MyAmericanFuture

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MyAmericanFuture

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011 [Tribute Post 23]: Elizabeth Warren

There’s been a good bit of chatter on the news and politics front over the last few days about a forthcoming book on the Obama White House by political journalist Ron Suskind, and especially on the negative aspects of the tone and working environment in the administration that his book highlights. Front and center in those conversations, to the surprise of exactly nobody who has any familiarity or association with the guy, is former economic advisor Larry Summers; I’ve been a non-fan of Summers’ since his time as the president of Harvard, where I got to see first-hand his efforts to (among other delightful contributions) crush student support for a workers’ campaign for a living wage and advance an (at best) seriously faulty biological argument for women’s shrinking but still present achievement gap in fields like science and math. Whatever the value of his economic ideas (and folks who know a lot more about that than me have rigorously critiqued them as well), the guy is pretty clearly a bully and a jackass, the worst example of a stereotypical Harvard prig.

Fortunately for those of us who would like that stereotype not to be the only prominent image of Harvard in our contemporary culture, there’s another, and much more thoroughly admirable and impressive, noteworthy representative of the institution making a splash in our current moment as well: Elizabeth Warren, the former Obama nominee to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and current Harvard Law Professor who has recently announced her campaign for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Republican Scott Brown. One of my favorite moments in recent political life, in fact, came at an early Warren campaign stop in Springfield, when she responded to a question about whether her position at the (stereotypically elitist) academic institution might hurt her chances: “I grew up hanging on to the edge of the middle class by my fingernails,” she replied. “All I can say is I’ve been there. I've lived this. My family lived one pink slip, one bad diagnosis away from falling off the economic cliff. Yeah, I've got a fancy job at Harvard and I've gotta tell you, I'm proud of that job. I worked hard to get there. I wasn't born at Harvard. I was born to a family that had to work for everything it's got.” Not too many moments (outside of Braves baseball and my boys’ various successes) make me literally cheer out loud, but I’ll cop to doing so the first time I read those lines.

Much more important than her Harvard ties, of course, are Warren’s central, consistent, and (by all accounts) very genuine efforts on behalf of the American middle class. As those lines also illustrate, her own background and life story give her a clear and passionate appreciation for the dangers and obstacles confronted by that community, and she has spent the last few years in particular fighting hard against the forces (most notably on Wall Street, but increasingly in Washington as well of course) that have heightened those dangers and obstacles in so many ways. It’s of course fair to say that no one Senator or Congressperson or person period is going to be able to push back against all those efforts with any absolute success, but as an English professor and an AmericanStudier, I believe that words and rhetoric matter a great deal—and having somebody running for elected office who’s willing to put things that bluntly and strongly, as she does again in both the short video at the first link below and the campaign announcement at the second, who can and clearly will make the strongest possible case for the communal and social programs and perspectives of American progressivism and liberalism, has already made this pointy-headed academic very, very happy.
But just to be clear: the things for which Warren is advocating are, or at least should be, no more limited to liberals or Democrats than they are to academics or Harvard. These are core American values and narratives, ideas that represent some of the very best of our national community, that transcend any particular political moment. Warren’s campaign has a chance, in a small way, to do that too, which makes it that much more worth our attention and support. More tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Three links to start with:
1)      Great short video of Warren’s blunt and pitch-perfect take on the whole “class warfare” idea: http://www.rumproast.com/index.php/site/comments/i_got_your_class_warfare_right_here/

2)      Warren’s campaign site: http://elizabethwarren.com/

3)      OPEN: Anybody or anything you’re excited about in the wilderness of our current politics?


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