Warren originated the idea for a consumer agency that could fix the broken consumer finance market by leveling the playing field between consumers and financial institutions, making it easier for consumers to compare credit products by getting rid of the complex fine print, and streamlining unaccountable, bloated government.
Warren, aided by her talent for communicating complex concepts in an understandable, resonant, and politically astute manner, caught the ear of then-Sen. Barack Obama and key members of Congress. She has developed messaging around the bureau focused on contracts, markets and practical business concepts — the key elements of her career studying and teaching contract, commercial and bankruptcy law — that dominated much of the national conversation on Wall Street reform and appealed to a wide cross-section of policymakers and officials.
As the financial crisis exposed the economic sinkholes created by a consumer credit market run amok, Warren built a coalition of interest groups, government officials, and others who share her passion for reform. As chair of the COP, she built a reputation for credibility and independence. From that perch, she has cultivated close relationships across all branches of government, including in both Democratic and Republican offices on Capitol Hill. Warren would hit the ground running as CFPB Director, drawing on her network of supporters — including Democrats and Republicans, industry insiders and industry outsiders —for information, feedback and ideas as the new bureau defines and begins to carry out its mission.
Warren’s biggest contribution may not be what she can do, but what she can inspire others to do. Her vision, passion and openness will attract talented individuals to the CFPB. She can inspire a new generation of consumer advocates in the same way she inspires her law students. Despite a reputation as one of the toughest professors at Harvard Law School, a waiting list formed every year for her bankruptcy course, and she remains the only professor in the law school’s history to win the top teaching award twice. She demands excellence from her students and will demand no less from the staff of the CFPB — and there are many who will line up to offer their best.
Warren’s profile as chair of the COP and as a consumer advocate has also made her a nationally recognized name, landing her a coveted spot on the cover of Time and guest appearances on "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Charlie Rose" and all the cable news networks. The comments on her Facebook page from thousands of strangers alternate between cheering her on and expressing relief that someone understands the challenges they face. Warren’s larger-than-life profile and growing public constituency would allow her to keep attention on the CFPB, increasing its clout and effectiveness and countering the financial industry’s influence.
Amid a drumbeat of surveys reflecting new lows in Americans’ trust in government, Warren presents an opportunity to stem the tide. The CFPB will need someone with gravitas to ensure that it establishes itself as an authority in Washington amid the reshuffling that will follow the passage of the financial reform bill. It will need someone who has studied consumer financial products for decades and who understands the intricacies of the regulatory structure — someone who will not need to learn the substance on the job.
Nominating Warren would also represent a key lesson learned from the Wall Street reform fight. While lobbyists and their allies have no use for meaningful rules in the consumer financial market — and will likely try to hinder the CFPB’s ramp-up by blocking any nominee for that reason — they fear sunlight and public attention. By ensuring a spotlight on the nomination process, Warren’s nomination would be more inoculated from a sustained frontal assault than would be the nomination of a lower-profile figure.
Wall Street reform has its naysayers, left and right, but everyone — Republican and Democrat, industry insiders and people with no connection to politics — acknowledges that the consumer credit market is broken and that the consumer agency has strong tools to repair it. In the metaphor of sports, the consumer agency has momentum. But that momentum can be lost as quickly as it was gained, at the cost of meaningful change. Warren’s appointment as director of the CFPB will keep the momentum going for the kinds of reforms that will rebuild economic security and prevent future crises.
Mark Holloway is a graduate of Harvard Law School, an attorney and a moderate Republican from a line of small-business owners.