Warren’s ideas” — at least in the mealy watered-down Belt­way thought-leader sense — that we need. It is her (inim­itably well-informed) rage. Amer­i­ca fell in love with the War­ren who went viral dress­ing down bank CEOs and obliv­i­ous reg­u­la­tors, who spent five min­utes detail­ing the extent to which Cit­i­group alums had infest­ed the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion before telling the bank that Dodd-Frank’s major flaw was that it should have bro­ken you up into lit­tle pieces”; whose low-key inter­ro­ga­tion tac­tics induced a New York Fed pres­i­dent to essen­tial­ly con­fess col­lud­ing with Gold­man to hide anoth­er bank’s bal­ance sheet hole from Euro­pean bank­ing author­i­ties; who led the charge to fire the head of the agency over­see­ing Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac for being too bank-cap­tured to write down any of the mil­lions of under­wa­ter mort­gages it owned after the 2008 cri­sis, then pub­licly evis­cer­at­ed his replace­ment for the same exact thing a year lat­er. The Old War­ren was nev­er so inter­est­ed in feel­ing your pain as she was artic­u­lat­ing your pain, to the rich white bil­lion­aires inflict­ing it.

The Old War­ren was unabashed­ly unafraid to tack­le two things no oth­er 21st cen­tu­ry politi­cian real­ly had: arcana, and the whole­sale cap­ture of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty pol­i­tics by the big banks. These two things are sym­bi­ot­ic — every elec­tion cycle the Democ­rats bet that stu­pid Amer­i­cans’ inabil­i­ty to com­pre­hend the for­mer will con­tin­ue to obscure the lat­ter. And every elec­tion cycle, those same Amer­i­cans revolt against the bank-backed cen­trists the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty push­es on them: by embrac­ing Oba­ma in 2008, the Tea Par­ty in 2010, Bernie Sanders then Don­ald Trump in 2016, Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez in 2018. I’m not say­ing those Amer­i­cans are all the same, or that they aren’t ever stu­pid — shit, I gen­uine­ly believed Oba­ma would be an anti­dote to all this back in 2008, and that was stu­pid! — but they know what they don’t like, and that is (preachy, end­less­ly self-sat­is­fied) mil­lion­aire Democ­rats who take march­ing orders from tril­lion­aire banks. But where Bernie nev­er had much of an appetite for anno­tat­ing the fine print behind our neolib­er­al malaise, or call­ing out the Demo­c­ra­t­ic com­mit­tee staffers-turned-bank lob­by­ists who draft­ed it, War­ren always seemed invig­o­rat­ed by the nam­ing of names and pars­ing details of scams. That is why, as one banker quot­ed in New York mag­a­zine put it, she strikes fear in [the] hearts” of Wall Street exec­u­tives, despite her drea­ry poll num­bers, even more so than Sanders: They regard her as more com­pe­tent.

The old ter­ri­fy­ing­ly well-informed Right­eous War­ren made a brief reap­pear­ance on a CNN town hall in April, when she described read­ing the sec­tion of the Mueller report in which Trump attempts to get White House Coun­sel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, then attempts to get McGahn to refute the sto­ries about it, then tries to gaslight McGahn into agree­ing that Trump nev­er used the word fire,” then chews out McGahn for hav­ing tak­en notes. Hav­ing two tod­dlers and a pro­found cyn­i­cism toward Rus­si­a­gate, I hadn’t got­ten so far in the report. But War­ren has a way of return­ing moral clar­i­ty well after out­rage fatigue has set in, and she made a com­pelling case that we didn’t have to let yet anoth­er rich white guy get away with mur­der. We may have let Chuck Prince and Ange­lo Mozi­lo and the Mag­ne­tar guys and the Lon­don Whale guys off the hook, but maybe if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have this crook in the White House now.

She had a point. But she should­n’t nar­row her sights. War­ren knows more inti­mate­ly than any oth­er politi­cian how deep and wide the pop­u­la­tion of rich Amer­i­can vil­lains has grown. They are every­where, arti­fi­cial­ly inflat­ing our hous­ing costs and our drug prices, our inter­est rates and our opi­oid addic­tion rates and our car­bon emis­sions. Hav­ing sworn off big-dol­lar fundrais­ing, now is when War­ren should be wel­com­ing their hatred — and expos­ing the cow­ardice of pho­ny pop­ulists like Joe Biden who have instead wel­comed their $2,800 checks. Her fury is what the Left needs.

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