And what might Chait be talking about? Get ready: financial reform. That's right. An issue almost no one talks about anymore and far fewer people understand. I ought to know because I've spent tens of thousands of words trying to get people to talk about it since I published a 2010 book called Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street. I fully agree that Obama failed miserably to exploit a potential populist issue that, once upon a time, might have made him the second coming of FDR. "Surveys show that both Left and Right, liberals and conservatives, were united in wanting to see fundamental change to Wall Street and big finance," I wrote in 2011. "Yet rather than seizing the chance at the kind of leadership that might have unified a good part of the country, Obama threw himself into an issue that divided Left and Right as never before, and which was not directly related to the historic crisis at hand—health care."
But that moment has long passed. Warren has consistently been a powerful, positive voice on financial reform, and it got her the party nomination in Massachusetts. But that's Massachusetts. A Harvard Law professor who became an expert in mortgage fraud and bankruptcy and later conceived of one of Dodd-Frank's most significant reforms, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she's never done much of anything else in public life, other than chair the TARP oversight committee. And her "issue" has faded in popular imagination. Remember the Occupy Wall Street movement? You're forgiven if you don't. It petered out without a trace (while the Tea Party movement doesn't seem to go away, demonstrating that you can have a successful movement these days; OWS just wasn't it).
And with each passing year the causal connection between Wall Street's unprosecuted perpetrators and the terrible recession and national PTSD they set in motion has grown more distant, draining the issue of its populist potential. In 2012 when Mitt Romney promised, and then failed, to propose an alternative to Dodd-Frank, almost no one cared. Polls consistently show that while the U.S. public is still mainly concerned about the economy (although the numbers have been steadily falling), Wall Street is way down the list, behind health care, immigration, education, guns, and a host of social issues. By the time the 2016 race rolls around, nearly eight years will have passed since the financial crisis.
But that's not even the main point. Chait finds it "odd" that financial reform hasn't become a bigger issue despite surveys showing that large numbers of people are still angry about Wall Street (when they're asked about it: big difference). Here's why: It's booorrring. And incredibly esoteric. Yes, the banks are huger than ever and over-the-counter derivatives are being traded again in the hundreds of trillions—one reason why Gensler, the outgoing head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, may be one of the great unsung heroes in Washington thanks to his lonely fight to regulate derivatives internationally. But only a handful of people in the entire world truly understand derivatives regulation. "Bash the Bankers" works as a slogan, but when you get down to what really must be done about them you would have to talk about capital and liquidity ratios on the stump.