On a still-warm September weekend this fall, I found myself battling a hangover in business casual at the annual Texas Tribune Festival. The annual “SXSW for Nerds” was a who’s-who of Texas politics, mostly, but closed with a panel entitled, “Ready for 2016”. We still hadn’t reached the 2014 midterms, and yet some of the nation’s most revered political journalists already had plenty to say about a presidential election that’s still nearly two years away. But what was missing from the panel was a discussion of who would win the Democratic Party’s nomination. It’s not that the panelists were censoring their discussion to appeal to the many Republicans in the room – they certainly weren’t – but rather these respected political observers all assumed that the Democrat’s nominee was essentially already chosen; and that the nominee would be Hillary Clinton.

 

Few Democrats really seem to have a problem with Hillary Clinton. She’s an establishment Democrat with more political experience than most of the men and women in Washington today. She’s friendly to business and Wall Street but is also in favor of protecting and promoting women’s rights, acting on climate change, and potentially legalizing same-sex marriage (although her record on marriage equality is admittedly sketchy). But some progressive Democrats believe that Clinton isn’t quite progressive enough. Although no other prominent Democrats have announced that they intend to seek the nomination, some are speculating that a more solidly left-leaning Democrat may rise up and challenge Clinton this year. One such progressive hero is Elizabeth Warren.

 

Elizabeth Warren

 

Type ‘Elizabeth Warren’ into Google and your search will be auto-completed as “Elizabeth Warren for President” or “Elizabeth Warren 2016”. Wait, what? Who is this possible Democratic dark horse? Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts, is one of the left’s most prominent policy warriors in Washington today. Basically if you’re a student, a member of the middle class, a person who believes in regulating large corporations, or essentially anyone who’s not a CEO of one such corporation, Senator Warren has your back. Before being elected Massachusetts’ first female US senator in 2012, Senator Warren was a Harvard Law professor and consumer protection advocate. Senator Warren proposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a response to the 2008 financial crisis and the growing problems of predatory lending, foreclosure, and rising student loan debt. Although she was considered to become the director of the Bureau, Senator Warren was removed from consideration because the Obama administration believed that her appointment would face strong opposition from Republicans in Congress. So instead, she ran for Senate.

 

Senator Warren, an expert on bankruptcy law, has emerged as one of the most active advocates for the middle class in Congress. Her first bill introduced in the Senate would have allowed students to take out federal loans with the same interest rates big banks (think J.P. Morgan Chase or Goldman Sachs) pay to borrow from the government. Although the bill died in Congress, it is an excellent example of Senator Warren’s priorities. She advocates tirelessly on behalf of reining in big banks and corporations, an issue many in Congress prefer to ignore. As Warren said in an April 2014 interview with Jon Stewart, “If you’re a huge corporation or a billionaire, boy, your voice gets heard in [Washington].” It’s clear that Senator Warren wants to change this status quo. And if you’re in college, you should pay particular attention to Senator Warren’s efforts to control student loan debt. This fall, Warren sponsored a bill that would allow student borrowers to refinance their debt at a lower rate, paid for by a slight tax increase on millionaires. The bill has been stalled in the Senate, but its introduction shows that Senator Warren is unwilling to give up on this cause.

 

US-CONGRESS-KERRY-STATE

 

Again and again, Senator Warren has said that she will not seek the Democratic nomination in 2016. Personally, I believe her. Warren is a rising star in Congress and clearly has plenty of work ahead of her over the remainder of her term. Although she has plenty of relevant experience and significant fanfare among liberals, Warren has been an elected official in Washington for less than three years; compare that to Hillary Clinton’s eight years as First Lady, eight years as a US Senator, and four years as Secretary of State. And while Senator Warren’s steadfast beliefs and considerable accomplishments are impressive, she hasn’t shown herself to be especially capable of working on both sides of the aisle; a quality that is sure to drive away moderate Democrats and Republicans who may lean towards a middle-of-the-road candidate like Clinton. That being said, both Warren and Clinton would benefit from a healthy primary challenge. Warren would have a chance to increase both her star power in Washington and connect with voters who may not be familiar with her record, while Clinton would be forced to campaign harder and more definitively state her stance on the issues. A challenge from Warren may also drive Clinton to adopt a more progressive stance on financial reform. Although I tend to side more with Warren on the issues, I think that for now the Senate needs her, and perhaps the country needs Hillary Clinton. But regardless of who announces in the coming months, it’s clear that Elizabeth Warren is a major force in modern liberal politics – and she may be able to bring real change to Washington.