Over five months ago, I wrote a critique of US Senator Elizabeth Warren, continuing my long line of critiques of her views.  This article continues that critique by starting with a speech, that Lambert Strether says “That’s the stuff to give the troops!“, in opposition to a provision repealing elements of financial “reform” passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010. By now, Obama has supported this provision by signing the bill which included this provision, a bill that prevented another government shutdown but gave huge subsidies to big banks and big oil companies along with more money for the war machine and cutting money to the IRS which already can’t collect tens of billions (if not in the hundreds) of dollars in taxes.
Here some excerpts from Senator Warren’s speech about Citigroup, which criticizes them for their influence in Washington :
“…Today, I’m coming to the floor not to talk about Democrats or Republicans, but about a third group that also wields tremendous power in Washington: Citigroup. Mr. President, in recent years, many Wall Street institutions have exerted extraordinary influence in Washington’s corridors of power, but Citigroup has risen above the others. Its grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch is unprecedented…That’s a lot of powerful people, all from one bank. But they aren’t Citigroup’s only source of power. Over the years, the company has spent millions of dollars on lobbying Congress and funding the political campaigns of its friends in the House and the Senate. Citigroup has also spent millions trying to influence the political process in ways that are far more subtle—and hidden from public view…Citigroup has a lot of money, it spends a lot of money, and it uses that money to grow and consolidate a lot of power. And it pays off. Consider a couple facts…Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists. But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail Citi out just six years ago? We were sent here to fight for those families, and it’s time – it’s past time – for Washington to start working for them.”
This sentiment is no doubt correct in that Citigroup does have a lot of power in Washington. As Dick Durbin admitted years ago, “the banks…the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill…frankly own the place.” But, Warren’s description of Citigroup is interesting, for one because her description of a “group that also wields tremendous power in Washington,” has exerted “extraordinary influence in Washington’s corridors of power,” has a “grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch,” has spent “millions of dollars on lobbying Congress and funding the political campaigns of its friends in the House and the Senate” and has “spent millions trying to influence the political process in ways that are…hidden from public view” sounds like the Israeli imperial lobby.
An article in The New Yorker earlier this year, regardless of its problematic framing of the Israeli imperial lobby which excluded groups like J Street, framing them as “good,” describes AIPAC in a similar way as Warren described Citigroup. It is important to remember that AIPAC does NOT have the same amount of influence as Citigroup nor is it as powerful, but this comparison is still a good one. Here’s some major quotes from the New Yorker article about AIPAC:
The influence of AIPAC no doubt helped them, like Citigroup’s money, “grow and consolidate a lot of power.”But, how has Warren been pro-Israel? Well, she already has her first foreign trip planned as a trip to Israel where she met with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom who has trying “to undermine any American deal with Iran” an she ran away “from a reporter at Netroots [in] July…when he sought to ask her about all the civilians dying,” as noted by Mondoweiss. That’s not all. In late August, Warren responded to a constituent who criticized her support for the Iron Dome program. In her response, she declared that “[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” which that Ben Rosenfeld called “pure Washington sophistry,” saying that her idea of defending Israel was “massively bombing Palestinian civilian infrastructure with the certain knowledge that thousands of innocents would suffer,” and challenging Warren to stand near one of the places under Israeli bombardment and proclaim the same thing.
A further article in Mondoweiss elaborated her full views on the Gaza war, n which she said that killing civilians is the last thing that Israel wants and much more:
“I think the vote [for the Iron Dome] was right, and I’ll tell you why I think the vote was right. America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world…when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”
With “progressive” politicians like Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, and others, giving support to the inhumane and likely genocidal bombing of Gaza this summer, it is no doubt that people came out and criticized them for their support for “Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity,” support which some have said means that they are “elbow deep in the blood of Gazan children.” Still, some could say that there has been some progress, since Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both didn’t sign an AIPAC letter which warns Palestinian delegates to not make “negative” moves in the UN, and that Gaza should be demilitarized.
Still, her support for the causes of the Israeli imperial lobby is not all that is problematic. It is best to reprint a section of the speech excerpted earlier in this article:
“Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists. But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail Citi out just six years ago? We were sent here to fight for those families, and it’s time – it’s past time – for Washington to start working for them.”
