When historians seek to explain the failures of the Obama years, they will likely focus on a glaringly obvious, and indeed still more hard-headed explanation that the apologists for Obama’s enfeeblement now overlook: that perhaps Obama didn’t act forcefully to press a populist economic agenda because he didn’t want to. That maybe he didn’t do certain of the things his liberal supporters wanted him to do because he didn’t believe in them…
He did everything he could to “foam the runways” and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks. Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn’t fire. The AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for. The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed. The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long, sordid list of apparent frauds.
Obama didn’t play this greatest-of-all issues the way he did because the white working class rose up to defend its friends in the investment banking community. He didn’t play it this way because forcing the Republicans to defend Wall Street would have been really bad politics. Nor did he do it the way he did because the presidency lacks sufficient power. In fact, everything I just mentioned “can be done by the president,” says noted former bank regulator Bill Black. “It just requires some will and some imagination and a lot of planning and determination.”
What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way.
It’s Not Just Fox News
Thomas Frank announced today that he will not be writing his weekly Salon column for a while, because he is going on leave to write a new book. I assume he will be back in a couple of months.