That didn’t take long.
Just a couple of days after the New York Times reported that Wall Street was unhappy with the return on its massive investment in the Democratic Party; President Obama softens his rhetoric on the big bankers. He told Business Week he didn’t “begrudge” bailed-out too big to fail bankers their bonuses, benignly comparing them to all the top baseball players who earn fat salaries yet don’t make it to the World Series.
“That’s part of the free-market system,” Obama opined.
Obama knows some of the bankers personally, he tells Business Week, and finds them “savvy businessmen.”
Before the bankers complained publicly about their lack of return on campaign contributions to Obama and the Democrats, the president had recently been trying out a tougher stance: suggesting “too big to fail” banks, their risky behavior and the fat bonuses that fuel it should be reined in.
President Obama has been consistently inconsistent in the fight over financial reform. He’ll make strong proposals one day (judicial cram-downs to help homeowners in foreclosure, for example) and then leave them to die without his support in Congress under withering assault by bank lobbyists. He’ll blast the bankers’ bonuses one day and cozy up to them the next. It was less than a month ago that the president labeled the bonuses “obscene” and pledged to tax them.
By contrast, the bankers have been relentless and shrewd in their fight to delay, confuse, stymie and water down attempts at reform. They have fought in the back rooms, in the media and the floors of Congress, using checkbooks and rhetoric.
The president is spot on, however, when he refers to the remaining big bankers as savvy. After they wrecked the economy, they didn’t waste the financial crisis. They’ve come back bigger and stronger than ever, with fewer competitors, with a firm grasp on a steady pipeline of cash from the federal treasury.
For a more clear-eyed view of the bankers, what they’ve been up to and what they have to do, we have Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor and congressionally appointed bailout monitor. “This generation of Wall Street CEOs could be the ones to forfeit America’s trust,” she wrote Monday in the Wall Street Journal [no link]. “When the history of the Great Recession is written, they can be singled out as the bonus babies who were so short-sighted that they put the economy at risk and contributed to the destruction of their own companies. Or they can acknowledge how Americans’ trust has been lost and take the first steps to earn it back.”
With his wish-washy approach, the president is in his own real danger of losing America’s trust as a champion of reform. Making lame comparisons between ruthless bank CEOS and clueless overpaid athletes doesn’t help the president’s credibility any.
Even the analysts on ESPN Sports Center know that.
Contact the president yourself and let him know what you think of the bailed-out bankers’ bonuses.