Warren primed for star turn in pursuit of Kennedy’s former seat

by Hayden Wright / Beacon Staff • October 20, 2011

, Beacon Staff/strong

As the Occupy protests in Boston and around the country press on, much ado has been made about whether all this vague complaining will really amount to anything. Disgruntled members of the “99 percent” in Massachusetts have the unique opportunity to elect a U.S. Senator who has spent her public career distinguishing herself as a champion of the middle and working classes.

Elizabeth Warren is a name few Americans had heard a few years ago. A Harvard law professor, she was a prominent academic before President Obama appointed her to chair the committee that oversaw the 2008 bailout of financial institutions and launched her into the national political dialogue. Warren has since become a tireless crusader for economic transparency and regulation—and a polarizingly progressive firebrand. Her public profile has made her the presumptive nominee for the Democratic primary in Massachusetts.

We need to elect Elizabeth Warren.

Massachusetts liberals watched in shock as Republican Scott Brown scooped up the Senate seat long-held by the late “liberal lion” Ted Kennedy. The media narrative surrounding his candidacy cast him as the underdog whose unsophisticated campaign message stated, “I’m Scott Brown. I’m from Wrentham. I drive a truck.” This seismic shift in Massachusetts politics was primarily due to lazy campaigning by Democrat Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election. At the height of Coakley’s detachment, she was quoted in The Boston Globe scoffing at the notion of shaking hands outside Fenway Park.

Her embarrassing performance in January exacerbated the anti-establishment, anti-incumbent mentality that unseated dozens of Democratic congressmen in the November midterm elections. Thus, Brown’s election gave credence to a wave of Republican candidates in 2010 who claimed seats in historically blue districts. In 2012, Democrats have the opportunity not just to win back the Kennedy seat, but to instate an unapologetic progressive whose dogged efforts to protect the working class from exploitation are emblematic of the noblest intentions of our time.

As an appointed official in the Obama administration, Warren has been an outspoken critic of the financial institutions whose irresponsible and deceptive practices contributed to our country’s wealth of economic hardship. Where Brown has bowed to the interests of corporations, fighting financial regulation tooth and nail, Warren has made a name for herself as the loudest and most authoritative watchdog in Washington, such that Time Magazine named her a “new sheriff of Wall Street.”

Most notably, Warren spearheaded the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal oversight agency that reserves the power to write and enforce banking rules, conduct examinations of financial institutions, and report on markets in the interest of consumers. Warren’s brainchild organized what had previously existed as a number of small, disparate regulatory mechanisms.

Furthermore, Warren represents what the party of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry distrusts most: an intellectual. Her academic background is all the more reason to elect Warren to represent the state that The Chronicle of Higher Education reports holds the highest percentage of college graduates—and, as such, a state with countless citizens struggling with the burden of student loans, an issue she has shrewdly adopted as a central campaign issue.

Warren’s greatest challenge moving forward will be navigating the transition from appointed official to candidate for election. In her federal position, Warren seems to revel in the extent to which her favorability among conservatives and independents is irrelevant. She has gleefully incited the ire of the right with tough talk, but she will have to curry favor with moderates to win votes from Sen. Brown.

The professor-candidate already encountered a speed bump in her journey to the Senate. Earlier this month, Warren took a cheap shot at Brown’s infamous nude centerfold from a 1982 Cosmopolitan magazine, which he described as a choice made due to alleviate the cost of law school.

In a Democratic primary debate at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Warren quipped that she “kept [her] clothes on” to pay for her college education. When Brown retaliated with, “Thank god,” in an interview with Boston radio station WZLX, the media pounced on his apparent sexism.

However, Warren started it—and would do best to avoid similarly petty contretemps in the future. Fortunately, it was a small misstep that was quickly neutralized, and one she will certainly learn from. In short, Warren will need to start acting like a candidate whose every step is scrutinized in the context of polls and political capital.

I have no doubt that she will master this new realm of political theater. Recent polls show Warren and Brown in a dead heat before she’s even won the Democratic primary, and voters only stand to learn more about her record of excellence on the national stage. If Brown attracted voters in Massachusetts by virtue of owning a truck, Warren can win them over by proving her commitment to protecting their interests.

Here’s to hoping Warren’s grit and determination in her appointed position do not fade when she has an election to win.

emHayden Wright is a junior wrting, literature, and publishing major

and the opinion editor of the Beacon. Wright can be reached at frederick_wright@emerson.edu. Follow him on Twitter @HaydenWright/em

Photo Courtesy of The New America Foundation