I happened to be in D.C. for a few days, and a family friend suggested before I leave that I get my Congressperson to arrange a White House tour. I joked that the only tour Congressman Doug LaMalfa was likely to arrange for me was one of a White House elevator shaft. I have, you see, accused LaMalfa of sabotaging peace, promoting violence, wilfully giving up the use of his brain, grovelling to Grover Norquist, being hypocritical, being an idiot, and various other crimes against his constituents.
What I did see while roaming around the capital for a couple of free hours was the headquarters of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is the agency created by President Obama under the direction of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who served as special advisor before her appointment to the directorship was torpedoed by a Republican Party acting on the behest of its corporate handlers.
The financial sector feared that an agency with the power to oversee mortgages, credit card debt, and student loans—with an eye to ensuring that financial institutions are not ripping off citizens—would cut into its profits and freedom to manipulate citizen-consumers. In a move which had “guilt” and “desperation” written all over it, the financial sector and its hired guns launched a vicious attack on Warren which convinced the President that her confirmation was a lost cause.
The Republican Party and its backers argued that an agency dedicated to stick up for consumers’ rights was going to erode individual liberties. This was a curious argument, but it’s important to remember that it came not from responsible or ethical people concerned for the well-being of their constituents, but rather from people who argued that money is free speech and that corporations are people; who voted for the Patriot Act; and who have launched an all-out assault on the economic foundations of the working class, the very foundations which allow people to enjoy their liberties in a meaningful fashion.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was attacked by the Republican Party because there was a very real danger that it might do something, and refused to consider the President’s nominee (Richard Cordray). This was part of a broad Republican Party strategy enacted in the service, once again, of its corporate paymasters. The strategy consisted of hamstringing regulatory agencies that look out for the welfare of the public by decapitating their leadership, a move which leaves them comparatively powerless to exercise their regulatory aims, whether we’re talking about protecting consumers from predatory lenders, or protecting the public from polluted water, air, or food.
That the CFPB exists today is a testament to Elizabeth Warren’s tenacious efforts as a progressive advocate for the public. Her advocacy for the agency, her arguments for reinstating Glass-Steagall, her willingness to stick up for public institutions and welfare, and her attacks on the economic inequality which increasingly characterise our society make her one of the most effective members of Congress, if by “effective” we mean someone capable of advancing arguments about policy to benefit the public rather than someone capable of shoring up the clearly-unacceptable status quo.
With Hillary Clinton all but launching a presidential campaign based on her ability to curry favour with the elite interests that have dragged our nation into war and debt on the backs of a working class whose wages have stagnated or fallen in real terms, whose ability to set the terms of their labour is badly diminished, and whose access to public institutions is increasingly circumscribed, the public needs a progressive alternative.
If Clinton is promising to be a flunky for the 1%, Warren would be a fighter for the rest of us. The idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is evidence of her progressivism, and its existence is evidence of her tenacity.