By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The Wall Street occupiers’ withering knock at corporate and financial greed, manipulation and corruption is much deserved. Their knock at former President Bush and Congress for giving Wall Street financial houses the taxpayers’ open checkbook to bail them out with virtually no requirement that they in turn bail out distressed homeowners and struggling businesses is much deserved. Their knock at government regulators for not imposing new tough regulatory rules on Wall Street to end obscene CEO payouts and their manipulative, casino-type investments and speculation and profiteering is much deserved.
Their knock at President Obama for somehow being complicit in Wall Street’s greed, recklessness and insensitivity is not deserved. Yet there were the shouts that Obama is Bush and the signs assailing him sprinkled throughout the throng that are battering Wall Street. The case against Obama for aiding and abetting Wall Street mostly hinges on the cast of administration officials surrounding him that have deep ties to Wall Street, his failure to push for a financial reform law with the sharpest teeth, and that he did not make like FDR and launch a massive reconstruction program to save homes and put millions of Americans back to work.
The plain and simple truth is that he did what he could within the tight constraints of the system, political reality and the times. The mild and admittedly compromised financial reform law was hectored, nitpicked, and watered down by the usual suspects, Wall Street lobbyists, paid flaks, conservative columnists, bloggers and talk radio hosts, GOP congressional leaders, and key Democrats. The votes and the sentiment within the power center of Congress for the type of hard-nosed financial reforms that are desperately needed, were initially proposed and fought for by Obama, weren’t there.
The choice was get the best deal possible which included a first ever consumer watchdog agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or come away empty-handed. This would have slammed the door tight on a renewed push for stronger reforms down the line. Despite its glaring shortcomings, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law at least opened the door for the future. Nothing remotely close to that would have been forthcoming without Obama’s handprint on it.
Expecting Obama to be the second coming of FDR ignores both the times and the forces arrayed against him. FDR was not relentlessly baited by a wide segment of Americans as a closet socialist and his economic policies lambasted as hamstringing and wrecking the private sector BEFORE he took office. Obama was pilloried, assailed, and harangued with that scare tactic and scare labels from the moment he declared that he was a presidential candidate. The hysteria that he got and still gets from GOP leaders, officials, voters and a significant number of conservative and even moderate independents would have been tame stuff compared to what he would have gotten if he vigorously pushed for a massive government spending program on jobs, small business loans and aid to distressed homeowners.
FDR took the reins when one out three Americans was unemployed and the stock market, the banks and major industry had collapsed. The GOP was ridiculed and discredited. The labor movement was on the ascendancy, the until-then small and totally marginalized Communist Party was getting a hearing from many down and out unemployed workers. The major financiers and industrialists genuinely feared social upheaval, even revolution.
The horror of creating deficits by government spending and a drumbeat media echo chamber to turn the airwaves (there were no TV networks) into an electronic bully pulpit to badger, hector, harangue and pillory FDR at every turn for spending too much didn’t exist. There was an actual government surplus then, and no major debt. FDR in effect had a public and congressional mandate to take drastic action. Obama never had that luxury and all of the liabilities that FDR did not have.
The crisis of Wall Street greed and manipulation is a product of the rush to deregulate, fine-tuned and expanded by Republican and Democratic presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and of course George W. Bush; the lax to non-existent enforcement of the regulations on the book punishing fraud; manipulation and profiteering by the alphabet government regulatory agencies; a Congress that received huge chunks of money from Wall Street and became a passionate watchdog protecting its interests; a media that routinely ignored, covered up, and apologized for the worst Wall Street abuses; and a complacent public that dozed while Wall Street took it to the cleaners.
To dump blame on Obama for not rising above the sordid history of Wall Street greed and abuse aided and abetted by successive presidents and Congress ignores, confuses, and disparages what Obama tried to do, what he was able to do, and what was impossible to do. Obama doesn’t deserve that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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