OPINION: Warren thrills left, frightens the GOP

Liberals are divided over their political heroes. President Obama is the No. 1 example of a liberal who leaves left-wingers shaking their heads. But there is one undisputed liberal superhero in Washington these days — a mild-mannered former Sunday school teacher and law professor named Elizabeth Warren.

Conservative Republicans are in such fear of her power to tap into populist anger at Wall Street that they kept the Senate in a pro forma session over the Memorial Day weekend to block the president from giving her a recess appointment to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB is scheduled to start overseeing Wall Street July 21.

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Late last month, 89 House Democrats sent a letter to the president demanding Warren’s appointment the next time the Senate goes into recess. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, added to the Warren legend when he told reporters the idea of a woman policing the big boys on Wall Street is too much for the Republicans.

“Some people almost unconsciously think that for a woman to be in an important position regarding the titans of the financial industry is not appropriate,” Frank said. And Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) lent support to that line of argument when she said Republicans oppose Warren’s appointment as leader of the CFPB because they are “threatened by an accomplished and articulate woman — that’s when they make it personal.”

Evidence of Warren’s political power was on display before the Memorial Day recess when she turned North Carolina Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry, a polite, smart politician, into a red-faced fury over a minor scheduling dispute regarding the time to end a House hearing. McHenry lost control and went way over the line by calling Warren a liar.

In the hours and days after the exchange, thousands of liberals bombarded McHenry’s Facebook page. Here is one of the more measured comments that appeared on his page: “Your behavior toward Elizabeth Warren shows that you’re not only a greedy bastard with no regard for your constituents, you’re also arrogant and rude. … Any apology from you would undoubtedly be an entirely insincere and empty gesture on your part so I won’t even bother with that demand.”

Even before she bruised McHenry’s reputation, Warren had been hailed as a modern Joan of Arc by the left. She is the star of filmmaker Michael Moore’s most recent documentary. Last February, comedian Bill Maher leaned over to Warren as she railed against the greed on Wall Street and hugged her. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote a profile of her suggesting that she challenge Barack Obama for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination. 

More realistically, Warren’s name has been mentioned as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court as well as a potential Democratic challenger to Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown next year. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party can’t get enough of her. 

Republicans, on the other hand, act like she has the power to emasculate the titans of Wall Street.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has accused Warren of leading a “regulatory shakedown” of America’s financial community. Shelby led the GOP effort to block Warren’s confirmation as head of the CFPB, which was established by Congress last year in the aftermath of the national financial meltdown. He is demanding that the bureau have less power and the director’s post be eliminated. He wants a five-person commission instead.

The CFPB’s mission does not appear to be controversial. It is intended to stop the abusive and deceptive practices used by banks, credit card companies and mortgage lenders to rip off their customers. To most Americans, who tell pollsters they think Wall Street is full of greed and bad behavior, reining in the masters of the financial universe is long overdue. But Shelby sees the hand of government interference with the free market.

“Just last year, I warned that the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection would prove to be an unaccountable and unbridled bureaucracy,” Shelby said recently. “I did not expect to be proven correct so quickly.”  

Warren, a former Harvard professor, has been among the most articulate and passionate voices for regulatory reform. In an interview with The New York Times last year, she exclaimed: “Dang gummit, somebody has got to stand up on behalf of middle-class families!”

This is why Wall Street regards her as a threat and the Republicans have gone to such lengths to derail her nomination. 

The populist rage at Wall Street still burns. Going into 2012 it is still very real political kryptonite for the GOP.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.