Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review: 'A Fighting Chance' by Elizabeth Warren

Review by Susan Grigsby

A Fighting Chance
by Elizabeth Warren
Published by Metropolitan Books
April 22nd 2014
Hardcover, 384 pages

Elizabeth Warren is a terrific story teller as she proved the first time she appeared on the Daily Show, during her tenure as head of COP overseeing the TARP program, when she established the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and when she beat a popular, moderate Republican Senator to re-claim Ted Kenedy's seat for the progressive cause. And she has proved it once again in A Fighting Chance, her new memoir, political manifesto, that makes any reader question her insistence that she is not running for President.

The first section of the book relates growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, falling out of the middle class when her father's heart attack resulted in the need to take a lower paying job, costing the family its modest house and car. She tells of the day that her 50 year old mother squeezed herself into her only decent dress (black and far too tight), and marched down to Sears to apply for a minimum wage job. Which she got.
Elizabeth earned a debate scholarship to George Washington University but dropped out to marry her high school sweetheart during her sophomore year. She had two children in that marriage and managed to complete her college education and earn a law degree before the marriage finally failed and the couple divorced. Getting help from her Aunt Bee in order to manage the child care issues any single mother faces, she started teaching law students, specializing in bankruptcy law.
The second section covers her efforts to fight the industry approved bankruptcy law that Bush finally signed into law in 2005. In 1995 Congress created the National Bankruptcy Review Commission to investigate the nation's bankruptcy laws, and its head, Oklahoma Congressman, Mike Sylar, recruited her to act as the commission's senior advisor. Although the Commission report recommended modest changes that kept the safety net of bankruptcy intact, the banking industry had been busy writing and proposing their own bill.
Her biggest achievement was not simply enlisting the support of Ted Kennedy, but convincing him to lead the effort to defeat the bill. They failed, but at least it took 8 years to get the bill passed into law, and on a personal note, that was enough time for a family member of mine to file for bankruptcy under the old law that offered more protection for consumers.
Warren then relates the call from Harry Reid to return to DC to head up the Congressional Oversight Panel, whose function was to issue monthly reports on the operation of the Troubled Assets Relief Program. It was during this time that Larry Summers took her to dinner and warned her that she could either be an outsider or an insider. It was the insiders who actually wielded power in the Capital, but the number one rule of the club was that insiders never criticized other insiders. A warning that was ignored by the recipient.
She managed to get Barney Frank's support for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and it was included in the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill. Although President Obama did not nominate her to run it, she did set it up and her choice, Richard Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and State Treasurer, was nominated as its first head.
Returning home to Massachusetts to teach at Harvard, she decided to run against Scot Brown for Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat. The remainder of the book focuses on that campaign and her victory.
A Fighting Chance presents all of this and much more in a highly readable narrative format that includes over 50 pages of footnotes with enough data and statistics to thrill the heart of any true policy nerd.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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