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  • Dan Connors

Elizabeth Warren persists


Elizabeth Warren- 2021

"People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: the system IS rigged."

"If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu."

"I'm running for president because that's what girls do."

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate...Part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” ― Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is the unabashed progressive senator from Massachusetts who has plans, plans, and more plans for the United States. She presented many of those plans during her run for president in 2020, making it to the final four of candidates for the Democratic nomination. In Persist, she tells much of the story of where she is coming from and what she still wants to accomplish. Warren has written ten books, some of which deal with her specialty in bankruptcy law, and one of which was autobiographical called A Fighting Chance. Persist is both autobiographical and political.

Warren got her beginning as Elizabeth Herring, born in Oklahoma to a family that was "teetering on the ragged edge of the middle class." She was a devout conservative up until the 1980's when she did a complete turnaround and became one of the nation's top progressive voices. She got married, had two children, and still managed to finish law school and become a professor in the 1980's when few women held that position.

Warren specialized in bankruptcy law and did substantial research into how and why families find themselves in bankruptcy court. Her research uncovered the unpleasant truth that white Americans are much more likely to get their debt discharged, while people of color are much more likely to file for debt protection. She co-wrote a book on the phenomenon, (As We Forgive Our Debtors), and the unfairness of the entire financial industry and how it treated poor people. This experience inspired her to fight for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), that is the only government agency empowered to act on behalf of people who've been shafted by the shady and confusing world of finance. (The CFPB has saved consumers over $7 Billion dollars in unfair fees since its establishment).

Persist touches on many of Warren's pet peeves regarding the unfairness of American society. She dives into our shoddy treatment of mothers (she was fired from a teaching job when she first became pregnant), telling the story of how a relative saved her from having to quit working by watching her kids. She freelly admits that the handy relative who will watch your kids for free is not realistic for most of today's parents. The costs of childcare have skyrocketed 900% in the past 30 years according to Warren, and parents at every level are struggling to find something that they can afford and live with. Working women have added tremendously to the US economy, but women are still expected to be responsible for child care- a nearly impossible task for many working mothers. (Single mothers are also the most likely to end up in bankruptcy court.)

The book also looks at the state of education, and how things have deteriorated in America in the last few decades. State support for education, especially higher education is down, while student loan debt has skyrocketed to over a trillion dollars. 40% of people paying back student loans never were able to graduate, and it continues to get worse. One in six US teachers work a second or third job (or one in three younger teachers), while they try to pay back loans and make a living on meager teacher pay.

Senator Warren tells a disturbing tale about a senior professor who tried to sexually molest her, and how she was afraid to report him because of the power imbalance back then. Women still face discrimination, sexual harassment, a gender gap, and a threat to family planning and the right to choose, and the book touches on all of those topics in one way or another. Being a female politician, she has had to deal with a system that is dominated by powerful men, and she has become an inspiration to young women everywhere.

There are many great stories in this book, including:

- How she got to know California Representative Katie Porter and mentor her as her law professor.

- Warren got into trouble for claiming mistakenly that she had Native American ancestry. She never benefited from it, but she was criticized relentlessly by people like Donald Trump who called her "Pocahontas." In this book Warren shows how she used the controversy to reach out to actual native Americans and help them.

- Elizabeth Warren may have single-handedly dismantled Michael Bloomberg during his first Democratic debate after sitting out the early part and thinking he could buy his way to the presidency. She also may be responsible for getting Chris Mathews fired from MSNBC because of a clueless interview he did with her.

- During her run for president in 2020 she spent hours after every speech taking selfies with attendees. Warren has a lot to say about campaign financing and is proud of the fact that she relied mostly on smaller donations.

What I liked best about Persist is Elizabeth Warren's passionate, optimistic spirit. (Full disclosure- I voted for her in 2020 and think she would have been much better than either Biden or Trump). She seems to be the perfect combination of a tough, smart visionary with plenty of well-researched plans and a good listener who could work with different constituencies. Most politicians are of questionable character, and Warren is far from perfect I'm sure, but so far at least I think she believes what she proposes will truly help the most people.

Most of Warren's plans involve taxing the rich and using that money to make life better for the poor and middle class and right now those goals seem way out of reach. Her wealth tax, which would take 2% of the amount over $500 million, seems like it could work, but the rich have gotten their way and then some for decades. Government has been a bogeyman for the past fifty years, and it would be nice to see what a well-run federal government could have accomplished with the right people at the top. There are some problems, like Climate Change, Child Care, Education, and Health Care, that government is uniquely positioned to make the most difference, and perhaps some day someone like Warren will get the chance to show us what Scandinavians already know.

It's so easy to be cynical these days, when politicians from both sides try to tell us why we can't have nice things. It's just so damned refreshing to hear from one who wants to at least try.

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