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Sep. 16 2009 - 12:32 pm | 16 views | 2 recommendations | 6 comments

Draft Liz Warren for Kennedy’s Seat [UPDATED]

The Democrats have a dilemma. While a crop of aspiring successors to Ted Kennedy have made their intentions known, none of the names are likely to inspire much confidence. It’s not as if Martha Coakley, now the favorite to replace Kennedy, is deeply problematic in any way–but it would hard to argue that she has the stature we’ve come to expect out of Kennedy’s seat. For Kennedy was not just the senior senator from Massachusetts; he was effectively a national senator, whose policies and pronouncements had consequences far beyond the Bay State.

Fortunately for Massachusetts and the rest of us, however, there is one person whose entrance into the race would provide the Kennedy family with a worthy successor: Elizabeth Warren. A Harvard law professor who–through her work proposing the creation of a Financial Product Safety Commission and her tenure as chair of the TARP Oversight Committee–has become a recognized champion of the middle class and the everyday person, Warren would be a pitch-perfect candidate. The values that drive her public career are the same values that drove Kennedy’s. She’d have instant national recognition; after all, she’s already a player on the national stage. And politically, she’d bring a number of advantages that her potential competitors conspicuously lack.

Sometimes a lone voice in the wilderness, Warren has spent her career focused like a laser on the financial plight of the middle and working classes in this country. In part, that’s what led her to propose the creation of a Financial Product Safety Commission, which would regulate the credit cards and mortgages people like you and me use everyday. (Full disclosure: she proposed this idea in the journal I help edit, but before I came on board). Redubbed the Consumer Financial Protection Agency by policymakers, the idea is now supported by the Obama Administration. If created, it might go a long way toward preventing the next crisis before it happens. Creating a new regulatory agency: that’s no small thing for a citizen to do. Now imagine what she could accomplish were she actually a lawmaker.

But that’s not all she’s done. As Chair of the TARP Oversight Committee, she’s been charged with the unenviable task of watching over the sprawling financial rescue package. Perhaps more than anyone else, she’s brought to light the disorganization and profligacy of the TARP program. She’s made transparency a watchword among critics of the TARP program, pointing out the tens of billions of dollars in wasted money and the dissembling of former Secretary Paulson. Throughout the financial crisis, she has been the voice of the common person in policy debates. We urgently need her–and what she represents–in the Senate.

If her politics are populist, then so is her life story. She’s from Oklahoma, to begin with. And As Tim Fernholz explains in the American Prospect, after getting married at the age of 19, Warren had a child of her own before working with brain-damaged children. Sure, she’s a Harvard professor, which will likely provoke snickers from the luddites in the Republican caucus–most of whom have lived a far more privileged life than Warren. Her life has been a blend of cerebral pursuit and the common touch, two traits that, conveniently enough, also define Massachusetts.

And while a Warren candidacy would be no walk in the park, she would have several significant political advantages, not only over other Democrats, but any potential Republican challengers down the line (it’s only a matter of time before one of the Romney sons–Tagg, or Tripp, or whatever–runs to avenge their old man’s ‘94 loss). She has an army of dedicated followers whom, I imagine, would be extremely excited to help her fundraise. She speaks to the grassroots, both in the state and around the country, in a way that few other public figures do. Moreover, upon declaring, she’d have immediate access to the national press. Were she to win, she’d become a true national senator, able to marshal support and attention behind causes that the press and the political class often forget. But somehow, I don’t think the people of Massachusetts, nor many Democrats around the country, forget them.

There is a viable successor to Ted Kennedy. She might not have a famous last name, but Liz Warren has the right combination of talent, ideas, and supporters to be a deserving heir. Now we just need to get her in the race.

UPDATE: Warren is now refusing to confirm or deny interest in pursuing this idea. See the video, and read more, here.


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  1. collapse expand

    She is much too important in her current role, if she goes to the Senate as the junior Senator from MA – she will be relegated to following the directions of the leadership or pay the price of having no impact in return. Her voice would be lost for years.

    • collapse expand

      I disagree, obviously. She’d be able to impact legislation in a way she can’t now, and her national presence–which already exists–would ensure her of significant political power, including an ability to raise a lot of money. Which would endear her even to the Kent Conrads of the world. She’d also bring in expertise–meaningful expertise on the pressing question of our day–a quality sorely lacking in that less than august body.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    I live in Washington, D.C., a few blocks away from the White House--hence the title of this blog. In my day job, I'm the associate editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (www.democracyjournal.org). I've written for The Nation, Politico, The New Republic, Mother Jones, and the NY Daily News, among other places. This blog will be about politics and the Red Sox.

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