Does Elizabeth Warren Matter Politically?

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/newamerica/4434873543/">New America Foundation</a>/Flickr

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A friend emails to express skepticism about the potential appointment of bailout cop Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (I added the bits in brackets):

Why do people [e.g. Paul Krugman and Newsweek and our own Reid Cramer] keep saying that appointing Elizabeth Warren would be a “political winner” with independents, or even liberals? If one percent of the population knows her name, I will be shocked. She’s an unknown wonk who would be attacked just like [Medicare head Donald Berwick] was. Literally the only people who will be disappointed if she isn’t nominated will be the people saying EVERYONE will be disappointed.

What am I missing?

There’s definitely an element of truth to this. Even liberal populists can get caught up in the DC circus and forget that the things they care about aren’t even mentioned at most dinner tables. There’s no doubt that Warren is highly, and perhaps uniquely, qualified for the position. (The banks’ vehement opposition to her nomination suggests as much.) But despite her Dr. Phil appearances (they’re old pals) and best-selling books, I doubt many Americans know who she is.

In the long run, the administration’s will be well-served by an efficient and well-run CFPA with a hard-charging director. Warren could be that director. But no one should pretend that Barack Obama or the Democrats are going to get a big boost in their approval ratings for appointing a Harvard prof to run a bureau many Americans probably don’t haven’t even heard of yet. The economy is bad. Until they fix that, no amount of Warren magic is going to save them.

(Reid Cramer disagrees, though.)

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