Paul Krugman hits on a familiar topic – that the appointing of Elizabeth Warren to head up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would not only give confidence to consumers that the President stands with them over banksters and scam artists, but to progressives who want to see some signal that their voices are being acknowledged, let alone heard. Indeed, Krugman casts the nomination fight as part of a larger story.
Mr. Obama rode into office on a vast wave of progressive enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was bound to be followed by disappointment, and not just because the president was always more centrist and conventional than his fervent supporters imagined. Given the facts of politics, and above all the difficulty of getting anything done in the face of lock step Republican opposition, he wasn’t going to be the transformational figure some envisioned […]
But progressive disillusionment isn’t just a matter of sky-high expectations meeting prosaic reality. Threatened filibusters didn’t force Mr. Obama to waffle on torture; to escalate in Afghanistan; to choose, with exquisitely bad timing, to loosen the rules on offshore drilling early this year.
Then there are the appointments. Yes, the administration needed experienced hands. But did all the senior members of the economics team have to be protégés of Robert Rubin, the apostle of financial deregulation? Was it necessary to install Ken Salazar at the Interior Department over the objections of environmentalists who feared, rightly, that his ties to extractive industries would make him slow to clean up a corrupt agency?
And where’s this administration’s Frances Perkins? As F.D.R.’s labor secretary, Perkins, a longtime crusader for workers’ rights, served as a symbol of the New Deal’s commitment to change. I have nothing against Hilda Solis, the current labor secretary — but neither she nor any other senior figure in the administration is a progressive with enough independent stature to play that kind of role.
The President is seem by his enemies on the right as a socialist, and his enemies on the left as a sellout. But this doesn’t put him perfectly situated in the middle, and it certainly does no good for the policies. Whether it’s Afghanistan, the sluggish economy, or the foreclosure crisis, a middle course – or in cases, an unapologetically conservative one – these policies, not image or perception, is driving the generally tepid sentiment we see from a large chunk of Democrats these days.
And it’s the same with Warren. Yes, there’s some symbolism involved, but it’s simply good policy sense to install someone independent and admired enough to fulfill the mission of the agency she invented and championed. If the main knock on Warren is that she’s too concerned about the middle class and too aggressive in her oversight, you know that there’s basically no case at all against her. Those who oppose her do so because they don’t want the CFPB’s mission fulfilled at all. So if Obama takes their side, well, neither does he. I don’t know what other conclusion you can derive.
As Krugman says, Obama “can’t expect strong support from people his administration keeps ignoring and insulting.” He would be wise to turn it around here, and to not only nominate Warren for the position, but to advise his Treasury Secretary to immediately install her as the acting director, which requires no Senate confirmation.