Many Americans would likely agree with these views as they are not really that controversial. But, it is important to ask: will Elizabeth Warren really help Washington work for struggling families that are homeless or have two jobs rather than “billionaires….big corporations…lawyers and lobbyists”? In my view, the answer is no. As Yves Smith put it in November 2011, Warren is “not the Great Progressive Hope” since she “came to a strongly liberal view on a comparatively narrow set of issues…based on intensive research” but that “she does not have that depth of expertise on many…other topics she opines on” and that she has “surrounded herself with mainstream Democratic advisors.” Smith also warned that Warren would be “more centrist than most of her enthusiasts anticipate.” In another article Smith expanded, on Warren’s views, saying that Warren isn’t a “dogmatic leftie” at all:
“Her position, which sounds dogmatic leftie to those lacking historical perspective, would have been dead center circa the early to mid 1980s, a Javits/Rockefeller Republican or a pretty tame Democrat of that era. But she has arrived at her views not out of ideology but out of pragmatism and rock solid knowledge of the terrain…And well advised or not, Warren may not be as liberal as her fans like to believe. But even if she fails to be the Great Liberal Hope, she is an influential counterweight on the most pressing battleground, that of the rearchitecting of our political and economic structures to assure and extend rent extraction by the top 1% (indeed, the top 0.1%).”
This view seems to echo to some degree, if not completely, those that say, convincingly, that Barack Obama and many other Democrats are now ‘Rockefeller Republicans,’ or moderate Republicans. Perhaps Warren has made strong public statements by opposing Wall Streeters like Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss from getting into power and attacking the neoliberal think thank, Third Way. However, there is something that rightly makes one question how serious her populist creed of attacking Wall Street’s abuses goes: her investments in American big business. This was pointed out in a Mother Jones article last year that strangely turns her investment portfolio into something positive declaring that “Now you, too, can invest like a populist defender of the public interest” while also saying that:
Here’s a list of Warren’s biggest investments…$250,000-$500,000 in a variable annuity that invests mostly in common stocks of a diversified set of companies, such as Apple, Exxon, PepsiCo, and Wells Fargo…$100,000-$250,000 in a variable annuity that invests in stocks of foreign and domestic companies, with a focus on companies that are “shareholder-oriented.” Some examples: Nestle, BNP Paribas, Royal Dutch Shell, Johnson & Johnson, and Toyota…$100,000-$250,000 in a mutual fund that invests in various types of real estate around the country. $50,000-$100,000 in a mutual fund that invests in US companies like Visa, Goldman Sachs, NewsCorp, Monsanto, and eBay…$1,000-$15,000 in a variable annuity that invests in the same things, as well as corporate bonds, including those of GE, Comcast, and AT&T.”
This isn’t all. Warren’s plan for the CFPB (Consumer Finance Protection Bureau), an organization originally thought of by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and then defeated thanks to pressure by the business community in the 1970s, was wholly pro-business. This was noted in a short, but important New Yorker article in 2011, saying that the CFPB would restore confidence in the financial industry:
“Warren may also be the most hated person in Washington. The banking lobby sees her as its nemesis, congressional Republicans are openly hostile to her, and conservatives decry her as the exemplary “totalitarian liberal.”…Warren is far from the anti-capitalist radical that her critics (and some of her supporters) suppose. Indeed, an empowered C.F.P.B. could actually be a boon to business. The core principle of Warren’s work is also a cornerstone of economic theory: well-informed consumers make for vigorous competition and efficient markets. That idea is embodied in the design of the new agency, which focuses on improving the information that consumers get from banks and other financial institutions, so that they can do the kind of comparison shopping that makes the markets for other consumer products work so well. As things stand, many Americans are ill informed about financial products. The typical mortgage or credit-card agreement features page after page of legalese—what bankers call “mice type”—in which the numbers that really matter are obscured by a welter of irrelevant data. There’s plenty of misinformation, too: surveys find that a sizable percentage of mortgage borrowers believe that their lenders are legally obliged to offer them the best possible rate. Since borrowers are often unaware of how much they’re actually paying and why, the market for financial products doesn’t work as well as most markets do. And the consequences of this are not trivial. The housing bubble was a collective frenzy, but it was made much worse by the fact that millions of borrowers were making poorly informed decisions about the debt they were taking on. If people had known more, they might well have borrowed less…History suggests that business doesn’t always know what’s good for it. And, at a time when Americans profoundly distrust the financial industry, a Warren-led C.F.P.B. could turn out to be the friend that the banks never knew they needed.”
