Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor and mastermind of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is a new face whose laser-like focus on issues of the middle and working class make her the darling of the progressive left. If her reception at last week’s Netroots Nation is any indication, Warren, who is now running for the Senate in Massachusetts, has no shortage of liberal supporters willing to organize, fundraise, and blog on her behalf.
In this way, Warren is similar to a relatively new face that became a household name just prior to his Senate win in 2004: Barack Obama. His now-famous speech at the Democratic National Convention made him the darling of the left back them.
Warren became a recognizable public figure immediately after the bailout in 2008 at the end of the Bush presidency. Warren was a central figure throughout the process as the head of the government oversight panel making sure federal tax dollars were allocated and repaid. She also spoke passionately about the need for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and after the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill, the new federal agency was able to be created and Warren was tapped to set it up.
It was clear from the outset that Warren wasn’t going to be able to be confirmed to permanently head the agency, and thus she participated in selecting a seemingly confirmable substitute.
Warren’s popularity on the left only grew throughout this process, as she was attacked during hearings, and petitions began popping up nearly begging her to run against Senator Scott Brown in her home state of Massachusetts. Warren is the authentic voice of the left; She speaks for the middle class, for workers, for consumers who are at risk of being scammed by payday loans, credit cards, and mortgages.
An early campaign video of her talking about the debt crisis and tax policy went viral and spread like wildfire around the progressive blogosphere. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own!” Warren says emphatically in the clip, where she goes on to explain that the business owners and wealthy have a duty to pay their fair share as citizens of this country as part of the underlying social contract.
For Warren, tax policy isn’t about economics, it’s about values and fundamental fairness.
And it’s not just economic policy where Warren feels comfortable. Even when challenged with questions on foreign policy meant to stump her on the day of her announcement, she remained poised and was able to effectively answer questions about China. Warren, like Obama, lacks foreign policy experience but in a similar way shows she’s a quick study and can speak on all of the relevant issues of the day with a certain level of authority and command.
Obama’s popularity in 2004 through his election in 2008, like Warren’s popularity now, stems from the feeling that there is something that separates them from your everyday politician. While some of the allure wore off of the president as the daily governing grind took hold, Warren hits the campaign trail with passionate speeches attacking her opponent with absolutely no holds barred for his close ties with Wall Street. Her unwillingness to simply give up when faced with opposition mirrors then-candidate Obama, who used to riff about how one voice could impact a generation by being the catalyst for change.
Warren has a certain level of freedom to speak that Obama used to appreciate. This freedom allows her to speak truth to power and speak up for ordinary citizens who feel crushed by an ailing economy. It is Warren’s ability to explain the financial crisis in simple terms that allows her popularity to grow organically from the moment she became a household name. Her reasoning for why she entered the race for Senate mirrors that of now-President Obama’s reasoning for a White House run.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell