The XX Factor

The Left’s Mama Grizzly

Before this week’s Wikileaks anti-climax, the talk of the town was the fight to have Harvard professor, TARP watchdog, and Jon Stewart crush-object Elizabeth Warren lead the newly created consumer-financial-protection agency. That chatter is on a crescendo once more.

Lots of progressives are pushing hard for President Obama to appoint her. Warren, after all, was the main architect and advocate of establishing the agency, and her supporters say that her appointment would be the rare, unequivocal move by this administration to protect average consumers. But other Democrats, like Sen. Christopher Dodd, head of the Senate banking committee, worry aloud that Warren is too contentious a figure to get confirmed by the Senate. Yesterday, Dodd repeated that prediction and warned against a recess appointment of Warren to the post .

The Times said in a recent editorial that Warren scares the banks not because she doesn’t get it, as far as their shenanigans go, but because she does. I think she scares all those who want to keep the status quo and think problems will magically right themselves, because Warren is an eight-foot-tall, fanged and clawed Mama Grizzly, coming at you from the left. If you take all the broad descriptions of Mama Grizzlies, both visual and rhetorical-white mothers from Middle America who kinda just know that things just aren’t right in this country and don’t like the direction it’s going-Warren fits that bill. Except that her vision of America is at loggerheads with what conservatives want-and she’s on the threshold to real power.

The daughter of a janitor, born and raised in Oklahoma , high school state debate champion, married young, divorced once, mother of two, Sunday school teacher: Warren has the “real America” creds that Mama Grizzlies use against those who’d dismiss them. I can’t help but think that Warren’s early life and her initial modest law practice informed her decision to illuminate over the years the economic inequities in this country and the hugely destructive pressures the middle class faces. Her research has exploded myths about how those seeking bankruptcy are largely profligate and irresponsible, showing instead that medical costs, for instance, often push people over the brink . She’s been unremitting in her criticism of banks’ nihilistic pursuit of profits.

To me, Warren is a real Mama Grizzly, more real than Sarah Palin as a feminist, because of her years-long fight to protect the middle class. She doesn’t just spout platitudes like any politician would. She uses instead the skills she developed as lawyer and researcher to reveal the numbers in checking accounts and tax forms that are undoing people’s lives. But for all the lefties who don’t want to appropriate the right’s lingo, you can always use a good, old-fashioned term for Warren: bad-ass.

Photograph of Elizabeth Warren by Jewel Samad/Getty Images.