Recently, all of this has become even more relevant since many have been pushing for Elizabeth Warren to run for President. One writer, the senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, Andrew Levine wrote that Elizabeth Warren is simply “a conventional Democrat” with a populist vaneer, noting that she has not
“had a bad word to say about the Obama administration’s latest uptick in bellicosity: its plans to revive America’s lost war in Iraq and to expand it into Syria, and its decision to spread yet more murder and mayhem in Afghanistan. Neither has she objected to Obama’s not-so-secret wars in other historically Muslim regions of Asia and Africa, or to his efforts to restart a Cold War with Russia. Though the evidence is sparse, all the signs suggest that Warren is a “liberal interventionist” in the Susan Rice…That would put her in the same moral and intellectual space as Hillary Clinton. On the domestic scene, it is different…Warren, to her credit, has spoken out against the banksters and corporate moguls who have done, and are still doing, so much harm to so many people. Hillary Clinton is their best friend forever. One can only wonder, though, how long it will be before Warren too cozies up to Wall Street.”
If Warren does end up cozing up to Wall Street, then it would put to rest those that call her a “splendid radical,” a powerful voice “for progressive reform” or a person who has a “comprehensive knowledge of how Wall Street firms like Citigroup maintain their stranglehold on the levers of power in Washington.”
Considering that this doesn’t happen, which is definitely possible, then it still doesn’t change the fact that Warren is not a “credible peace candidate.” Readers may wonder why this is the case. Well, for one, some say that is a “well-spoken politician who knows what she has to do to further her career” which includes “dancing to the tunes her financers play…and…doing nothing to annoy or displease the nation’s major power brokers.” But, this doesn’t include the specifics. Instead, it is best to focus on her support for economic sanctions against Iran, her support for Obama’s “kill list” (a.k.a. his drone program), and her views on Israel (described earlier). While she has been Senator, Warren has, like Bernie Sanders engaged in “quiet support” of the bombing of Iraq (and Syria) saying that going after ISIS should be a number 1 priority even as she declares that “we can’t be dragged into another Middle East war.”
Then there are those who say that Warren isn’t that progressive and that she serves as a guise to make the Democratic Party look good. I think there is merit to these claims. Asher Platts wrote that “Elizabeth Warren isn’t actually that progressive,” arguing that even if Warren “were to win support of publicly elected delegates,” the DNC has super-delegates which wouldn’t support her. Platts also asked people to “stop making demands on a power structure that is incapable of delivering them” and to join the Green Party, “run for office and take power away from those who want it for themselves, and help build a truly democratic society where power is shared by the people.” Elizabeth Schulte made an interesting and different argument. She wrote that Warren’s “tough talk sounds good to a lot of people,” but that “all the good speeches in the world can’t make up for the actual record of the party Warren belongs to,” noting that like “other liberal figures before her, Warren’s main impact is to put a populist façade on a Democratic Party that stands for preserving corporate power.” Schute also notes that Warren in numerous votes in the Senate “took the side of business over working people, including a vote to repeal a core element of the Obama administration’s health care law…[and voting] with Republicans in support of repealing or reducing the estate tax.” Schute’s article ended with a stinging rebuke of Warren:
“She isn’t a challenger; she’s a conciliator. She doesn’t want to raise expectations, but lower them. She won’t bring progressive issues to the Democratic Party table–her role is to tell us to be happy for the scraps we’re offered.”
