Monday, August 25, 2008

Time For Obama To Whack Wall Street

About a year ago, Barack Obama read Wall Street the riot act. Speaking before a group of traders and investment bankers, Obama blasted them for being short-sighted, greedy, sneaky and intentionally oblivious to the pain and suffering their wheeling and dealing is inflicting on America's middle class.
Now, that's what you call a keen grasp of the obvious.
Still, it's that type of righteous indignation and passion many voters on Main Street would like to see from Obama as he addresses the country's faltering economy and how he's going to fix it. In fact, upon accepting the Democratic Party's presidential nomination later this week at the Dem's Denver convention, Obama should assert that his presidency means a tough new cop will be walking the Wall Street beat.
As in his 2007 speech, Obama should call for more aggressive enforcement and regulations--yes, I used the dreaded "R" word--requiring greater accountability from the giant financial players plying their trade within the U.S.
Obama should make clear that talk of further deregulation of the financial services industry is over until the large investment banks, commercial banks, hedge funds and other financial players show they've cleaned up their balance sheets and are erasing the unwarranted risks they've taken during the punch-drunk Bush Administration.
Most important, Obama needs to give Wall Street a smack on the proverbial skull. He must remind cocky traders and total "free market" types that they are part of the United States of America--not just an island in a sea of global commerce.
If pressed, Obama can justifiably ask them: "Where were all those highly touted international investor pools when mortgage makers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going under?" The answer: "No where to be found."
Obama knows the American taxpayers bailed out these sorry institutions and rescued the entire financial system, too. Obama can assure us the Fannie/Freddie bailout will remain top of mind within his administration, should Wall Street launch yet another wave of specious corporate and industry consolidations--mergers designed to quickly "maximize shareholder value" but which typically end up gutting major corporations, eliminating good-paying jobs, destroying communities and displacing thousands of workers and their families. In essence, Obama must let Wall Street know the Gordon Gekko era is over and that "greed is not good."
Some will argue that demonizing Wall Street is a cynical play for votes. A play to win votes? Absolutely. Cynical? No way.
Voters will view this as a necessary and realistic corrective action. Everyone knows that throughout the Bush Administration, Wall Street went wild. At the end of it all, a few folks got filthy rich while the rest of us were left with a tab for cleaning up the mortgage mess and recession.
Even President Bush, our first CEO/Commander-in-Chief, ruefully noted that Wall Street went on a bender (although he said it after insisting the TV cameras be turned off.)
My question is: Will Obama take on Wall Street?
Unfortunately, that's not as certain now as it was in 2007, when he went into the lion's den and spoke truth to power. Since then, Obama has embraced a more deliberate style, trying hard not to be painted as some wide-eyed economic populist or Teddy Roosevelt-style trust buster.Maybe Obama doesn't want to fan the flames of this burning economy. Or perhaps some ample Wall Street campaign contributions have prompted Obama to hold his tongue.
Let's hope not.
What we need is a spirited and candid discussion about the fate of our economy. That means dishing about taxes, Social Security and government spending. It also means taking on the financial industry's greed and excess.
In 2007, Obama gave voice to that issue. Let's see if he continues to talk about cracking down on Wall Street--beginning this week when he officially becomes the Democratic Party's presidential candidate.

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