I've known about Elizabeth Warren for quite some time. I knew that she had done some writing and remember the book tours. I had seen her on TV interviews. She seemed really sharp to me--grounded in data, yet personable, and a great communicator about the issues as well. This is a powerful and unfortunately rare combination.
Some of you have a grasp of who she is already. But as I was reading some of the recent conflama it was clear that some people don't know her much yet. I would like to offer a couple of ways to rectify that. And she may be about to change everything for the middle class--you might want to get to know her.
I heard a lecture she gave that has completely changed my understanding for where the middle class is today. I have been encouraging people to listen to this for quite a while. I know it is long. But if you want to know more about what Warren stands for, and her depth of understanding of the precarious position of the middle class, I beg you to watch this video.
The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class
In this video, Warren goes over the data that describes what has happened to the middle class over the last decades. It is clear, it is data-filled, and it is very accessible (and boy do I love the way she drools over data). It is not all legalese nor theoretical economics or anything else. It is the story of American families and the challenges they face—and how everything is stacked against their success at this point. Despite the fact that many of the costs for families going down significantly on things like clothing, food, appliances, and per-car costs, families have no traction financially. Around 23min in she addresses some of the costs that have rocketed on families, such as health insurance. She describes that families are essentially buying their kids' education with their mortgages. By this I mean people move to more expensive homes because the education value is perceived to be better. And she illustrates that because there are no more safety features for the family because everyone goes flat-out, without any room for error. They face incredible vulnerability. Which I know you know--but she has the data. She covers the relentless shift of all sorts of risks back on to families--health, unemployment, retirement, and how we are now on our own at sharply higher rates on many fronts.
A conversation with Elizabeth Warren.
In a second video (also an hour, but worth your time), we see more of her personally. I can't transcribe the whole thing, but this summary should give you a flavor of it.
In this video there is a conversation with Elizabeth Warren. She describes her background in Oklahoma, as the offspring of Dust Bowl parents. And how the stories of those awful times permeated her childhood. Firmly middle class. The importance of canning peaches to have something for next November. Teachers who influenced her, and expecting to go off to college to become a teacher (because that's what women could do). She went to college at 16 on a debate scholarship. But she decided she wanted to work with brain-injured children and ended up with a degree in speech pathology. She did that briefly, but soon after decided it wasn't the right path for her. She ended up meeting some of those old friends from the debate team, and they had all gone to law school. That seemed to click for her. While raising her kids, she went to Rutgers Law.
So the trajectory changed for her. She was inspired by the idea of using law as a tool to make things happen. Another child came along that delayed the implementation of that law degree immediately. She did some civil law work (real estate, business incorporations, etc) and then out of the blue Rutgers needed a fill-in to teach a course. She jumped at that. Eventually life situations caused her to do some moving around to several major universities, and she ended up at Harvard Law.
She tells some great anecdotes about who she is, from childhood. How a brave and adventurous nature carried her along. How she'll try new things, and unexpected things, because she can.
She clearly sees law as a force for good. She enters into the political arena and public policy when she sees some of the misunderstandings of the realities of the middle class on a commission she had been on--the Bankruptcy Commission during the Clinton administration. She decided to go after the data that led her to the incredible understanding of families that she has now. This part of the conversation starts at about 20 minutes if you want to hear about the development of her philosophy on bankruptcy and how people got there--and how legislators were not fixing it right. And that they weren't fixing it because their big money donors from the financial industry didn't want to fix it. Her comments on the social safety net are excellent here.
Around 30 minutes in she describes meeting with Hillary Clinton and the quick grasp that Hillary had on the issues. And her later disappointment when Hillary seemed to turn around on the bankruptcy bill as Senator Clinton. Warren is dismayed by the influence of corporations in legislation. She knows--and she has their number.
The video then covers more of the big picture of the economic influences on the family (around 38min in). This is a shorter version of the video above, if you want a quicker overview of that. She hits the major points, and refers to Jacob Hacker's work on The Great Risk Shift.
A bit that begins around 50min speaks to the division she's seeing between the wealthy and everyone else (and by wealthy she doesn't mean ridiculously wealthy--she includes the $150k-ish earners). How everyone else is on a financial cliff edge, and one stumble can push them right over. And how these families are on a financial treadmill that they simply can't escape. And how government policies have pushed us there. She says that education is where she would invest, for Americans to compete--and how shameful it is that students are coming out with incredible amounts of debt. They start the American race 50 yards behind the starting line.
About what people can do: political and personal action. If this issue is important to you, you must email your senator and your rep or you are part of the problem. You do have to try to manage your finances to escape the grip of Big Finance.
"You've got to do what you can to stay away from these vultures."
But she has been fighting this battle for years, and is undaunted. These videos are a couple of years old now. She's not the type to stamp her feet and walk away from the battle after initial disappointments in legislation and by politicians. And she's about to win--the agency she envisioned to protect consumers is about to happen finally.
If you want to campaign for Elizabeth Warren, I strongly encourage you to watch these videos--take the couple of hours to understand the problems of the middle class and what Elizabeth Warren knows about them. You will be smarter for it, I promise*. You will love her, and you will have a strong foundation to make this case to anyone who will listen.
If the videos are impossible for you to watch, you might like the article in the Boston Globe when Warren was named Bostonian of the Year: The Watchdog: Elizabeth Warren.
She could be the best thing for the American middle class in decades.
*I also promise you will be dumber for reading HuffPo. But that's your call.