It's not enough that we get endless prattle about the reported friction between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton; now Matt Bai of The New York Times has decided to open a second front in this phony war:
In Clinton and Warren, Competing Messages for the Middle ClassI'm not going to attempt a thorough refutation of this -- I just want to point out here that when a bankruptcy bill was under consideration late in Bill Clinton's presidency, Hillary Clinton met with Elizabeth Warren, a known opponent of the bill, to discuss it:
...Wednesday ... begins the hard sell of President Obama to the middle class. And for this task, the campaign has juxtaposed two prime-time speakers -- Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton, one right after the other -- who in their core philosophies represent contradictory, even irreconcilable strains of American liberalism....
Mr. Clinton is the president who made the sustained case to Democrats that they had to be pro-growth and pro-Wall Street, not just to get elected, but also to build a more modern economy....
As a Harvard law professor during the Bush years, Ms. Warren, who is now a candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, came to represent a rebuke of such Clintonian expedience....
In the spring of 1998, Mrs. Clinton sought a private tutorial in bankruptcy law from a Harvard law professor, Elizabeth Warren, who has strongly opposed the legislation. Ms. Warren said she met with Mrs. Clinton alone for more than half an hour, with Mrs. Clinton "cross-examining" her about how bankruptcy works and the effects of the bill.Bankruptcy "reform" eventually passed in the Bush years, and Hillary voted for the legislation once she was a senator (from the banking state of New York) -- but Warren, in an interview with The Progressive, seemed more dismayed than appalled:
Mrs. Clinton directed her staff to delve into the details and held numerous policy discussions. She devoted two of her weekly newspaper columns to the issue. She wrote dozens of personal notes to lawmakers last year as the bills made their tortuous way through the Congressional process. And she, along with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, played what the bill's opponents say was a decisive role in helping to kill the legislation last year.
Q: You have an amazing anecdote in The Two-Income Trap about Hillary Clinton and the bankruptcy bill, which she called "that awful bill" and opposed when her husband was President but voted for in 2001, though it didn't pass then.On an issue about which Warren felt passionately populist, the Clintons were on her side, at least for a while. And Warren seems to blame Hillary's position switch on the corrupting nature of the system.
Warren: I give Hillary Clinton a lot of credit. When she was First Lady, I sat down with her in a hotel in Boston. I had all these graphs and charts, and she was crunching through a hamburger, listening, and asking a lot of questions, and she really got it. At first, she was resistant. After all, the White House was quietly supporting the banks' bankruptcy bill. But boy, by about the third or fourth slide she was starting to say, "Oh," and she could jump ahead. She got it.
Someone later told me there were skid marks on the floor in the White House from people reversing position on that bankruptcy bill when Hillary Clinton got back from Boston.
Q: And then those skid marks turned the other way again when she went to the Senate and soon thereafter voted for a similar bill.
Warren: That was the interesting thing. She stayed in the same place so long as she was in the White House. I believe that Mrs. Clinton was responsible for President Clinton's veto of that bankruptcy bill. Ultimately, Congress passed the bill again in 2005 and George Bush signed it into law. But in that five-year period in between, eight million families went through the bankruptcy system, while the law was still intact. So the veto was important, and I believe she was the cause. And that’s what's so disheartening. She changed her vote in the Senate. If Hillary Clinton, one of the strongest, most independent politicians of her generation, felt that she needed to conform her voting to the desires of the banking industry once she held elective office, what hope is there for the rest of the politicians?
In any event, the Clintons (like most powerful Democrats) aren't hostile to economic populism exactly -- they just think a certain amount of help for the plutocrats is compatible with economic populism. You can disagree with how much they favor the fat cats -- I certainly do -- but they think they're still fighting for the middle class.
Which is a long way of saying that I think Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren will both say a lot of things that could be in one another's speeches -- Warren about really rooting for people to do well in business, Clinton about standing up for ordinary folks. They don't see each other as mortal foes.