Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, and lessons in reform and pragmatism

This will be a little hard to hear for the fashionable Lefty detractors of the president's: Sen. Elizabeth Warren is openly celebrating President Obama's financial reform law.

There have always been detractors who routinely bemoan the Barack Obama's "capitulation" and "friendliness" to big banks, presenting as evidence what they call a meaningless banking reform bill - Dodd-Frank - the president's key financial reform accomplishment. In the next breath, they lament why Barack Obama could not "fight" the banks like Elizabeth Warren - with no hint of irony that a key part of President Obama's financial reform is Warren's brainchild: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Even when acknowledged, the moaning crowd is still upset that Warren is now a United States Senator rather than the head of CFPB.

And of course... no perpwalks on Wall Street! Because, what good is reform without theater?

Today is the fourth anniversary of the most significant financial reform law since the 1930s, which among other things created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is a fact not often noticed by those who see Warren as salvation from the "compromiser in chief" Obama, but the gravity of the achievement certainly did not escape Warren herself. On her Facebook page and in an email sent to supporters, Warren has two words for Dodd-Frank and the CFPB: It worked.

Today is the fourth anniversary of Dodd-Frank, the law that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and the third anniversary of the date the CFPB became an independent agency. And in those three years, the agency has done a lot to help level the playing field:

  • The CFPB has forced big financial companies to return more than $4 billion dollars to consumers they cheated.

  • The CFPB has put in place rules to protect consumers from a whole host of dangerous financial products and to make sure that companies can’t issue the kinds of deceptive mortgages that contributed to millions of foreclosures.

  • The CFPB has helped tens of thousands of consumers resolve complaints against financial institutions that cheated them.
— Sen. Elizabeth Warren

She even acknowledges the need for further action while celebrating what has been achieved in what is sure to strike the screeching Left in an Obama-like fashion

Sure, there is a lot of financial reform work left undone. The big banks today are dramatically bigger than they were in 2008 and they are taking on new risks, and I think that means we need a 21st Century Glass-Steagall law to break them up. But I celebrate the progress we’ve had so far: When big banks have to listen to their customers a little more, the playing field starts to level out just a little bit more.
— Sen. Warren

One reason a lot of financial reform work remains undone, one may note, is the ideologue Left's fetish with representing President Obama as a weak-kneed, Wall-Street friendly coward who can do nothing right. It was that fetish that kept Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters home four years ago, showering America with a Tea Party wave.

If Elizabeth Warren ever becomes president - and I certainly hopes she runs one day - she is bound to be a president in Barack Obama's mold: fierce but pragmatic, passionate but without the hunger for instant gratification, fearless but willing to work step by step by step to make progress even if every single step doesn't check off all the ideologue checkboxes neatly.

This remains the key difference between pragmatists and ideologues - often misreported in the media as a tension between liberal ("base") and centrist elements of the Democratic party. There are no worse enemies of the progressive movement than those who masquerade as "progressives" but consistently fight against progress under the pretense that it isn't "enough". There are certainly no worse enemies of progress than those who view incomplete (but significant) progress as capitulation, and the general in the frontlines of that progress as compromised.

Activism cannot be just about staking out your positions and refusing to compromise. Politics and public policy aren't about making you feel good about how "pure" you are. Because activism, you see, is not about you. It's about us. It's not about getting angry; it's about getting results. It's not about making someone pay; it's about making progress. It's not about keeping your hands clean; it's about not being afraid of the dirt.

In fact, in this election, there remains one and only one possible way to enact further banking reform: give President Obama in the White House and Sen. Warren in the Senate a Democratic House they can work with.

And so, for everyone inspired by Elizabeth Warren's fire to fight, understand that it is no different than Barack Obama's passion to get results - and that is a good thing. Because like real fire, political fire has two purposes: constructive, and destructive. When it isn't being challenged to construct, it inevitably destructs.



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