Did Obama hurt Lloyd Blankfein's feelings?

President attacks Wall Street, then Goldman CEO cancels meeting, citing weather

By Andrew Leonard
Published December 14, 2009 6:10PM (EST)

Was Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein so miffed at Obama's comments on "60 Minutes" Sunday night -- "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street" -- that he canceled on a meeting between top bankers and the president at the White House Monday morning?

That's the take that New York Magazine's DailyIntel is pushing, calling it a "diss" of Obama by Wall Street, and suggesting the meeting is "probably not even happening."

Citi chair Richard Parsons, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, and Goldman Sachs's Lloyd Blankfein ... have all canceled on the president, citing "inclement weather."

Daily Intel, observing bluish skies from outside her cubicle window, called Amtrak to see if there was in fact a problem on the Northeast Corridor: "Trains are running like three, four minutes late, but there's no big delays," an employee told us. While Weather.com shows clouds and fog on 95, it's not severe enough to hinder a day trip.

Clearly, the weather is not a problem: It's just relations between Wall Street and the White House that have frozen over.

Daily Intel is wrong on at least one point. Bloomberg News reports that the meeting went ahead as planned and the three missing executives participated via conference call. Bloomberg also reports that fog in Washington resulted in flight delays that prevented Blankfein et al from making the meeting.

Despite Amtrak trains running on time and clear weather on I-95, it seems at least possible that Lloyd Blankfein might have a little trouble making an 11:00 a.m. Washington meeting if he was sitting on the tarmac at La Guardia or JFK because of bad weather in Washington. The Wall Street Journal reports that Mack's U.S. Air flight out of Westchester New York was grounded because of bad weather, and quotes a Goldman spokesman as saying that Blankfein's commercial flight was delayed. (For what it's worth, WeatherUnderground reports that there was heavy fog in D.C. this morning.)

Anyway, don't these guys have private jets?! Just kidding.

But come on. These are big boys we're talking about. Everyone knows that Obama's comments on "60 Minutes" were politically motivated; a flanking (and likely ineffective) maneuver attempting to assuage popular anger at the banking industry. Skipping a meeting because of hurt feelings due to a Kabuki show stance doesn't seem like the kind of behavior that earns a Goldman CEO the big bucks.

If you want to read a real evisceration of Obama's banking rhetoric, Yves Smith as usual, is scathing. But I would like to take issue, at least a little bit, with respect to the historical revisionism that is portraying Obama as nothing more than a pawn of the financial industry. Has everyone forgotten the hedge fund showdown over the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler?

Back in April, the President told the nation that he did not "stand" with the hedge fund speculators who were "endangering" Chrysler and GMs future. His rhetoric was similar to that expressed last night on CBS. And he clearly meant it. The White House held firm, prevailed in bankruptcy court, saved a lot of jobs, and possibly even a huge swath of the domestic American auto industry. Shouldn't we at least mention this episode, which the right-wing assailed as socialist interference with the sacred precepts of the holy contract, when trying to establish Obama's populist credentials?

The test of course, will be if Obama's turning-up-the-rhetoric is reflected in any overt attempt to ensure that the Senate passes a banking reform bill along the lines of what the House passed on Friday. The House bill is by no means perfect but it does represent some incremental improvement on the way things currently stand.

Which brings us to the real story of this administration. The White House is pushing health reform, a climate bill, and banking regulation. The House has passed major bills on each issue. The Senate has not. How does Obama keep Joe Lieberman from filibustering a health care bill or anything else? That is the question.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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