I was surprised by Elizabeth Warren’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race. Although Massachusetts is generally Democratic, the statewide electorate is less liberal than many people realize. Three of the four elected governors, for example, have been Republicans.
What’s more, I expected Scott Brown’s local-boy charm to outweigh Warren’s initially professorial style. I know that she was born in Oklahoma and attended decidedly unfancy universities. Even so, twenty years at Harvard Law School leave their mark.
But now Warren is bound for Washington, while Brown’s going home to Wrentham. There’s already a battle about what she’ll do when she arrives. Mother Jones reports that the banking industry is lobbying furiously against Warren’s expected assignment to the Senate banking committee. One source claims that finance lobbyists have been “going nuts” to deny her a seat.
It would be a shame if they succeeded. Warren appears to be a conventional liberal Democrat on most issues. But she is a passionate and distinctive voice on financial reform, including reinstating some version of the Glass-Steagall separation between commercial and investment banking.
The merits of such a proposal depend on its details. In general, however, breaking up the big banks, which would diversify the marketplace and reduce the need for bailouts, is a cause that conservatives should support. The same goes for oversight of the foreclosure process. This not a matter of protecting irresponsible borrowers from the consequences of their decisions. Rather, it’s about protecting consumers from systematic incompetence and fraud by the kind of vast, unaccountable bureaucracy that conservatives rightly see as threats to liberty.
Meanwhile, the governor’s office in Massachusetts is set to open up in 2014, when Deval Patrick has promised to retire. Brown’s moderate Republicanism and long experience in state politics would make him a good fit for the Commonwealth. A couple of weeks ago, Noah Millman explained that he was sorry Brown and Warren couldn’t both win their Senate race. Warren on the banking committee in the Senate and Brown on Beacon Hill wouldn’t be a bad alternative.