A Harvard University professor and expert on financial regulation might seem an unlikely candidate for a populist hero. But Elizabeth Warren's plainspoken, relentless criticism of the financial-services industry and tireless advocacy for the American middle class have turned her into a household name -- and may just turn her into a senator.
In 2008, Warren, an academic expert on bankruptcy, took on the thankless task of auditing the $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial industry. Along the way, she gained a popular following through her frequent and candid testimonies to Congress and TV appearances. She was widely expected to become the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the oversight agency that she conceived of and helped establish, but the White House passed her over this year in the face of overwhelming Republican opposition. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that the agency under Warren "could be a serious threat to our financial system."
Warren was quick to pivot, announcing that she would run for Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat in Massachusetts. The frustrated American left has since rallied around her, and a video of a fired-up Warren defending government services as a "social contract," saying, "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own," has become a viral sensation. Welcome to class warfare, 2012 edition.
Not many parenting books can ignite fierce debates over race, immigration, and American decline, but not many authors of such books are like Amy Chua. This corporate lawyer turned Yale University professor first made a name for herself with her 2003 book World on Fire, which argued that globalization fuels ethnic conflict in the developing world. But that was nothing compared with this year's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, her memoir-cum-manifesto about raising two overachieving daughters, which kicked up a major firestorm and rocketed to the top of bestseller lists.
Chua, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, attempts to decipher the question of why Chinese mothers produce "so many math whizzes and music prodigies." Her answer: Chinese parents "can do things that would seem unimaginable -- even legally actionable -- to Westerners," such as forbidding their children from attending sleepovers, watching TV, getting any grade besides an A, or playing "any instrument other than the piano or violin."
The book garnered a fierce backlash, with many accusing her of inflicting permanent psychological damage on her children. (Many critics ignored the book's ending, in which Chua realizes she needs to lighten up a bit.) Chua's contention that soft American parents are being outdone by hard-charging Asian Tiger Moms also tapped into a growing fear that the United States is becoming complacent in the face of a rising China -- where, ironically, the book was sold under the title Being an American Mom.
Muse Tariq Jahan, the grieving father who called for peace and tolerance just hours after his son was killed in the Birmingham riots this summer.
Stimulus or austerity? Either way, it will end up a watered-down, horse-traded compromise that will bear little resemblance to the original inspiration.
America or China? America, if it can reclaim its traditional values of hard work, responsibility, and respect for excellence. I'm an optimist.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring, but we'd do the Arab world a disservice if we set up unrealistic expectations.
Reading list Crave Radiance, by Elizabeth Alexander; The Death Instinct, by Jed Rubenfeld; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Best idea Writing a parenting memoir that hit a geopolitical nerve.
Worst idea Writing a parenting memoir that hit a geopolitical nerve.