We may think that the only thing we are likely to hear from modern American politicians is bellicose shouting or stock neoliberal ideology; or from a British perspective, American Presidents lecturing the British electorate about the facts of life; all facilitated by the British Government. We learned that lesson in Scotland in 2014. It is worth remembering, however that not all American politicians are like that, or need to use such a style of address, or the orthodoxy of a retarded ideology to articulate the challenge to the established order.
Here is an American politician who is unafraid to take on corporate America; even the banks; even Goldman Sachs and its CEO; and even the whole American Justice System. Here is a Democrat who is prepared to challenge the politics of Hillary Clinton, and it isn’t Bernie Sanders. Here is a voice we haven’t heard, perhaps since Roosevelt.
Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat, Massachusetts). The Senator was a distinguished professor of law at Harvard, specialising in personal finance and bankruptcy. She turned politician because, in spite of beginning life as a Republican she became disenchanted with the Party and began voting Democrat in 1995, when she saw the effects they had on the untouchable ‘markets’. Elizabeth Warren is largely responsible for the creation of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; a consumer protection Act establishing a new regulator that became law under President Obama in 2012. She wanted to lead the new Bureau, but was strongly opposed by Republicans and by ‘business’, who feared she would be a highly articulate and formidable regulator. She didn’t get the job. Her response was to run for the Senate as a Democrat.
She fought and decisively won the Massachusetts Senate seat in 2012, against the Republican incumbent; the first woman Senator to represent the State. The New York Times reported at the time that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that “no other candidate in 2012 represents a greater threat to free enterprise than Professor Warren”. In spite of the hostility of corporate America she raised more money for her campaign than any other candidate in America.
On the campaign trail in Massachusetts in September, 2011 she made a speech in which she made the following statement, that goes to the root of the problem of the disconnect between corporate America and the people; and it applies equally here in Britain:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along” (quoted by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly). Here is part of another of her speeches, this time on the US Senate floor, on another matter that also goes to the root of the matter, from a slightly different perpective; she is speaking on the fact that she believes that the US has a “rigged justice system”.
There is a lot to this woman. She has been trying to reintroduce Glass-Steagal; the law that successfully regulated the banking system in the US for fifty years, up to the 1980s. Glass-Steagal’s removal was the final great triumph of neoliberalism; the last bastion falling to ensure neoliberals took over just about everything, with no regulation worthy of the name to protect anyone. She believes in the regulation of banks, and bankers going to jail for gross failures.
This is America at its best.