Obama dons populist clothes

Perhaps the president feels heat from recent critics about his corporate coziness

By Thomas Schaller
December 15, 2009 1:15AM (UTC)
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President Obama dressing down financial services bigwigs at the White House today? Goldman Sachs chief refusing to come down for the meeting, citing inclement weather? (See our own Andrew Leonard here for more about that, although Salon's Mike Madden tells me by email that the three CEOs who missed the meeting in person still participated in the meeting, but by telephone.)

Hmmmmmm, whatever the case with the no-shows, perhaps the White House is feeling a bit sensitive about rising disgruntlement from the Left, as recently stirred anew by Matt Taibbi's latest Rolling Stone piece and the kerfuffle between Taibbi and TAPPED's Tim Fernholz.


Let's examine choice bits from what the President said after his face-to-face meeting today with those dastardly CEOs, the full remarks of which can be read here at the White House website:

...[o]ne year ago, when many of these institutions were on the verge of collapse -- a predicament largely of their own making, oftentimes because they failed to manage risk properly -- we took difficult, and, frankly, unpopular steps to pull them back from the brink...

Today, due to the timely loans from the American people, our financial system has stabilized, the stock market has sprung back to life, our economy is growing, and our banks are once again recording profits...

So my main message in today's meeting was very simple: that America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry -- and now that they're back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy.

That starts with finding ways to help creditworthy small and medium-size businesses get the loans that they need to open their doors, grow their operations, and create new jobs....I've been hearing from bankers that they're willing to lend, but face a shortage of creditworthy individuals and businesses.

...[g]iven the difficulty businesspeople are having as lending has declined, and given the exceptional assistance banks received to get them through a difficult time, we expect them to explore every responsible way to help get our economy moving again.

And I heard from these executives that they are engaging in various programs like "second look" programs, hiring more folks, raising their target goals in terms of lending -- all of which sounded positive, but we expect some results, because I'm getting too many letters from small businesses who explain that they are creditworthy and banks that they've had a long-term relationship with are still having problems giving them loans....

We also discussed the need to pass meaningful financial reform that will protect American consumers from exploitation and American -- the American economy from another financial crisis of the kind which we just came out of...

Now, I should note that around the table all the financial industry executives said they supported financial regulatory reform. The problem is there's a big gap between what I'm hearing here in the White House and the activities of lobbyists on behalf of these institutions or associations of which they're a member up on Capitol Hill. I urged them to close that gap, and they assured me that they would make every effort to do so.

Well, now. I didn't hear/see any audio or video of this address, but Obama sounds a bit peeved. We'll see if his actions back up his words, but the emphases I've added to the transcript below note the president's reference to "unpopular" bailout actions, letters of complaints, and Obama's own complaint that there's a disconnect between what the execs are telling him in person and what their lobbyists are doing over on Capitol Hill. So, on paper at least, he seems peeved. I hope he actually is.

And if it was in fact a meeting missed in person out of pique, I'm glad to hear Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and others are miffed. I just pray this is not a bit of kabuki theatre for short-term political consumption.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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