Early Friday evening Sen. Elizabeth Warren took to the Senate floor and gave a plain-spoken, barn-burning speech that could make history and put her into serious contention to be the next President of the United States.
There are only a handful of political speeches that have such historic impact. Barack Obama's keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention comes readily to mind. It's what catapulted an obscure Illinois state Senator into the national limelight and put him on the path to becoming President.
Warren's Senate speech was different, but just as electrifying.
Obama's rhetoric was lofty, high-minded, and general, with a feel-good unifying message that there's no blue America or red America but only the United States of America.
Warren's rhetoric is more down to earth, substantive, and frankly, angrier, unafraid of calling out by name the institutions--the big banks and Citigroup in particular--which tanked the economy, cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes, were bailed out with half a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, and then used their fortunes to buy Congress and make it more likely they'll be bailed out again. Moreover, she was unafraid to take on the President of her own party, and the numerous members of his administration drawn from Citigroup and other big banks through the endless revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.
Here's the heart of Warren's speech:
Democrats don't like Wall Street bailouts. Republicans don't like Wall Street bailouts. The American people are disgusted by Wall Street bailouts
And yet here we are, five years after Dodd-Frank with Congress on the verge of ramming through a provision that would do nothing for the middle class, do nothing for community banks, do nothing but raise the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out the biggest banks once again...
So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi[group]. I agree with you Dodd-Frank isn't perfect. It should have broken you into pieces!
If this Congress is going to open up Dodd-Frank in the months ahead, then let's open it up to get tougher, not to create more bailout opportunities. If we're going to open up Dodd-Frank, let's open it up so that once and for all we end too big to fail and I mean really end it, not just say that we did.
Instead of passing laws that create new bailout opportunities for too big to fail banks, let's pass... something... that would help break up these giant banks.
A century ago Teddy Roosevelt was America's Trust-Buster. He went after the giant trusts and monopolies in this country, and a lot of people talk about how those trust deserved to be broken up because they had too much economic power. But Teddy Roosevelt said we should break them up because they had too much political power. Teddy Roosevelt said break them up because all that concentrated power threatens the very foundations of our democratic system.
And now we're watching as Congress passes yet another provision that was written by lobbyists for the biggest recipient of bailout money in the history of this country. And its attached to a bill that needs to pass or else the entire federal government will grind to a halt.
Think about that kind of power. If a financial institution has become so big and so powerful that it can hold the entire country hostage. That alone is reason enough to break them up.
Enough is enough.
Enough is enough with Wall Street insiders getting key position after key position and the kind of cronyism that we have seen in the executive branch. Enough is enough with Citigroup passing 11th hour deregulatory provisions that nobody takes ownership over but everybody will come to regret. Enough is enough
Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and the lobbyists.
But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citigroup bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail out Citi just 6 years ago?
We were sent here to fight for those families. It is time, it is past time, for Washington to start working for them!
Please take less than 10 minutes of your time to watch the speech below. Like Obama's 2004 Convention speech, it was an historic speech, a potentially game changing speech. It catapulted Warren from a potential nuisance to Hillary Clinton's coronation as the Democratic nominee to someone who could foreseeably win the nomination and even the Presidency.
It transformed the conventional wisdom about American politics that the main divide is between left, right, and center, when it is really between pro-corporate and anti-corporate. Her declaration that neither Democrats nor Republicans (meaning the voters, not the Washington politicians) don't like bank bailouts rings loud and true. Tea party supporters don't like bailouts and crony capitalism any more that progressives do.
The conventional wisdom is that to win white working and middle class voters, politicians need to move towards the center, meaning towards a more corporate approach. But in a world of growing inequality, stagnating wages, and a fading belief that with hard work your children can have a better life than you had, that may no longer be true.
Hillary Clinton represents the old politics of the status quo and accommodation to Wall Street's power. Her husband's Treasury Secretary was former Goldman Sachs exec Robert Rubin. After leading Pres. Clinton's effort to dismantle the half-century old Glass-Steagel prohibition on government-insured commercial banks engaging in risky speculative bets which enabled the creation of financial megaliths like Citigroup, he went on to earn $126 million as a senior executive for Citigroup and brokered Citigroup's ½ Trillion Dollar bailout. His protégé, Timothy Geithner became Barack Obama's Treasury Secretary where he opposed breaking up the big banks who had cratered the economy.
Elizabeth Warren represents a new politics in which, by challenging the power of the oligarchy, she has the potential of reclaiming the white working class for Democrats and uniting them with the coalition of professionals, single women, gays and minorities who elected Obama. She is the first major national politician in decades who is willing to openly challenge the power of the Wall Street oligarchy, in the manner of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who declared, "They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."
With the increasingly dominant power of big money in politics, could Warren defeat Clinton, Inc. and then go on to defeat what is likely to be the near unanimous support of the Wall Street and corporate elite for her Republican opponent? It's hard to say. But the nation is in too much trouble to settle for a Democratic or Republican candidate of the corporatist status quo. If there's any hope, it's that once in a while the power of organized people can defeat the power of organized money. Elizabeth Warren represents that hope and it's the only thing worth hoping for.
Watch Warren's 9:43 second speech below. If you're fed up with the power of Wall Street and the big banks, it will inspire you. And even if you aren't, watch it for its importance as a model of historically transformative political rhetoric.