Has Obama Been Soft On Wall Street? Yep. Does That Make Him Mitt Romney? Uh, Nope.

President Obama has done some amazing things since he took office in January of 2009 (many of those things have been chronicled on this blog). Much of what he has accomplished he had to do with only Democratic support, and much of his time has been spent trying to overcome the economic recovery saboteurs in the Republican Party who were trying to destroy him politically, many of whom are still trying to undermine, if not outright destroy, his remaining presidency.

But that’s no excuse for the President’s horrible record on pursuing, or, really, not pursuing, banksters—those financial folks responsible for the ongoing economic misery among working-class people in the country, people long on class but short on work. The Administration should have been, and still should be, making the banksters, for God’s sake at least some of them, pay for their crimes.

Aggressively pursuing these miscreants from the start would not only have been the right thing to do, it would have been politically popular too. It might even have helped, ever so slightly, endear him to a few folks on the right who also hate it that big-time money men and women seem to have escaped without so much as a rugburn, after the most horrific financial meltdown in 80 years.

There will be some stains on the Obama legacy, but perhaps no stain will be as dark and ugly as the President’s failure to see to it that some sense of justice was satisfied, or at least aggressively pursued, for what happened in the fall of 2008.

But having said that, I’m not one of those on the left who will write ridiculous things like Eric Zuesse wrote recently for HuffPo (“Is The Obama Administration the Most Corrupt in U.S. History?“):

The rot certainly starts at the top. I am a proud Democrat who can tell a phony one clearly, especially when it’s demonstrated by four years of remarkably consistent criminal (and profoundly conservative) decisions by him. Obama is a phony Democrat. He is, at best, Romney-light. Maybe he is, in some ways, even Bush-heavy. As regards non-prosecutions of financial fraudsters, the data show him to be Bush-heavy.

Zuesse urges Democrats to turn on Obama, mainly over his dealings with Wall Street and his proposal to possibly change the way the cost of living adjustments are made to Social Security benefits:

The rot is on both sides now. Let’s see if our side will clamp down against it – as Senator Warren obviously wishes to do. Are we with her, or are we with Obama? That question does not concern a white woman versus a black man; it concerns a nation of equality under law, versus a champion of “Too Big To Fail.” In fact, Obama has been disastrous for Blacks, and not just for the rest of “the 99%.”

The Democratic Party will have to show where it stands – and with whom, and for whom.

The Republican Party has already failed its test regarding Bush. Will the Democratic Party fail its test regarding Obama?

Come on. Sure, there is plenty to criticize the President for over his handling of the banksters. Sure, he has surrounded himself with too many people wrapped up in that Wall Street-runs-America culture. Sure, at times his actions haven’t always lived up to his campaign rhetoric.

And there are other reasons why liberals should lately be a bit upset with him, including his embracing the chained CPI scheme and the quiet, very quiet, signing of a bill last week that will undo much of a law passed in 2012 called the STOCK (“Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge”) Act, which prohibited members of Congress and their staffs from profiting from insider trading.

By signing the latest bill—a true symbol of corruption of our political system— President Obama reveals himself to be what he has always been: a politician with political motives that often involve sweetheart deals with those in power. (For an excellent telling of this sad tale, go here.)

But Eric Zuesse calling Obama a criminal and a phony Democrat and labeling him Romney-light and Bush-heavy? Please. Give me a break. And for Zuesse to say that “corruption has…been rampant during his Presidency”? Get a bleeping grip, Eric. That’s the same kind of stuff that happens when uncompromising ideologues on the right take out after one of their own whom they perceive to be philosophically disloyal. And it’s the same kind of stuff they say about the President.

Ironically, Zuesse criticizes Obama for acting too much like a conservative, which is sometimes a fair criticism, but then Zuesse acts like the worst of the conservatives himself when he blasts him and suggests he has done nothing worthy of respect, even from people on the left.

And particularly given the environment within which President Obama has had to work since 2010—a totally hostile House and a filibuster-drunk Senate, which has to figure into any realistic evaluation of his performance—Zuesse’s comments about Obama remind me of something exiting the lips of, say, a Rush Limbaugh.


Meanwhile, for some level-headed, but hard-hitting criticism of the President’s policies vis-à-vis Wall Street, see today’s piece at HuffPo by Ryan Grim and Shahien Nasiripour, which begins:

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has privately criticized the Obama administration and the Department of Justice for not aggressively investigating dodgy mortgage deals that helped trigger the financial crisis, according to senators and congressional aides who met with him this month.

