At the end of his remarks, Obama turned to Warren and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled gamely, though if there are kisses a woman can do without, this was one of them. A Judas kiss, some would say. But if so, the betrayal was not just of Elizabeth Warren. In his remarks, Obama would hint at what had happened to Warren, commenting that she had faced “very tough opposition” and had taken “a fair amount of heat.” He also alluded to the powerful forces arrayed against her, and against the C.F.P.B.—“the army of lobbyists and lawyers right now working to water down the protections and reforms that we’ve passed,” the corporations that pumped “tens of millions of dollars” into the fight, and “[their] allies in Congress.” But he was mincing his words. The fight against Warren and the C.F.P.B. was one of the most brutal Washington battles this year, up there with the debt-ceiling showdown and now the looming battle over the jobs bill—but part of the same war. Arrayed against Warren, and today against the very existence of the C.F.P.B., was the full force of what many, most notably Simon Johnson, the M.I.T. professor and former International Monetary Fund chief economist, have called the American financial oligarchy: Wall Street firms and banks supported mainly by Republican members of Congress, but also politicians on the other side of the aisle, along with members of Obama’s own inner circle.
At a time of record corporate profits, a time when 14 million Americans are out of work, when millions have lost their homes and, according to the Census Bureau, the ranks of those living in poverty has grown to one in six—that Elizabeth Warren could be publicly kneecapped and an agency devoted to protecting American consumers could come under such intense attack is, ultimately, the story about who holds power in America today.
When the C.F.P.B. was first proposed to Congress, in early 2009, the Chamber of Commerce, the leading business lobbying group in the country, announced that it would “spend whatever it takes” to defeat the agency. According to the Center for Public Integrity, from 2009 through the beginning of 2010, it would be one of the biggest spenders among the more than 850 businesses and trade groups that together paid lobbyists $1.3 billion to fight financial reform.