The White House this morning announced that President Obama will appoint Richard Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The appointment drew the strong support of Elizabeth Warren, who said today, “Rich has always had my strong support because he is tough and he is smart-and that's exactly the combination this new agency needs. He was one of the first senior leaders I recruited for the agency, and his work and commitment have made it clear that he will make a stellar director."
What are we to make of this?
First of all, Cordray’s views are the same as Warren’s, though he is not the kind of persuasive progressive super-hero as Warren. He will not be as effective in going over the heads of financial elites to move public opinion. Even so, Republicans have made clear that they will not confirm any kind of progressive and that they want nothing less than to kill the agency as an effective institution. So if Obama is serious about getting the job for Cordray, he will need to make the same recess appointment that he would not make for Elizabeth Warren. So it goes.
It’s an open secret that for the past several weeks, Warren has been operating on two tracks. If Obama could bring himself to appoint her, she would take the consumer job. If he would not appoint her, she insisted that he appoint someone with her values, and genuinely backs Cordray. Meanwhile, she has been quietly exploring option B, running against Scott Brown next year in Massachusetts, urged on by much of the Democratic leadership (I’ve always argued that this was the bigger stage and more important use of her stunning talents)
Warren has been a particular bete noir for the right, because she has been so effective in reminding the public that Republicans, despite their posturing, are shills for the financial industry that caused the collapse. For this, she gets termed in news coverage as a “polarizer.” Presumably, anybody who wants to rein in the excesses that caused the collapse and cost consumers trillions of dollars is a polarizer. Score one for the right’s capture of media language.
Obama, likewise, was reluctant to appoint her because she is far more assertive than the rest of his administration in pushing to reform Wall Street. Tim Geithner, a near-Republican toady for the financial industry, has done his best to gut Dodd-Frank, and cannot abide Warren. Geithner prevailed on blocking this appointment, partly because Obama has bigger fish to fry right now; and given his conciliatory posture on the budget negotiations, he did not want to poke a stick in the eye of the Republicans on an extraneous, second-tier issue. Score one for Republican intransigence once again getting the better of Obama conciliation and another for the old boys around Geithner keeping tight control.
In Massachusetts, the Democratic field right now is stunningly weak, and Warren is the one candidate who can galvanize voters and take back the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy. The two most visible contenders in the race are both decent people who would be weak candidates -- Seti Warren, mayor of suburban Newton, and Alan Khazei, a good-government reformer associated with City Year, who finished a distant third in the Democratic primary pack last time. Neither would stand a prayer against Scott Brown.
Fortunately, a large group of Bay State progressives have hung back and not endorsed any of the early candidates. Coakley recently told them she won’t run this year. They have been waiting for Warren to declare, and she will now get their strong support. It is also early enough in the race that most of the state’s best campaign professionals have not yet committed, and will now back Warren. It’s not quite 100 percent definite that she will join the race, but all signs point to it.
God knows this battered republic and the progressive movement need her leadership.