Lance Selfa and Guy Miller made similar arguments to Schute. Selfa wrote that politicians like de Blasio and Warren haven’t “made any noise about pursuing a “progressive agenda” outside the Democratic Party,” so they can be “relied on as loyal soldiers in the end,” meaning that they serve an important role in Democratic Party politics. Selfa argued that Jesse Jackson in the 1980s and Dennis Kucinich in the 2000s had similar roles to Warren, while also asking: if this is all that the “liberal resurgence” amounts to, can we really speak of a liberal resurgence at all? Guy Miller made a similar argument, and he imagined how Warren would thank her supporters in a presidential campaign for their “tireless, valiant effort,” and she would say that its “time to get behind Hillary,” meaning that the “country can get back to business as usual.”
Beyond these arguments, what I’ve written so far does question Warren declaring a constitutional amendment would “reverse the damage inflicted on our country” by Citizens United that there are “times when action is required to defend our great democracy against those who would see it perverted into one more rigged game where the rich and the powerful always win.” Warren’s progressivism is questionable considering what this article has already discussed. But, is even more in question when one reads Warren’s speech to the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in October 2013 (bolded is my emphasis)
“Massachusetts is one of the best places in the country to live…perhaps more than anything, what drives the Massachusetts economy–and the American economy–is innovation. Innovation makes us soar. .And government-supported research is a critical first step in generating that innovation…Government provides patient capital, the kind that can wait for long-term results. That’s why government support for basic research is essential…NIH also drives economic growth in the United States. Studies have shown that increasing public investment in basic biomedical research directly increases the number of new drugs on the market. Breakthroughs in research create jobs and profits, which in turn generate more tax revenues for the government…Up-front support for biomedical research can also directly reduce government spending by lowering health care costs…Federal investments in medical research are not keeping pace with the innovative capacity of our researchers…there is more at stake than just economics and global competitiveness…We are running out of time. If we continue on our current path, we will soon lose a whole generation of young scientists—lose them to other countries, or lose them to science altogether. I feel the urgency of this moment. We need solutions and we need them now…We need to reduce our deficits, and that means making smart choices on spending. Right now, our country spends billions in the wrong places. Every year, we give away billions of federal dollars to giant oil and gas companies. Every year, we give away billions of dollars in subsidies to giant agribusinesses. Every year, we give away billions of dollars in tax shelters for wealthy individuals. We need to align our spending with high value investments, and we need to align our spending with our values. That means investing in innovation…For more than two hundred years Americans have defined ourselves in part by our inventiveness–by our search for knowledge, our willingness to experiment, and our commitment to discovery…even if the battle is uphill, I intend to fight for big investments in research and innovation. I hope you will be part of this fight.”
This speech from what I understand sounds deeply neoliberal and buys into the ideas of deficit hawks who claim that the US government doesn’t “have enough money” despite the fact huge amounts of money are spent on the war machine, subsidizing mega-corporations and financing foreign dictatorships. This is very dangerous, and question the perception of her as a fighter for Main Street that is working to combat the horrible influence of Wall Street. There are a number of other positions she has which are problematic. One is her view of the recently released and heavily redacted Senate torture report as “deeply troubling,” tweeting that “transparency is the first step toward accountability — we must always live up to our moral values.” Considering that the torture was illegal, in violation of domestic and international law, and was completely inhumane and completely outrageous, her statement is absurd as it almost understates the torture practiced by the United States since 9/11. Then there’s her article opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline, in which she writes that “we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should.” While there is no doubt that opposing the pipeline is good, just focusing on mere “investments” on clean technologies, which some say include nuclear power, hydro power and natural gas, is too limited and ignores the importance of having a renewable energy economy.
This isn’t all. In the past Warren has said that John Kerry was “her friend,” and that when US airplane lands anywhere in the world, she’ll be proud that Kerry is representing the US. This fits with her seeming endorsement of American exceptionalism. I could go on and on.  It seems obvious to me that Warren, despite branding herself as a populist, is part of the Democratic establishment. This was proven recently when Warren tweeted that Harry Reid asked her “to join the caucus leadership as Strategic Policy Advisor.” In the end, maybe its best to adopt James Weinstein’s definition of liberalism, which is rejected by liberals, which means “stabilizing the system in the interests of big business.”