Ask Elizabeth Warren, scourge of Wall Street bankers, how they treat consumers, and her no-nonsense bob will shake with indignation. She will talk about morality, about fairness, about what she calls their "let them eat cake" attitude towards taxpayers. If she is riled enough, she might even spit out the Warren version of an expletive.
"Dang gummit, somebody has got to stand up on behalf of middle-class families!" she exclaimed in a recent interview in her office here.
Among all the dramatis personae of post-financial crisis Washington, there is no one remotely like Ms. Warren, 60, who has divided the town between those who admire her and those who roll their eyes at her. She is an Oklahoma native, a janitor's daughter, a bankruptcy expert at Harvard Law School and a former Sunday School teacher who cites John Wesley - the co-founder of Methodism and a public health crusader - as an inspiration. She brims with cheer, yet she is she is such a fearsome interrogator that Bruce Mann, her husband, describes her as a grandmother who can make grown men cry. Back at Harvard, Ms. Warren's teaching style is "Socratic with a machine gun," as one former student put it. In Washington, she grills bankers and Treasury officials just as relentlessly.
Ms. Warren has two roles here: officially, as head of Congressional oversight for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and unofficially, as chief conceiver of and booster for a new consumer financial protection agency. Fusing those projects and her academic work, she has become the most prominent consumer advocate in years. In a blitz of television appearances, she offers a story of how 30 years of deregulation has rewarded the financial industry but led to abusive practices and collapses that have hurt ordinary Americans - the same taxpayers who are paying for bank bailouts.
Kantor briefly stopped for one moderately critical paragraph:
Critics argue that such an agency, which would regulate mortgages, credit cards and nearly all other loans to consumers, would tighten credit in an already tight market, stifle innovation and hurt small businesses. They have another objection as well: to Ms. Warren herself. As one administration official acknowledged, the prospect of her running the new agency may be an impediment to its creation because of her crusading style, her seemingly visceral loathing of financial services companies and her expansive way of interpreting assignments.
Hosts and cameramen love her: she has the friendly face of a teacher, the pedigree of a top law professor, the moral force of a preacher and the plain-spoken twang of a Oklahoman.
An accompanying nytimes.com video showed Warren and Kantor chatting away like old friends and included a clip of Warren as a voice of wisdom in a Michael Moore documentary (another clue on her politics). Four minutes into the video, Kantor gushed about the possibility of Warren being named head of a new consumer agency to oversee financial products: "Would you really say no to this job?"
The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has a more analytical look at the dubious nature of Warren's bankruptcy studies , especially her highly debatable contention that medical expenses contribute to 70% of all bankruptcies.