President Obama has spent much of his first 65 days in the White House all but inciting a riot on Main Street by torching its abundant anger at Wall Street.
Brandishing his gift for the pithy, sanctimonious soundbite, he has demonized the financial world, lamenting “greed” and “irresponsible” and “inexcusable” behavior.
President Clinton used to tell us he feels our pain. Bam excels at telling us he shares our anger.
But suddenly Obama is reversing course, trying to calm the misguided mob he had whipped into a frenzy.
You saw it yesterday morning on Page One of The Wall Street Journal:: “Obama Dials Down Wall Street Criticism.” You heard it last night in his prime-time press conference.
This Friday he is to meet with a dozen chiefs from the likes of J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, aiming to make nice.
It’s about freakin’ time—now can the Street please have its reputation back? Obama’s abrupt turnabout shows one of two things: One, that he lacks any true central ethos and drifts with the political winds when it behooves him; or two, that, at long last, the President has realized he needs the help of those evil greed-mongers on Wall Street to get us out of this morass of their own making.
Maybe it’s a bit of both.
Thus, Bam first decried Wall Street bonuses and applauded Congress for, ex post facto, slapping new compensation caps on banks only after they already had succumbed to the government’s exhortations to take TARP funds.
Yet now he says no such punitive caps should apply to any Wall Streeters who buy toxic assets under the government rescue plan unwrapped on Monday.
The startlingly generous plan, which likely will save the career of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, will provide federal seed money and government-guaranteed loans that together will amount to 90% of the purchase price.
Yet Wall Street partners will pocket fully half of any profits.
But if Obama were being ideologically consistent, seems like he’d insist on comp-caps in the toxic takeout. Wall Street firms will get oodles of federal financial help and could reap billions in new profits. (The bulk of these mortgage-backed assets aren’t so much toxic themselves—it’s the fear surrounding them that is so toxic.) That could set off the next populist backlash against the supposed evils of profits and capitalism a year or two from now.
It isn’t at all clear that President Obama can succeed in quelling the public appetite for retribution on Wall Street.
Even less likely is the notion that he can woo the denizens of Wall Street whom he has so demonized.
Let’s hope he can, while being mindful of the antipathy evident in his own purple prose in his autobiography, “Dreams of My Father”: “Eventually,” he writes, “a consulting house to a multinational corporation agreed to hire me as a research assistant. Like a spy behind enemy lines, I arrived every day at my mid-Manhattan office, and sat at my computer terminal, checking the Reuters machine that blinked bright emerald messages from across the globe.”
Behind enemy lines? Mr. President, Wall Street is not your enemy—it is your savior.
More from Dennis Kneale
- Dimon in the Gruff: Wall St. Lion Roars
- Is Obama Out of His Freakin' Mind?
- Obama Speech Tonight: Feel the Dread!
- A Fix For Toxic Assets—ETFs!
- Why Stop Pay Cap at Executives?
- Citi is Redecorating—So What?
- BofA's Ken Lewis is a Goner
- Ten Reasons for Hope in This Economy...Really
- His Predictions for 2009 (one is already coming true)