Josh has recently discussed his thoughts about the intellectual trajectory of the newly-minted CFPB and how that intellectual trajectory might influence the selection of the Bureau’s first director–presumed to be either Michale Barr or Elizabeth Warren. His is a brief, dispassionate and intellectually-honest assessment. But given Simon Johnson’s brief, intemperate and intellectually-devoid assessment of the issue, I’m afraid Josh may be a bit naive.
Johnson’s concerns are, as he presents them, just political. After pointing out his own bottom line (“it would be a complete travesty not to put the strongest possible regulator in change of protecting consumers” [that means Elizabeth Warren, by the way]), he assesses the implications of the decision:
This can now go only one of two ways.
- Elizabeth Warren gets the job. Bridges are mended and the White House regains some political capital. Secretary Geithner is weakened slightly but he’ll recover.
- Someone else gets the job, despite Treasury’s claims that Elizabeth Warren was not blocked. The deception in this scenario would be nauseating – and completely blatant. “Everyone was considered on their merits” and “the best candidate won” will convince who [sic] exactly?
Despite the growing public reaction, outcome #2 is the most likely and the White House needs to understand this, plain and clear – there will be complete and utter revulsion at its handling of financial regulatory reform both on this specific issue and much more broadly. The administration’s position in this area is already weak, its achievements remain minimal, its speaking points are lame, and the patience of even well-inclined people is wearing thin.
Failing to appoint Elizabeth Warren would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It will go down in the history books as a turning point – downwards – for this administration.
What galls me about this kind of assessment is that it is, well, “nauseating – and completely blatant.” It’s not an assessment, really. It’s a threat. It’s an effort to paint the politics of the situation in a way that makes the speaker’s preferred outcome (admittedly possibly arrived at in an intellectually-honest and sincere fashion) the only politically-viable outcome, in the process stripping all of the intellectual content out of the discussion and forcing intellectually-honest opponents of the speaker’s view to choose between intellectual honesty and, for example, the willful destruction of the entire Democratic agenda. Hardly an environment for honest debate, but then I suppose that’s not really the goal.