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Hullabaloo


Monday, February 25, 2013

 
All the Senate Ladies

by digby

I've heard rumblings in certain quarters either condemning Elizabeth Warren for not following the so-called Clinton style "charm offensive" to win over her GOP colleagues or, conversely,  condemning Clinton retroactively for failing to be confrontational in the Elizabeth Warren mode. Both criticisms are wrong because as Joshua Green discusses in this article, the differences are a function of the different legislative environment in which the two women served.

Hillary Clinton established a model for how celebrity senators are expected to comport themselves after she was elected from New York in 2000. When she first arrived on Capitol Hill, Clinton was mobbed by camera crews, which for weeks trailed her TMZ-style through the bowels of the Senate frantically trying to elicit comment. Clinton ignored all but the local reporters and took pains to avoid saying anything controversial. “I’m a workhorse, not a show horse,” was her constant refrain.

In a bastion of ego like the Senate, Clinton’s subordination of her own celebrity was shrewd politics, as was the elaborate deference she showed to her senior colleagues. Clinton stayed quiet for years. In meetings, she poured coffee for male senators. When Clinton was first elected, Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi suggested that it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if she were struck by lightning. But by the end of her term, Clinton had co-sponsored legislation not only with Lott but with 48 other Republicans as well. She was a surprisingly effective senator.
[...]
Today, Clinton’s charm offensive would be less likely to win Republican co-sponsors and far less likely to yield new laws—Congress barely passes any significant ones nowadays.

But new laws aren’t the only way to attack a problem, especially in the realm of financial regulation. One way is, as Warren suggested, to enforce existing laws more aggressively. Another is to stave off banks’ attempts to weaken them. The big fight this session will be over how regulators should apply the Dodd-Frank banking reforms of 2010.

Eventually, though, the Senate will have to legislate. And the next big fight may well be over whether to break up the big banks. An unlikely coalition of politicians and regulators on the left and right who favor this option has lately begun to take shape.

This group so far lacks the critical mass necessary to get a bill through Congress. In the days of yore, a newcomer like Warren could bide her time, gradually win the respect of her colleagues, and then, maybe, after years of diligent effort, put together a coalition large enough to succeed. Today’s Senate doesn’t operate that way. Public pressure, often driven by outrage and anger, is the only force that reliably brings results.

Warren may never achieve Clinton’s popularity among Senate Republicans. But despite the Banking Committee drama—or, actually, because of it—her first hearing gave no reason to think she’ll be any less effective.

There was also the little matter of Clinton being considered to be the bride of satan by the Washington press corps. I think she had to keep her head down for a good long time in order to keep from getting it lopped off. She did amazingly well considering the barriers to her success at the time.

But what Green says is true. The old way of doing business is over, at least for now. Warren instinctively seems to know this as few Democratic politicians do. I'm not sure if it's instinct or intellect, but whatever it is, I'd put my money on her being able to successfully swim in these turbulent waters.

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