For Warren, It’s Not Just About Antonio Weiss

After going through another large flight of argumentative arguments about what’s been happening at The New Republic–from David Greenberg’s appreciation of TNR’s “heterodox liberalism” to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ unblinking assessment of the magazine’s persistently lilly-white staff and masthead, to Jim Sleeper’s acerbic take on Chris Hughes as a “bewildered and bleating” capitalist predator–I’m relieved to just link to a new TNR article and talk about something else. So far as I know, I”m not crossing any picket lines.

David Dayen listened very closely to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech at a conference today that was ostensibly about the Fed’s role in economic policy, and concluded that her opposition to the nomination of Antonio Weiss–a mergers-and-acquisitions wizard for Lazard–to a high-level Treasury post represents a small first step in an intended attack on the Democratic Party’s ties to the financial industry. I’m going to quote Dayen at some length because if he’s right this could become a very big deal:

Warren goes beyond just criticizing the Weiss decision. “Time after time in government, the Wall Street view prevails,” Warren said, largely because “conflicting views are crowded out.” As proof of this, she cited “the deregulation of the banking industry in the 1980s and 1990s,” carried out by Democratic and Republican Presidents, and Democratic and Republican Congresses. She condemned the “no-strings-attached bank bailouts in the aftermath of the financial crisis,” again a bipartisan concoction, and “the anemic efforts to help homeowners who had been systematically cheated by financial giants,” mostly a production of the Obama Treasury Department.

Warren even dared to bring up the demise of the Brown-Kaufman amendment to the Dodd-Frank reform. This would have set a cap on the size of financial institutions, but it failed amid mass opposition, not just from the financial sector but inside the government. “The hand-in-hand between Treasury officials and Wall Street executives on this was not subtle—a senior Treasury official publicly acknowledged it at the time,” Warren points out, referring to a long-forgotten admission in New York Magazine. The Treasury official in question boasted that Brown-Kaufman would have passed if Treasury supported it, “but we weren’t, so it didn’t.”

By the end of the speech, you’ve almost forgotten the name of Antonio Weiss, and are left wondering about the power center Warren is building in the Senate. The Weiss nomination offers a teachable moment, but it fits inside her framework of an economy rigged for elite interests. He was simply the unlucky ex-banker who walked through the revolving door at the wrong time.

But here’s the teaser Dayen leaves us with:

Whether that means she runs for president, or that she forces every party leader to uncomfortably take her side in this broader argument, hardly matters.

Well, I’d say it does matter, if only because it could take the credible threat of a Warren presidential run to “force every party leader to uncomfortably take her side in this broader argument.” If she sees it that way, she’d better get a move on.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.