Saturday, January 23, 2010

Obama Takes the Wake-Up Call

My hope for Barack Obama always rested on the fact that he was a smart politician in the old school sense - that he would listen to majoritarian pressure and respond to it.  He may have figured out via the loss of Kennedy's seat via a "centrist" Dim to a Republican that economic oligarchy isn't popular.  There seems to be supportive polling data that Coakley didn't lose because she's too liberal.

This week, Obama offered a direct attack on the Supreme Court's neo-feudalist decision to give corporations the free speech rights of citizens, calling it "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”   And his "populist" shift against banks, read as a shift from Geithner to Volcker,  upset the moderate Financial Times (which called Obama's move both a "declaration of war" on Wall Street and a "Maginot line", and the trading of bank stocks. (Sen. Barbara Boxer also announced her opposition to the reconfirmationl of Ben Bernanke at the Fed.) Again there was strong language:
My resolve to reform the system is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see record profits at some of the very firms claiming that they cannot lend more to small business, cannot keep credit card rates low, and cannot refund taxpayers for the bailout.  It is exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary.
Still, the proposal itself has no specifics at all.  Obama has never had trouble making a good speech. The trouble is always whether anything comes next to back it up.  I'm doubtful that he has any interest in turning banks back into something more like a service to the public economy.  But at least he's not still asleep.

ADDENDUM.  See this good overview of Bernanke's two failures  - to have seen the housing bubble for what it was and helped deflate it, and to continue to privilege "fighting inflation" over fighting unemployment.

- Fr. Frank offers a definitive summing-up of where Obama is right now.  Offering many useful details, he says, "The president is no longer seen as a savior but as a captive of the interests who ginned up the mess and still profit, hugely, from it."  His muddled non-direction, Fr. F notes, is Dim party is adding to the existing weight of Dim centrist pro-biz confusion and pulling it under  "the Obama administration is so overstocked with Goldman Sachs-Robert Rubin alumni and so tainted by its back-room health care deals with pharmaceutical and insurance companies that conservative politicians, Brown included, can masquerade shamelessly as the populist alternative."

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