With Elizabeth Warren no longer taking lumps from both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, a new image is starting to emerge of the Harvard law professor: one that portrays her as a down-home, Oklahoma-raised, fiscal conservative who argued against excessive lending and borrowing only to find that associating with Obama's administration cratered her work, killing decades of research in the eyes of a fickle public that only views her as an employee of an unpopular, ideologically driven president.
Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard calls Warren the "most misunderstood woman in Washington." He even surmises that she may be a closet conservative — if you take conservative to mean one who advocates fiscal prudence in all matters — whether it be deciding who gets a loan and deciding to budget for that loan.
Rather then being painted as a fiscal liberal, a couple of writers and researchers — some with Republican credentials — are defending Warren, saying the critics are wrong to attribute her work to politics.
They even suggest Warren's critics may be dead wrong when it comes to whatever brand of ideology they ascribe to the CFPB architect.
Caldwell suggests to his readers that Warren has more in common with a true fiscal conservative than with Obama, especially when considering she dreamed up the CFPB in 2007 to keep the nation out of the fiscal crisis it currently resides in.
"It is not surprising that Warren found no place in Washington," Caldwell wrote. "The cameo role she played on the national stage made her an idol to the leftmost part of President Obama’s coalition and a hate object for conservatives ?—? and yet her understanding of the financial crisis is best described as populist, conservative, even right-wing. It arises from what has happened to the American middle-class in the past four decades."
This pales in comparison to the ongoing belief that Warren was Obama's left-leaning wing man at the CFPB. In fact, calling her Obama's wing man may be an extreme exaggeration considering no pilot ditches their wing man as fast as Obama wrote Warren off for the CFPB director post. Albeit many CFPB objectors said publicly they liked Warren as a person, but hated the bureau and its structure.
But in the end, the CFPB is still standing for now, while Warren is MIA.
If the newly nominated director, Richard Cordray, is treated with kid gloves and not questioned to the 100th degree like Warren, it will raise eyebrows among those who watched Warren's year-long battle in the role as pseudo-director. All eyes will be on Cordray's first appearance in front of the Senate. If he's not grilled like Warren, then no matter what side the lawmakers are on, they will look hypocritical.
So was Warren's crusade driven by ideology?
Ronald Reagan's former solicitor general Charles Fried, and himself a Harvard professor, doesn't think so.
"Elizabeth believes in markets and in capitalism, but lying, cheating and stealing are not capitalist virtues. Honesty and trust are necessary conditions for a functioning market, and Elizabeth understands that," Fried told HousingWire. "It's obvious. Those who made fortunes lying, cheating and stealing and by dealing in the merchandise the dishonest generated resented having their game shut down. Securitizing and selling fraudulently procured mortgages is just sophisticated fencing."
Caldwell, who has made the most passionate argument to date that Warren is not an ideologue, but rather a populist, said at times Warren, in her own research, sounds Nixonian, calling for school vouchers often supported by conservatives, citing parents desire for better schools as one of the catalysts causing the need for middle-class families to constantly leave affordable homes or homes already paid for to seek out more expensive housing near better schools.
When reading Caldwell's work, it seems he views Warren as an angry American fighting back against a rigged system as opposed to someone who picked a team and went to Washington to crusade for party brand or ideology.
Then again, Warren's name has been constantly thrown around for the upcoming Massachusetts U.S. Senate race, with many saying she would run as a Democrat.
But if Fried and Caldwell are right, Warren doesn't quite fit in today's political framework and her contentious time at the CFPB is proof of that.
In this sense, Warren's defenders see her in a view that's similar to that of the Tea Party: she is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore. Like the Tea Party, Warren is upset with big-wigs and empowered bureaucrats who, in her mind, continue to stick with a system that was institutionalized to safeguard one group, while ignoring the principals of a true, capitalistic republic.
In this sense, like the Tea Party, she's arguing against socialism — the kind that awards big players and high-stakes rollers, while passing the bill along to the masses who never had a seat at the table.
The problem is the Tea Party took to the streets, and Warren went to Washington, where political reality and perception is not so clear.
If Warren truly has a message that is more fiscally conservative in the basic sense — one where she believes loans should be written appropriately to prevent risk and high-debt players from sending the national debt and economy into a tailspin — then maybe it's Tea Party time (or something kind of like it) for the Harvard professor.
Stranger things have happened in the black hole, affectionately known as the nation's Capitol.
Write to Kerri Panchuk.