As this article demonstrates, there is plenty of frustration to go around regarding the Obama administration’s failure, and it is a failure, to put orange jumpsuits on otherwise well-dressed Wall Street bankers. But that frustration should not lead those of us on the left to treat President Obama the same way hysterical conservatives have always treated him: like a Kenyan-headed American stepchild.


[image from Seeking Alpha]


  1. He has failed spectacularly at prosecutions of they very people who put us in the mess we’re all suffering from. That is Wall Street AND the Bush Administration who lied and misrepresented us into war.
    I am proud of him for many things but these failing are unforgivable.


    • Dave,

      They definitely are significant failings. But are they “unforgivable”? I may not go that far. There is some context we have to consider, besides the negative context of the Wall Street culture. There was some serious economic problems that needed attention and diverting time and resources to putting creeps behind bars, when such crimes are notoriously difficult to prove and prosecute, may argue for the hands-off or cautious approach. Not making excuses, just trying not to overreact, even though I’m tempted to. I prefer to think of it, like I said in the piece, as a “stain” on Obama’s legacy, especially if things continue as they have.



  2. Duane,

    Well, this is what happens when you live in and/or try to manage a Plutocracy. All the in-fighting these days is way above the average Joe’s/Jill’s pay grade. Can you spell “laissez-faire,” boys and girls? And wealth is power. The plutocrats own Congress, or at least enough of it to maintain control. And we pedestrians have been diluted into thinking we can control our government at the voting booth. Hahahahahahahahah!

    Obama is the best friend crony capitalists every had. Just look at corporate profits setting records, along with the stock market, and at the top 1 percent’s incomes that, since 2009, rose by 11.2%, whereas earnings of the other 99% declined by 0.4 percent. There has to be some quid pro quo going on somewhere and that’s probably why the corruption label is being used.

    Meanwhile, the country is spinning out of control. The new normal, according to some economists on both the left and right, is continued high deficits as far out as the eye can see, unemployment rates vacillating between 6 and 7%, low interest rates to the banks (but not to the borrowers), an anemic growth rate in the GDP, and continued flat earnings for the 99%.

    My god, we can’t even pass an innocuous gun control bill or a reasonable and realistic immigration policy! Our infrastructure is crumbling, we have no coherent energy policy, a tax code that now exceeds 40,000 pages, an education system deserving of an F-, a defense department operating to meet the needs of the Military Industrial Complex rather than the country, and a gutless news media.

    We are still torturing people, still killing civilians by the hundreds in Pakistan with drones, still violating the Geneva Conventions and other human rights treaties; all of which is pissing off a lot of people around the world. Enough perhaps that some might even want to plant a bomb or two at a marathon race. Holy cow! I think I was just hit by a piece of sky!

    OK, enough of that. I’m going to go downstairs and watch the rest of Judge Judy.



    • King Beauregard

       /  April 24, 2013

      About those Pakistanis dying from drone attacks … according to the Pakistani government the other month, of the 2200 people killed there, 1600 were combatants, 400 were civilians, and the other 200 are unknown. That is still 400-600 civilians too many dying, no getting around that, and I’d like to see much greater oversight in the drone program.

      That said, at least 73% of the people killed by drones in Pakistan were combatants; that tells me we’re making a serious effort to keep civilians out of it. Again, a lot of civilians are still dying, but at least we’re trying to keep the civilian deaths low. Not sure we can say the same of the al Qaeda targets we’re going after.

      One day I asked myself: knowing what you know now, would you have begrudged Clinton nailing bin Laden with a drone in 1998 or so? At that point, I started to see the drone program a little differently than your garden variety leftie. Ultimately, the point of the drone program is to keep the next bin Laden from launching strikes that will kill thousands (or tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands) of civilians. And unlike victims of terrorism, all an al Qaeda member has to do to get off the drone list is find another line of work.


      • King B,

        You wrote,

        I started to see the drone program a little differently than your garden variety leftie. Ultimately, the point of the drone program is to keep the next bin Laden from launching strikes that will kill thousands (or tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands) of civilians. And unlike victims of terrorism, all an al Qaeda member has to do to get off the drone list is find another line of work.

        Even though I have been criticized for it, I join you as an atypical lefty on this issue. I am disturbed by it in some ways, but I have considered the alternatives and, like you, I can’t come up with a better answer. We are, after all, trying to prevent much worse carnage and, presumably, doing all we can to minimize the collateral damage. That being said, some congressional and judicial oversight is needed, as I am not comfortable leaving the drone program completely in the hands of the executive branch.



    • Wow, Herb. Stay away from sharp instruments, or at least make sure you have plenty of booze around.

