A year after the economy fell apart, President Obama headed to Wall Street with a simple message for the bankers and brokers who helped cause the financial crisis: Don't forget who helped you get out of it.
"Many of the firms that are now returning to prosperity owe a debt to the American people," Obama said in a speech at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan. "Though they were not the cause of the crisis, American taxpayers through their government took extraordinary action to stabilize the financial industry. They shouldered the burden of the bailout and they are still bearing the burden of the fallout -- in lost jobs, lost homes and lost opportunities. It is neither right nor responsible after you've recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system, and a more broadly shared prosperity."
The speech was intended to mark the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the first major investment bank to go under as the economy began to break, and the massive injection of taxpayer dollars into the financial system that led to. But it was also a chance for Obama to push new financial regulations that he wants Congress to take up (as soon as they finish some other business they've got going on).
The administration wants to set up a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate financial matters like credit cards, mortgages and other things that affect everyday Americans. Obama also wants to close regulatory loopholes that Wall Street exploited to make -- and then lose -- billions and billions of dollars using esoteric financial instruments based on consumer loans.
"One year ago, we saw in stark relief how markets can err; how a lack of common-sense rules can lead to excess and abuse; how close we can come to the brink," Obama said. "One year later, it is incumbent on us to put in place those reforms that will prevent this kind of crisis from ever happening again; that reflect the painful but important lessons we've learned; and that will help us move from a period of recklessness and crisis to one of responsibility and prosperity."
Salon's Alex Koppelman was at the speech, and will report back soon. And look for Andrew Leonard's analysis of the administration's proposals, as well.