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New Republic - April 24, 2019

In an already enormous Democratic field that seems to grow more crowded every week, every candidate is looking for something that can separate him or her from the pack. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose campaign has appeared to click into gear after months of post-DNA-test sputtering, has an odd edge: She, unlike any of the other contenders, used to be a Republican.

That seems to shock the casual political observer, as does the fact that Warren didn’t change her registration until she was in her late 40s. In a lengthy piece about Warren’s political evolution, Politiconoted that “the information often comes as a surprise even to Beltway politicos and longtime Warren allies.”

But the story of Warren’s transformation from a law professor entranced by Reaganomics isn’t politically so potent because it hints at the bipartisan ideal to which many candidates pay lip service. Instead, it’s important because it allows Warren to detail the current state of American capitalism, how she became one of its most piercing critics, and how her policy-heavy political campaign aims to fix it. It’s also potentially the strongest argument Democrats have against the GOP’s facile attempts to turn the 2020 election into a contest between socialism and capitalism.

Warren’s right-of-center beliefs were ingrained and long-held. Her high school friend Katrina Harry told Politico that the two “talked politics a lot, taxes and welfare and such…. Liz was a diehard conservative in those days.” That conservatism carried over into her early work as a law professor at the University of Houston. In one of Warren’s first papers, she argued that “utility companies were over-regulated and that automatic utility rate increases should be institutionalized to avoid ‘regulatory lag,’ in spite of consumer advocate concerns,” per Politico’s look at her political orientation. “Liz was sometimes surprisingly anti-consumer in her attitude,” law professor Calvin Johnson, who worked with Warren at the University of Houston, said.

Her shift from right to left began in the mid-1980s. Previously, Warren’s work had been theoretical, but research on bankruptcy took her to courts across the country to study individual cases. “I’m studying families that go bankrupt,” Warren said at a Monday CNN town hall, “and the credit card companies, half a dozen giant credit card companies, figure out that if they can get the bankruptcy laws changed, that what will happen is they can improve their bottom line by just a little by keeping people locked out of bankruptcy.”

“Never mind,” Warren continued, “that those people are head over heels in medical debt, that they’ve had job losses that put them way behind, that they’ve had a death or divorce in the family. They’ve been cheated by credit card companies and mortgage companies! Never mind any of that. Just improve the bottom line for the credit card companies.” ...
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