The Folksy Wisdom of Elizabeth Warren

By
Photo: Getty Images

Today's Times brings what must be the umpteenth profile of Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, the head of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, whose mumsy, bespectacled looks and a tendency to use the words "golly" and "gosh" when excoriating Wall Street have helped to make her a media darling. Her newly revered status is something that Warren, a bankruptcy expert who has spent her life railing against predatory lending and other unsavory practices from financial institutions, is taking full advantage of, since, as she puts it to the Times, "Dang gummit, somebody has got to stand up on behalf of middle-class families!" Over the course of her many interviews, the Coors Light–drinking Oklahoma native has provided us with numerous homespun quips, analogies, and wisdom that have helped highlight the dysfunctional nature of the bailout, the government's relationships with the banks, and Americans' relationship with debt.

Here are some of our favorites:

• "Credit cards are like snakes: Handle 'em long enough and one will bite you." [Bloomberg]

• "Credit card reform—It's like we put up ten fence posts in a wide open prairie. If you smack straight into one, you really will get hurt. But if you want to hire just one lawyer, let alone an army of lawyers, you can just run a little to the left or right of the post and it's business as usual." [Charlie Rose]

• "In the late 1970s, early 1980s ... the middle class became like a resource to be pulled from, and you know, they became the turkey at the Thanksgiving dinner. Who could carve off a piece? Who can get this little piece? Who could make a profit from this piece and that piece or squeeze down on the wages? [WP]

• Elizabeth Warren's Toaster Theory of Credit Cards: "You know there were two ways you could have gone in the toaster market. If you had no safety standards, there would be a way to make profits. Take out the insulation. Because the insulation costs money, right? Use the cheaper wiring. And if one in every five toasters bursts into flames, too bad. Customers can`t tell the difference. You`ll make nice profits. But no, we said we`re going to have some basic safety stuff. And do your competition for toasters, but how do we compete in the toaster market? Boy, we compete on color and design and price, and you know, toasters that also play "Battle Hymn of the Republic" or whatever it is. But it`s a market that works because nobody is competing by tricking people." [Charlie Rose, elsewhere]

• We have to have banks. We can`t barter pigs for haircuts. I get that. We can`t run this economy without it." [Charlie Rose]

• "Well, the view of the Treasury Department is that if they fail, they will bring down other institutions, and, therefore, it will be really too hard for the economy overall. It's like hikers, you know, who are up on a mountainside, and they're all roped to each other, and the fear is that if one hiker falls off, you know, he'll tear ten other hikers off with him." [WP].

• "My first choice is a strong consumer agency. My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor." [HuffPo]

Behind Consumer Agency Idea, a Tireless Advocate [NYT]
Elizabeth Warren's war [Fortune/CNN]