Obama: Triangulating Between the Banksters and the Pitchforks
Josh Marshall caught this snippet in a Politico article on the meeting between President Obama and the CEOs of major banks last Friday:
"These are complicated companies," one CEO said. Offered another: "We’re competing for talent on an international market."
But President Barack Obama wasn’t in a mood to hear them out. He stopped the conversation and offered a blunt reminder of the public’s reaction to such explanations. . . .
"My administration," the president added, "is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
It’s a nice quip, demonstrating the commonsense grasp on things that appeals to many of us who voted for Obama. But many of us are also concerned that such clear thinking has gotten lost in translation between the president and his top financial appointees’ plans to deal with the current meltdown. A joint profile of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner published last night by ProPublica and the Washington Post gives a vivid example:
In September 2005, Timothy Geithner made one of his most visible moves as a supervisor of the U.S. banking system. He summoned the nation’s top financial firms and their regulators to streamline an antiquated system that threatened Wall Street’s boom.
. . . Geithner’s summit, held at the New York Fed’s fortress-like headquarters near Wall Street, was a success. By fall 2006, the new system had all but eliminated the logjam, helping derivatives trade more efficiently.
. . . Although Geithner repeatedly raised concerns about the failure of banks to understand their risks, including those taken through derivatives, he and the Federal Reserve system did not act with enough force to blunt the troubles that ensued. . . .
. . . Looking back at his time at the New York Fed, Geithner said: "I wish I had worked to change the framework, rather than to work within that framework."
That same sense of caution seems to have afflicted Obama and his economic team to date, as they resist calls for bolder action and treat the banksters who created the current mess as delicate, yet powerful interests who mustn’t be spooked — to the extent that Obama compared them to suicide bombers a couple of weeks ago.
This isn’t the first administration to feel intimidated, and its ambitions constrained, by the perceived power of Wall Street’s reaction (anyone remember James Carville’s famous quote about wanting to be reincarnated as the bond market?).
But in a moment of such importance, I can’t help but ask: Mr. President, why are you standing on that side of the pitchforks?