In little more than a month, 22 million Americans have lost their jobs as economic activity ground to a halt. A Gallup poll conducted over the first half of April found 1 in 4 Americans agreeing it was more likely than not they would be unemployed at some point in the next year. And according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, 3 out of 4 Americans say the economy is in either “poor” or “fair” shape.
The Massachusetts senator has the perfect background for this moment. Warren first achieved academic and public prominence studying bankruptcy, talking repeatedly with families plunged into a financial abyss through unemployment or a health crisis. She went on to co-write a seminal book about the financial plight of the American family, “The Two-Income Trap,” which even counts Fox News host Tucker Carlson among its fans. She offered advice and sympathy to financially overwhelmed families on daytime television shows. Like Biden’s talent for connecting with voters when the subject is grief and emotional loss, Warren’s ability to tap into Americans’ financial fears is all but unique among national politicians.
Then there is Warren’s ability to tie the financial plight of American families to the United States’ culture of legalized corruption. This connection has been grotesquely clear during the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple members of Congress sold off stock after receiving confidential briefings on the growing epidemic. Congressional debates over economic stimulus set off a corporate lobbying gold rush. The relief bills passed have repeatedly favored the richest and most connected, including what Warren called a $500 billion “slush fund” for the largest corporations, while leaving everyone else fighting over scraps. Most recently, a loophole in the Paycheck Protection Plan allowed publicly traded companies like Ruth’s Chris Steak House to get their oven mitts on money meant to help small businesses survive. As the inequities have piled up, Warren has remained vigilant, calling out Trump administration officials and warning them she’s keeping an eye on the money.
Warren can point to a long record of fighting corruption. Corruption, she said in 2018 while debuting a tough bill taking the all too ubiquitous issue on, is “like a cancer eating away at our democracy.” It was a centerpiece of her presidential campaign, too. Speaking in New York’s Washington Square Park last year, in the shadow of the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, she said of the first Gilded Age, “Business owners got richer, politicians got more powerful, and working people paid the price,” adding, “Does any of that sound familiar?” It should.
Finally, there is Warren’s signature campaign catchphrase — “I’ve got a plan for that.” Some made fun of Warren’s penchant for advance planning during the primary, but now we’re getting a deadly lesson in why it was so important. Warren, it won’t shock you to discover, was the first presidential candidate to debut a response to the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic: On Jan. 28, her campaign published a policy paper calling for a significantly beefed up financial response to infectious diseases. The same week, President Trump was still claiming the coronavirus pandemic situation was “very well under control.”
Warren is still releasing plans. On Tuesday, she teamed up with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to get out in front of the still-growing personal finance crisis for millions of American households. The pair calls for, among other things, a ban on banks and others snatching part or all of stimulus checks to pay past-due debts, no damage to credit scores as a result of coronavirus economic impacts and expanding penalty-free federal student loan payment stoppages to the private sector. (Warren is also calling for mass student loan debt forgiveness.) “Congress must act quickly so Americans aren’t left drowning in debt at the end of this crisis,” she wrote.
Of course, there are other reasons to look favorably on Warren. She’s popular among suburban women. Her nomination would show more progressive Democrats that Biden is sensitive to their concerns. And she shines in the role of attack dog — just ask Mike Bloomberg. But most important, Americans will be dealing with the economic pain and the governance crisis of this coronavirus pandemic for years. Warren is made for this moment. Here’s hoping Biden knows that.