All about the banks: Washington Post scolds Elizabeth Warren for "irrational" populism

Beltway paper's editorial board issues hysterical condemnation of the progressive senator

Published December 1, 2014 3:12PM (EST)

Elizabeth Warren                     (AP/Timothy D. Easley)
Elizabeth Warren (AP/Timothy D. Easley)

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren hasn't won many media fans with her vocal opposition to investment banker Antonio Weiss' nomination to a high-ranking Treasury Department post.

Last week, the New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin lamented that by opposing Weiss' nomination as under secretary for domestic finance, Warren was making it harder for Wall Street veterans, that perpetually persecuted and politically voiceless class, to join the public sector. This week, Warren's position has the Washington Post editorial board clutching its pearls.

A bit of background: Weiss is currently head of global investment banking at Lazard, a firm that has advised Burger King on its merger with Canadian coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons, a so-called inversion that will help Burger King avoid taxes. As Warren wrote in the Huffington Post last month, it's a bit bizarre for President Obama to nominate Weiss even as his administration attempts to crack down on inversions.

The Post's editors aren't having it. Not only do they share Sorkin's view that Warren's opposition to Weiss is wrongheaded, they suggest that it's borderline bigotry, borne of populist "prejudice, stereotypes and resentment." Echoing other supporters of Weiss' nomination, the Post contends that this misunderstood banker is actually a bona fide progressive, noting that he's called for higher taxes on the wealthy. Why, his worldview is practically "consonant with Ms. Warren's," the Post writes.

Never mind that Weiss -- who has made $15 million at Lazard in just the past two years and stands to score a cool $21 million upon his departure -- has spent the bulk of his career working for a firm notorious for helping big corporations skirt taxes. His heart is in the right place! And at any rate, the Post declares, it's absurd for Warren to base her opposition to his nomination in pure "symbolism."

In asserting that Warren opposes Weiss for merely symbolic reasons, it's unclear if the Post simply misunderstands Warren's position or is just being intellectually dishonest. While Warren has indeed raised concerns about the Obama administration's over-reliance on Wall Street veterans to fill key posts, she cites two substantive concerns in laying out her stance: the oddity of nominating an international investment banker to a domestic finance post, and Weiss' advisory role in the Burger King-Tim Hortons deal. (While Weiss supporters say he didn't have anything to do with the tax side of the deal, Warren notes that this line of defense is ridiculous, given that the deal was fundamentally a tax deal.)

But to hear the Post tell it, Weiss is a victim who "stands accused" by "irrational," McCarthyite populists like Warren. "At the very least," the editors conclude, "Mr. Weiss deserves a fair hearing, in which he can publicly respond to the accusations against him, such as they are."

At last -- somebody has the moral courage to stand up for the big banks.

By Luke Brinker

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