In the crowded Democratic field for the 2020 race, there’s no denying that Elizabeth Warren has staked out a lane on the far left.
The woman who created the Obama-era Consumer Finance Protection Bureau — one of the loudest proponents of super-taxing American millionaires just for having the temerity to make a lot of money — is almost as well known for being a class warrior as she is for pretending to be a Native American.
But a look at Warren’s voter registration records shows that her affinity for the Democratic Party might be almost as manufactured as her ostensibly Indian lineage.
According to a lengthy profile of Warren published by Politico, the fire-breathing leftist who represents Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate now was a registered Republican for a large part of her adult life.
In fact, according to Politico, it wasn’t until Warren, now 69, was a 47-year-old professor at Harvard that she changed her voting registration to Democratic.
— Jennifer 8. Lee (@jenny8lee) February 4, 2018
The Politico piece downplays just how strongly Warren might have felt about politics before she changed parties in 1996 (the height of the Clinton years in the Oval Office, it should be noted).
Warren herself told the publication the only Republican she voted for in a presidential race was Gerald Ford in 1976.
(At first glance that might speak well of her for having the sense to avoid voting for Jimmy Carter, but it can’t help but bring up the question of why she apparently chose Carter over Ronald Reagan in the 1980 vote. By then, it should have been clear to every voter in the United States conscious enough to fog a mirror that Carter was a disaster of rare distinction.)
“I was just never very political,” Warren told Politico. “I just never thought much about the political end.”
Maybe. Or maybe she just happened to be on the side of the politics of the moment. As Politico points out, the 1970s when Warren was at law school and the 1980s when she was beginning her career at the University of Houston, “the right and Reaganomics were ascendant.”
One of her first papers at the University of Houston, according to Politico, was a look at how public utilities are regulated — and it came to the conclusion that they were being over regulated. (It’s a fair bet the current iteration of Elizabeth Warren couldn’t even bring herself to say the words “over regulated.”)
According to Politico, Warren now dismisses the paper as a kind of academic youthful indiscretion.
“I followed theory and tried my hand at what all academics did then in our field, and that was theory,” she told Politico. “I pretty quickly discovered not only that the theory was wrong, but it was deeply misleading.”
(OK. But that’s generally the kind of thing one discovers in the process of producing a research document — not something that comes years afterward, at a time when it’s politically convenient.)
According to Politico, the stirrings of Warren’s great awakening came in the 1980s when she started studying the issue of bankruptcies in the U.S. and started to sympathize with Americans who couldn’t make it financially.
In fact, in 1989, Warren and two co-authors published a book about bankruptcy law titled “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” which, according to Politico “helped make them stars in their fields.”
In the 1990s, she joined a federal commission studying how to reform bankruptcy laws, Politico reported, and ended up on the wrong side of a fight that culminated in 2005 when then-President George W. Bush signed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.
But by then, Warren’s politics had solidified. The woman who was a Republican when it suited the times — during the ascendancy of Reagan and the Reagan administration — had switched sides to become a Democrat when it suited the times — midway through the Clinton years.
By 2012, she was positioned for a run for Senate in Massachusetts to take back the “Kennedy seat” for Democrats that Republican Scott Brown had won in an upset victory in the special election of 2010 after Ted Kennedy’s death left it vacant.
There’s much more in the profile — it’s pretty lengthy — including a line about how Warren’s evolution “breaks the mold of the traditional White House contender and is key to understanding how she sees the world: with a willingness to change when presented with new data, and the anger of someone who trusted the system and felt betrayed.”
That sounds more than a little bit like preemptive absolution. It’s the kind of line that — intentionally or not — could provide some inoculation for Warren against attacks in the Democratic primary campaign that accuse her of being hypocritical, a liberal who only became liberal when it would pay off — kind of like claiming Indian ancestry to further her academic career.
However, to Politico writer Alex Thompson’s credit, the article nears its conclusion by pointing out what the revelation might mean to Warrant’s presidential hopes:
What Warren’s Republican history means for her presidential prospects remains unclear. There’s a version of this story in which her politically mixed background makes her the ideal candidate to capture not just the American left but also the center — a pugilistic populist vowing to take on corporations, a policy-savvy reformer who believes that markets are essential to the economy.
But that’s not the political landscape of 2019. Warren’s tough stance during the financial crisis got her tagged by Republicans and many Democrats as more Harvard liberal than an up-by-the-bootstraps working mom from Oklahoma. And her work on the CFPB alienated much of the financial services industry. Meanwhile, much of the left wing of the Democratic Party, for which she was the banner-carrier after the financial crisis, has found a new champion in the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. And members of the growing Democratic Socialists of America and the hosts of the popular leftist podcast Chapo Trap House have criticized Warren for her adherence to capitalism. As of this writing, she is generally polling fifth in the Democratic field, and her 2020 fundraising has fallen short of several other rivals’.
Now, it’s entirely possible that Warren’s political evolution was genuine. Anyone’s opinion can change with age and the lessons of life.
It’s just decidedly convenient that Warren’s personal ideologies took her from being a Republican in Texas to a liberal Democrat in Massachusetts at times when it was remarkably convenient to be mouthing the respective ideology.
When you take into account that this is the same woman who, for decades, pretended for purposes of employment to have Native American lineage, only to have her own DNA test prove how preposterous the story was, it might give a cynic the idea that Warren’s beliefs are based more on what they can do for Warren than for what they can do for the country.
Democratic candidates competing with Warren would be fools not to notice just how obviously opportunistic Warren’s conversion was — it doesn’t take a lot of conviction to be a Democrat in Massachusetts, especially as a member of the Harvard faculty.
But betting on Democrats not to be fools is always a risky business.
In the unlikely event Warren ends up winning the Democratic nomination, it’s rock solid that American general election voters wouldn’t be fooled by her at all.
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