Warren and Obama: A Tenuous Relationship

Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren found herself in the increasingly familiar confines of the national spotlight last week when she told the Washington Blade newspaper that she hoped President Barack Obama would “evolve” his views and endorse gay marriage.

“I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” Warren said in an interview with the prominent LQBT weekly newspaper.

Warren’s comments came just days before the Obama campaign released 90 seconds of unused footage from the camp’s documentary promotional “The Road We’ve Traveled,” in which the U.S. Senate candidate, and former advisor to the president, argues that Obama is best equipped to continue to pull the country out of the economic recession that marked his first term in office.

“The president gets...what American families face,” Warren says in the clip.

“This election is going to affect everyone. We really have come to a real choice, and what our future looks like is going to be very different depending on who’s governing,” she adds.


The seemingly contradictory intersection between the campaigns points to what has been an important, though at times fraught, relationship between the President and his former advisor—one that helped launch Warren into political stardom and could have great effect on the political fates of both this fall, analysts here say.

“In Massachusetts, his utility to her is enormous. He’s so popular here that he is bound to have a positive effect on her and other Democrats,” Democratic analyst Daniel B. Payne said.

“Where she might be valuable to Obama is among liberal donors who are increasingly becoming Democratic anyway. They may see her as someone who can vouch for Obama’s credentials in trying to manage Wall Street excess,” Payne added.

Even as Warren criticized Obama for his positions on gay marriage last week, the President has incorporated many of Warren’s ideas on consumer protection and the social contract into his own campaign rhetoric as he has tried to center his campaign on economic issues.

Much of Obama’s economic policy during his first term has roots in Warren and her scholarship. She was tapped first as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee charged with regulating the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), and then as an economic advisor to Obama responsible for creating a consumer protection agency.

But despite her work in the White House, Warren was left out in the cold last summer when it came time for Obama to name the first director of the Consumer Protection Bureau—an organization that she is recognized to have brought into being.

“She lived up to the reputation—a reputation that she made for herself—as a rock thrower and that can make people in Washington quite nervous,” Payne said. “I think the fact that she was willing to be that blunt was both a blessing and curse for her.”

The suggestion that Warren’s criticism of Obama is based on hard feelings is improbable, analysts say. Instead, they posit that Warren is likely trying to push the President towards the more liberal stance that is popular within his party.

Analysts say many of the differences in policy between the two camps can be attributed to the difference between the Massachusetts and national voting bodies.

Experts warn Massachusetts has a history of splitting tickets, electing, for example, a Democratic president and a Republican senator. In other words, Warren may get a boost from her former boss, but she’ll still have to win the race herself.