Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, our "cop on the beat" - and the power of simple, clear rhetoric

Our new consumer regulatory chief Elizabeth Warren - actually she's setting up the agency and moving on because she'd likely have trouble getting confirmation as the new agency chief through GOP obstructionists - is one of the most effective and broadly popular people in the administration.  So she's being attacked relentlessly by the Wall Street Journal and Beltway neanderthals like Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Bankistan).  

As we quoted Paul Krugman the other day the "purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers...For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand…"

But Elizabeth Warren is no patsy for the people trying to take her down.  Dana Milbank made this clear in a Washington Post article on Professor Warren's grilling by Republicans in Congress:
“If there had been a cop on the beat with the authority to hold mortgage services accountable a half-dozen years ago,” (Prof. Warren) announced, “the problems in mortgage servicing would have been exposed . . . long before they became a national scandal.” 
Warren added: “We need a cop on the beat that American families can count on. It is critical that we get this right – a real cop on the beat.” 
“You kept saying ‘cop on the beat, cop on the beat,’ ” complained Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who chaired the day’s hearing. 
Warren could not dispute this. In reply, she said that banks must know “there will be a cop on the beat” and that her agency will need “enough money to put enough cops on the beat.” Before completing her testimony, Officer Warren made four more references to cops-on-beats...But it was a useful metaphor: If she’s the cop, then banks are the robbers, and members of the Republican majority on the committee sounded like lawyers for the accused.
Simple, clear, straight talk that puts the opposition on the defensive, even as it riles them up. We need more of this. It's called "reclaiming the narrative" and it's about not letting the bad guys define you or the terms of the debate. Define your agenda in clear, simple terms that the average American understands - before your opponents define you. Unfortunately the GOP has been very good at this, albeit dishonestly and to lousy ends.  Kudos to Elizabeth Warren, not just for being a great consumer advocate, but for being a great communicator. We need more of this from our leaders and advocates.

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