Obama Backs Down from Wall Street and History

I have been reading and listening to the reaction this week to President Obama’s speech in New York City regarding the upcoming “Wall Street reform” legislation.  This legislation aims to provide both oversight and security against future meltdowns of this magnitude.  Being in New York, the speech and Obama’s visit were covered extensively and I began to get the impression that Obama had the leverage he needed to send a message about the behavior of the large investment firms.  As it turned out, the message was far more muted than I anticipated and did not make the type of statement that I thought it would.

As a loyal fan of Slate’s Political Gabfest, I heard John Dickerson mention that the President could have followed in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson. In 1910, Wilson was campaigning for governor of NJ and gave a speech, in the presence of J.P. Morgan, that called bankers “narrow-minded,” selfish and untrustworthy.  Here is John Dickerson’s piece preparing for Obama’s speech on Thursday and an excerpt of Wilson’s speech too: http://www.slate.com/id/2251430

It would have been interesting to see Obama take yet another page from the history books and embody the country’s outrage while being guaranteed Wall Street’s attention.  On the other hand, maybe he did just that.  Perhaps he did not want the country to continue to direct anger and frustration at these Wall Street institutions and he’s trying to lead by example as we work to find solutions for the future.  It’s hard to tell if his tone was calculated to send a message to America or intentionally deferential because of the close ties between the Administration and the financial industry.

In the end, I guess I’ve grown to feel some frustration and anger over how some of these banks behaved and I assumed that the only person capable of reaching them was the President of the United States.  According to Saturday Night Live last night, however, these bankers consider themselves to be untouchable even from the President’s reach.  That sketch is also worth a look: http://www.hulu.com/watch/144715/saturday-night-live-obama-reform-cold-open#s-p1-sr-i1

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