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      Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters and the Progressive Future

      Representative Maxine Waters meeting with community bankers in Torrance, CA, which lies in her House district. (Photo: Monica Almeida)

      Senator Elizabeth Warren has even Robert Scheer justifiably swooning by standing up for students against Wall Street. Public expectations are soaring around Sen. Warren’s role on the Senate Banking Committee, feeding speculation of a future presidential run. Progressives should be delighted, for the moment. For a perspective on what happens to fighting liberals when they join the insider culture of Congress, no one should miss the New York Times article, “The Mellowing of Maxine Waters.”

      It is a lavish, almost adoring two-page spread with multiple photos, depicting the transition of Rep. Waters from “liberal firebrand” – once derided as “Kerosene Maxine” – to the mellowed ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. “The influential place she now holds has been known to nudge the strongest liberals to the center,” according to the Times.

      The shift already matters. Rep. Waters sent a six-page letter to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission urging a delay in adopting rules on Wall Street derivatives, the secret pools at the center of financial power. Public Citizen and other Wall Street critics criticized her.

      Rep. Waters may seek progress from the banks on foreclosures, a major crisis in her district, while not pushing the structural issue of derivatives. She says she will please both the advocates and the bankers some of the time, a brokering position different than her history as primarily a consumer advocate.

      This is not a moral question of “selling out” – Rep. Waters is one of the wisest and craftiest advocates for her constituency – but a cautionary tale for Elizabeth Warren, as the new senator from Massachusetts begins her rise. The institution of Congress itself, particularly the seniority system, almost dictates that members adapt to its culture in order to succeed there. But is this the time for liberal Democrats to make compromises with Wall Street, or is time for bold advocates against both the financial system and the governing institutions, which have failed miserably to regulate that system in the public interest? Will Elizabeth Warren follow the gradualist path or will she play the historic role that so many have projected?

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