A native Oklahoman, 61 year old Elizabeth Warren was raised in a working class family. Her father was a janitor. At 19 she married Jim Warren from whom she would be divorced in 1978. During their marriage she completed two degrees, a Bachelor of Science from the University of Houston and a law degree from Rutgers. She was an editor of Rutgers Law Review and served a prestigious summer clerkship on Wall Street. She is currently married to Bruce Mann, a professor and legal historian.
Elizabeth Warren has worked in private practice as an attorney, in academia and in government. Her academic work has included teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas, the University of Houston, the University of Michigan, Rutgers and her current position as the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard. She has been at Harvard since 1992. Her areas of special expertise are contract law, bankruptcy and commercial law.
A prolific writer, Warren has published more than 100 articles in her areas of expertise and six academic books. She has also written several best sellers and has co-authored two books with her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi.
Unlike many in her field, Warren has focused much of her academic study and writing on the impacts of economic policy on the middle class. In that capacity she has looked into the transition to two income middle class families and the debt traps that minimize family savings and create financial desperation despite higher incomes. She was one of two principle researchers on the connection between medical catastrophy and bankruptcy even with health insurance. When the methodology of the initial study was criticized, she repeated the study using stricter criteria and arrived at similar results.
Recently, she has gained notoriety as Chair of the congressional oversight committee for TARP. She was appointed to the position by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Warren appears regularly on television talk shows and was in a Michael Moore movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. Warren was one of the persons considered to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, the seat filled by Elena Kagan.
The former Methodist Sunday School teacher has received numerous awards for her teaching as well as being named in Time Magazines “100 Most Influential People in the World”, being chosen as Bostonian of the Year, recognized as one of America’s fifty most influential female lawyers and having her work recognized by Smart Money and Money Magazine.
Why Is She Feared
In evaluating the fear factor that attends Warren’s presence, three factors need to be considered. First she is fearless herself, rarely mincing words. Second she is a populist both by inclination and by expertise. And, third, she possesses exceptional communication skills.
In a political world driven by money and special interest power, Warren approaches issues from a uniquely working class/middle class perspective. She openly criticizes the powered and moneyed elite from Congress, to administrative agencies to major banks, insurance companies and commercial concerns. Her apparent willingness to “speak truth to power” wins her few fans among the major donors of either party, the lobbyists or the elites of Wall Street.
Her middle class approach to issue evaluation places her in a rare position in Washington and among Democrats. With liberals generally having been successfully defined by others as elitists, Warren brings an almost Truman-like populist candor to the discussion. Unimpressed, or un-influenced, by corporate America, she advocates for a world that puts ordinary people first and consistently addresses the impact of policy on Main Street rather than on financial institutions.
Unlike Obama, she does not engage in grand oratory, but instead relates a plain spoken message directed at the everyday issues of getting by in life. Her ability to understand complex issues and distill them to an understandable conversational medium makes hers a voice that resonates with people, if not with Washington’s special interests. Perhaps it is the recollection of her upbringing and relating to working class people in her native Oklahoma. Perhaps it is a learned skill. But, she is the liberal who can sell liberalism as a populist concern for the average American family. And, for that, she is feared on both sides of the aisle and by the powerful interests that press their influence in the halls of D. C.