Saturday, March 19, 2011


In The New York Times today, Joe Nocera sings the praises of Elizabeth Warren, and I'm grateful for that. He has justifiable contempt for House Republicans who grilled her this week in a subcommittee hearing:

To listen to the House Republicans, you'd think the financial crisis of 2008 was like that infamous season of the long-running soap opera "Dallas," the one that turned out to be a season-long dream. Subprime mortgages? Too-big-to-fail banks? Unregulated derivatives? No problem! With the exception of their bete noire, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Republicans act as if nothing needs to be done to prevent another crisis. Indeed, they act as if the crisis never happened.

Nocera praises Warren for her work with the attorneys general of the fifty states on a proposed settlement with the big banks that would impose fines and new regulations in response to foreclosure abuses (although the editorial page of Nocera's own newspsper questions the toughness of the settlement). Nocera would like to see Warren formally nominated to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even though he knows that Senate Republicans will do everything in their power to see that she's not approved.

Here's what he says about that:

Senate Republicans have vowed to block her appointment if President Obama nominates her. Yet even if her nomination goes down in flames, Senate confirmation hearings would be clarifying. Americans would get to hear Ms. Warren explain why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has the potential to help Americans. And they would get to hear Republicans explain why the status quo -- including the everyday horror of the foreclosure mess -- is just fine.

That's where I part company with Nocera. In what way would this be beneficial or "clarifying"? In the political life of modern America, how often does a hearing of this kind ever have the slightest impact?

James O'Keefe or Andrew Bretbart can crank out a deceptively edited video and the entire political culture -- the entire culture -- is sent into a tailspin within 24 hours. What could be said at confirmation hearings for Elizabeth Warren that could possibly have a comparable impact?

And why is that? To some extent, it's because the things Republicans would say at those hearings that Joe Nocera thinks would be so self-condemning are things Republicans know they can get away with saying, because only a small percentage of Americans (most ly angry lefties) know how outrageous they are. No one's primed the general public to be infuriated at Republicans who are apologists for fat cats the way the right-wing noise machine primes people to despise, say, NPR elitists or alleged white-hating black racists like the Shirley Sherrod of Breitbart's disgraceful video.

I'd love to live in a country where Elizabeth Warren could shame some Senate Republicans. As it is, hardly anyone in America knows who Elizabeth Warren is, or what she says and does. And on the other side, hardly anyone thinks it's outrageous that Senate Republicans won't criticize the big banks, probably because nobody in a position of political prominence, left, center, or right, criticizes the big banks -- certainly not in a way that portrays them for anything other than taking money from the real enemy, namely the Evil Government.

Once upon a time, what Nocera imagines would happen could possibly happen. Not in modern America, though. Why is that?

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