Remember when the president’s chief of staff, Rahn Emmanuel, strode onto the political stage and stirringly channeled Churchill, saying: “Never waste a crisis?”
It turns out that what he was really saying was: “Never waste an opportunity to reward your campaign contributors.”
Two years after the credit meltdown that crippled our economy, the financial system remains way too complicated and continues to reward high risk and focus on short-term profits that offer few benefits to those who aren’t bankers.
And even after the fiasco we’ve been through, the banks continue to snooker the snoozing watchdogs.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported how 18 banks have continued to manipulate their financial reporting to disguise from regulators their real level of risky borrowing.
And this is after the generous, no strings attached bailout that put trillions of taxpayer-backed dollars into the hands of the big banks.
We need a massive overhaul. What we’re getting instead is a charade, tricked out by a Democratic leadership intent on rewarding failure, propping up the status quo and labeling that reform.
One of the few U.S. senators who’s offering a stronger version of reform and consistent candor on the shortcomings of the leadership’s proposals is the man who replaced Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Delaware, said last month: “After a crisis of this magnitude, it amazes me that some of our reform proposals effectively maintain the status quo in so many critical areas, whether it is allowing multi-trillion-dollar financial conglomerates that house traditional banking and speculative activities to continue to exist and pose threats to our financial system, permitting banks to continue to determine their own capital standards, or allowing a significant portion of the derivatives market to remain opaque and lightly regulated.”
The Democratic senators would do well to be guided by the words of someone who was one of them not long ago, who was particularly astute about the toxic influence of lobbyists and campaign cash on our economy and the political process.
Back when he was a U.S. senator, President Obama wrote in the Financial Times in 2007 that the subprime crisis “was also a parable of how an excess of lobbying and influence can defeat the common sense rules of the road, placing both consumers and the nation’s well-being at risk.”
Washington, Obama wrote, “needs to stop acting like an industry advocate and start acting like a public advocate.”
Candidate Obama wouldn’t have been shocked by the new report from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General about how the two regulating agencies which were supposed to watching over Washington Mutual bungled the job before the bank collapsed in 2008, under the weight of worthless subprime mortgages, resulting in the largest bank failure in U.S. history.
It turns out that regulators were well aware of the foul odors coming off the carcass of Washington Mutual’s loan business. But the Office of Thrift Supervision continued to find the bank “fundamentally sound” and didn’t raise alarms until days before it collapsed.
We can’t let our leaders ignore these harsh lessons that came with such a high price. They may be able to squander a crisis, but without some meaningful change to rein in the financial industry, the crisis may waste the rest of us.