Voice of the Middle Class

By Baird, Julia | Newsweek, March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Voice of the Middle Class


Baird, Julia, Newsweek


Byline: Julia Baird

Why Wall Street hates Elizabeth Warren.

When Elizabeth Warren first met Barack Obama, a strange kind of seduction took place. The encounter occurred at a fundraiser, hosted by a fellow Harvard professor who was supporting his former student, Obama, in his campaign to become a U.S. senator. Warren walked into the house and peered down a long corridor. Obama was standing in a glass-enclosed room with the afternoon sun glowing from behind, silhouetting him: "He was backlit!" As she walked down toward him he turned, stuck out his hand, and said, "Predatory lending! We have to do something about predatory lending!" He raved on as she stood and stared at him, dumbstruck. When he paused, she smiled and said, "You had me at predatory lending."

Several years later, Obama is president and Warren has been transformed from mild-mannered Harvard professor to the sharp-shooting, feisty head of the Congressional Oversight Committee, with the difficult task of tracking how the bailout funds have been spent. She has also been urging politicians to create an independent agency to protect consumers from predatory lending by making financial contracts shorter and more comprehensible. (Obama has supported this, though the bill that passed in the House is now, frustratingly, stuck in the Senate.) Warren is concise, logical, and angry about the lack of transparency in Washington; the lack of accountability on Wall Street; and how Americans are more, not less, vulnerable as a result of the trillion-dollar bailout.

Over a lunch of eggplant pasta and iced tea, Warren explains why she has been called an "evil, power-hungry, ignorant lady" who is out of her depth and hated by Wall Street. She has engaged in heated exchanges with radio hosts who insist she has "an agenda" and is out of step with "all the serious thinkers" because she believes that to fix the economy you need to focus on the middle class first. "I don't have the right background," she says with a shrug (having come from Oklahoma). "I don't have the right sex. And I can't keep my mouth shut. It is like a physical pain for me." Warren has been studying families in financial trouble since 1976, and, in a landmark study, found that more than half of all people who declare bankruptcy cite medical reasons. In her book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke, she argues that bankruptcies shot up not because families were consuming excessively but because basic costs--housing, health, education--have soared since the 1970s. …

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