Warren is right for job

For base progressives, the last year and a half has been a lesson in serial disappointment. The issue isn’t lack of progress — the administration and congressional Democrats boast an admirable list of legislative accomplishments. It’s just that those accomplishments were almost all watered down to a shell of what they could have been. 

The financial reform bill recently signed into law was a case in point, as Wall Street lobbyists systematically dismantled provision after provision that would’ve better regulated their industry. What began with vows to end “too big to fail” ended with marginal tinkering around the edges.

Yet the legislation wasn’t a total failure. The new law sets up a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, designed to shield the public from such Wall Street abuses as subprime loans and excessive credit card fees. The agency was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law bankruptcy expert and head of the Troubled Asset Relief Program Congressional Oversight Panel — where she’s used her soapbox to hammer the administration for (among other things) using TARP funds to prop up large banks at the expense of smaller financial institutions.

Now, there’s a push to define the new consumer bureau, and Wall Street boosters in Congress and the White House, such as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and President Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, are now fighting to defang the agency before it has a chance to firmly establish itself.

Meanwhile, progressive activists want someone they can trust in that important new role, and there is no better person for the job than Elizabeth Warren.

Some in the administration seem panicked at the prospect of a Warren nomination. One anonymous administration source fretted to The New York Times about her “crusading style, her seemingly visceral loathing of financial services companies and her expansive way of interpreting assignments.” Given the mood of the country, those are good things!

Warren’s candidacy for the job has certainly become a top progressive priority. Center for American Progress blogger Matthew Yglesias, reporting from the progressive Netroots Nation conference last week, noted her importance to progressives feeling shut out by the current White House. “As one attendee put it to me, ‘what a great signal it would send,’ ” he wrote. “Tellingly, he’s an environmentalist. His work has, really, nothing to do with Warren or financial regulation. But he wants — and needs — a signal that the president cares about the people who’ve been fighting the good fight for years and may or may not continue doing so in the future.”

Warren’s Senate path certainly would be difficult, but she’s earned respect from Republicans like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley for refusing to play nice with the White House on TARP oversight. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont certainly relishes a possible floor fight: “It will allow for a serious debate as to the role that government should play in protecting the American people against the outrageous behavior we have seen on Wall Street.” Even Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday that she was “very confirmable,” suggesting Warren may indeed be getting serious consideration for the job.

And if the Senate continues its reputation of being the place where good things go to die, Obama could always give Warren the job via recess appointment.

This choice will speak volumes about the president’s priorities. As the nation seethes at Wall Street excess, arrogance and hubris, Obama can stand with the people (and with progressive activists fighting that good fight) by giving Warren the nod. Or he can stand with Wall Street.

It shouldn’t be a tough call.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com).