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Elizabeth Warren: Party girl or patsy?

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If nothing else, this week’s Democratic Party conclave will be remembered as the unlikely coming out party of its newly minted attack dog: Elizabeth Warren.
 
I know a thing or two about Sen. Warren, or at least I used to. A decade ago, when she was teaching at Harvard, I featured her prominently in my documentary Maxed Out. She later nominated my book of the same name for a prestigious award. We tag-teamed a popular Nightline special on predatory lending.  I wrote several glowing pieces about her in the press.
 
{mosads}Warren is that rare confluence of intellect, integrity and compassion. Rarer still is her lack of ego. Which is why my heart sank a couple of months ago when she launched her inaugural Tweetstorm at Donald Trump. This was not Warren’s audition for vice president, as it turns out, but for the lesser job of Clinton surrogate. Fine, I suppose, except that everything about Warren’s Tweets, from the emasculating digs to their sheer number and after-hours time stamps, feel beneath the woman who many of us worship.
 
It is worth noting that Warren was never who she was made out to be. She is not a Sanders-type Northeast liberal who believes that government can (or should) solve every problem. Before Harvard, she was an Oklahoma Republican. She went to community college in Houston. She got her start in law writing wills on a kitchen table. If ever there was a rugged individualist, if ever there was someone who embodied everything good about Texas and feminism both—If that’s possible!—it is this super-everywoman who has raised amazing kids, conquered the peak of academia and melted no less than Jon Stewart.
 
A large part of Warren’s appeal is that she was not propelled by ambition or entitlement but by intellectual curiosity and rightful indignation. Her celebrity traces back to an exhaustive study on personal bankruptcy, which led to an influential bestseller (The Two Income Trap) co-written with her daughter. Then she rode the publicity surrounding Maxed Out into a gig with the Obama campaign and from there, after a brief stint at TARP, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she designed to make toxic loans and mortgages as rare as plastic gas tanks. The CFPB demonstrated not only Warren’s genius but her political savvy. She literally seized the moment and dogged Obama until he got it done.
 
The CFPB was a down payment on a highly personal mission that Americans be treated fairly by a monstrous industry that was ripping them of while consuming itself. When I met her, she saw herself as the lobbyist for the middle class American family. Maybe she still does. She has sat in the living rooms of hundreds of ordinary, sometimes desperate American families who cannot read byzantine financial documents, documenting their pain. She wants them to have a fair shake, not a free lunch.
 
When she was drafted for the Senate run, one of her first fundraisers was an invitation only affair at Barbra Streisand’s mansion in Malibu—the one with the shopping mall in the basement. In retrospect, this was a prescient moment. Many of us assumed that Sen. Warren would pay it forward and endorse Sanders, but Obama and the Democratic Party clearly wanted her to pay it back. Guess who won? Aligning herself Clinton, the antithesis of that Warren most famously stood for—standing up to the financial industry—has clearly been too much for many of us to bear. Instead of occupying Wall Street or marching Broad Street, Warren now participates in a “sit in” of her own workplace and, of course, power tweets Trump insults.
 
But many of us should wonder why we didn’t see the Warren/Clinton hookup coming. Both women are former Republicans with Ivy League pedigrees and both took money from the big money banks, then publicly excoriated them later. This is not to say that they are the same person. Not even close. Clinton is distrusted by more than two-thirds of Americans. Even as president, her ability to influence the narrative will be severely limited. Warren, on the other hand, still has a chance to do what she does best on a large scale, which is to inform.
 
And this worries me. Because rather than show us that the financial industry, which has spent the past eight years consolidating, is teetering on an ever more precarious cliff while Americans become worse off and the country more unequal, Surrogate Warren must ignore the crisis, and toe the line that we can stay the course, because that is the Obama/Clinton narrative.
 
I have to wonder what exactly, does the DNC expect a Warren/Trump smackdown to accomplish? Every Warren Tweet will probably come back and hit Hillary even harder. For-profit college scams? Misogyny? Cronyism? Corruption? Lying? Are the Hillary Campaign nerds too young to remember The War Room, where a grinning Bill Clinton remarks how he loved the Republicans ad hominem attacks because they allowed him an opportunity to hit back and not seem mean or gratuitous? Or is Trump not really the target?
 
Bernie “Damn e-mails!” Sanders was never that interested in spinning a narrative; he was all about promoting an agenda. Warren is the opposite—and thus a greater threat. She understood that Americans must understand Wall Street’s co-opting of the government, including both Clintons, and its consequences. The Warren I interviewed a decade ago correctly laid the blame for the housing crisis at the foot of Wall Street and its lap dog politicians. Party Girl Warren now blames AirBnB.
 
Party on indeed.

James Scurlock is the author of several books including Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit, King Larry and most recently, Upside Down: Why Borrowing Our Way Out Of Debt Hasn’t Worked & What Comes Next.

Tags Bill Clinton Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren
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