      I will quibble with you over a couple of things, although generally I think you paint a fairly accurate picture of what’s going on. The drone issue I’m afraid I have accepted as part of the way the modern world has evolved, although I would demand congressional and judicial oversight, as we have discussed before.

      And I would argue with you about Obama being “the best friend crony capitalists every had” for both historic reasons (there are plenty of presidents who better fit that description) and for the simple reason that Obama spent his first term managing a crisis that no one at the beginning quite knew how it would play out. Naturally, the safest thing was to try to get things back to normal, which means letting the financiers and Wall Street bankers get all their marbles back or else the whole game would end. It’s easy for us to blame him for playing it safe and buying into the conventional wisdom now, but at the time things I am sure looked much different from his perspective.

      That being said, it is not too late to go back and take a second look at those cronies and see which ones can be prosecuted. Those types of crimes, though, as you well know, are not easy cases. They take a lot of manpower and resources and still may end in acquittals because there aren’t too many juries who can understand the near-physics of modern finance.

      Man, though. I need a drink after reading your comment.



  3. King Beauregard

     /  April 24, 2013

    Disappointment is like crystal meth to “Progressives”, they just can’t get enough of it. That means they will gleefully demonize Obama for things they might tolerate in others, all for a hit of sweet sweet righteous indignation.

    Not that Obama is blameless, as you say. But for a man put between a rock and a hard place, trying to repair a country that was teetering on the edge when he got into office, with a Senate that was never particularly filibuster-proof … I’m not going to complain too much. I’ve got my policy disagreements with the guy, but Jesus, he is easily a net asset to our country and we’ve got only so many feet we can shoot ourselves in.

    Progressive common “knowledge” has it that, if we’d only had FDR or LBJ in office, they would have passed far more sweeping reforms because they knew how to work Congress. Let’s talk about the reforms they did pass, shall we? When Medicare was passed, there were 70 Democrats in the Senate; Obama never had more than 58. Additionally, even a majority of Republican Senators were in favor of Medicare; you’d never see today’s Republicans voting for a socialist program like that. How about the Civil Rights Act, surely LBJ twisted some arms on that, yes? Well, of the 115 Congressmen in the Southern states, only 8 voted for the Civil Rights Act; the Civil Rights Act passed solely on the strength of the North’s numerical dominance. I will applaud LBJ for spearheading the Civil Rights Act, but its passage had much more to do with demographics than with LBJ’s mastery of backdoor dealing.

    Well what about FDR, surely there are lessons to be learned from him, aren’t there? Maybe there are, but they wouldn’t be of much help to Obama, because Senators simply didn’t filibuster in FDR’s day. FDR never had a filibuster-proof majority, but he didn’t need one; Republicans were still responsible adults back then, who would have been ashamed to bring the government to a halt just to play politics. FDR wouldn’t be able to get Republican Senators to cooperate today; it’s much more likely that Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint would play keep-away with FDR’s polio medicine.

    How did Mencken put it? “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” The problem for “Progressives” is that things aren’t going the way they want quickly enough, and the simple / neat / wrong solution they cleave to is to find one of their own to blame it all on. I’m sorry to say it, but “Progressives” give the Teabaggers a run for their money when it comes to political cluelessness.


    • For what it’s worth, I think King B has it exactly right here. And while we’re complaining about the everyday stuff, let’s not forget the big picture. Barry extricated us from Iraq and is still on course to get us out of Afghanistan. That, to me, is huge.


    • King B,

      I can’t improve on what you said here. Fantastic analysis, and well-stated. And it’s related to a short discussion on LBJ and Obama on “This Week” on ABC.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  April 25, 2013

    I read all of this the same day the Bush II library is being dedicated. Charlie Rose showed a brief interview with President Bush (II) this morning. He asked the ex President why he had not defended himself and his administration over the last 3 1/2 years. His answer was that he had done his best to do the right things for his country and he would not now engage in criticizing the current government. That by the way is the same government that blames most of the “bad” today on the ex-President or at least has done so thus far for 3 1/2 long years.

    I won’t elaborate further on that point.

    But I will note that Duane got the last “slur” against President Obama by noting the moniker of Keyan-headed….. That, to use your words if a LIE. But in my view he has been for sure a Keynesian-headed kind of President, like most of his predecessors, like it or not, from both sides of the aisle and here we are today, wallowing in……….?



    • “Keynesian-headed”? I like that, Anson. And you got it right: They are all Keynesians, from supply-side tax cutters to stimulus-loving liberals. But one form of Keynesianism has been proven to work better than the other. Bet you can’t guess which is which.


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