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Obama Pulls a Clinton

Here we go again. When Bill Clinton suffered an electoral reversal after his first two years in office, he abruptly embraced the corporate money guys who had financed his congressional opposition in an effort to purchase a second term. On Tuesday in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, Barack Obama veered sharply down that same course, trumpeting his executive order " ... to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. ..."

He employed the same "creating a 21st-century regulatory system" rationalization used by Clinton when he signed off on the sweeping deregulation legislation that unleashed the Wall Street greed that ended up being the biggest job-killer since the Great Depression. "Over the (past) seven years, we have tried to modernize the economy," Clinton enthused as he signed the Financial Services Modernization Act that repealed key New Deal legislation, adding, "And today what we are doing is modernizing the financial services industry, tearing down those antiquated laws and granting banks significant new authority." Modernizing was the propaganda constant, as in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that Clinton signed, thus shielding financial derivatives from any government regulation.

That deregulation, as Obama concedes in his WSJ column, led to "a lack of proper oversight and transparency (that) nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale depression." But Obama now promises that his deregulation efforts will be more sensibly targeted and will "bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislatures of both parties and influence of special interests in Washington over decades."

When he wrote that he intends to accomplish this revamp "with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens," did he have in mind his two new key White House advisers who were the most effective advocates for those special interests? Tom Donilon, Obama's national security adviser, was the Washington lobbyist for the housing behemoth Fannie Mae, which will cost taxpayers $700 billion because of its marketing of toxic derivatives. Obama's new Chief of Staff William Daley was the lead Washington representative for a similarly afflicted JPMorgan Chase. These are the folks, along with many other Wall Street alums in this administration, who will oversee the latest update of already weakened regulations.

The first target will be the administration's puny efforts to protect consumers: "The move is the latest effort by the White House to repair relations with corporate America," the Wall Street Journal's report on Obama's column stated, "Business leaders say an explosion in new regulations stemming from the president's health-care and financial regulatory overhauls has, along with the sluggish economy, made them reluctant to spend on expansion and hiring.  Companies are sitting on nearly $2 trillion in cash and liquid assets, the most since World War II."

This is a case of corporate blackmail pure and simple. The economy is sluggish because of a housing crisis that shows no sign of improvement. It stands history on its head to blame government financial regulations that had worked splendidly for six decades for the meltdown or the failure to fix a housing market that is the key to improved consumer spending.

Fixing housing would require efforts to keep the 50 million Americans whose mortgages are underwater in their homes. But the government bailouts under both George W. Bush and Obama have not required any significant cramp-down or reappraisal of mortgages by banks to enable people to stay in their homes. Instead the Fed and Treasury have flooded the banks and top corporations with cheap money and bailouts but, in the classic problem of pushing on a string, the corporate ingrates are hoarding that money.

Obama, and the party he heads, failed to provide a progressive narrative during November's election holding the financial elite that created this mess responsible. The key issue is not big government or onerous regulation but rather transparency and fraud prevention. When you are evicted, it is a government agent, a marshal or sheriff, who will force you out, so shouldn't the government also be involved in assuring that the consumer is protected by a properly vetted contract? Instead the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the marketing of an alternative narrative, as successful as it was devious, by Republican candidates that held regulation-rather than deregulation-responsible for the mess. Now Obama seems poised to join their ranks. As the WSJ reported:

"On Feb. 7, Mr. Obama will visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-a chief opponent to his administration's regulatory approach-for a discussion on how the White House can work with the group to create jobs. The efforts are designed to give companies more confidence in the president's stewardship of the economy, and bolster his re-election prospects among a wealthy constituency not traditionally allied with Democrats."

A constituency that Daley, Obama's new chief of staff, can faithfully represent, having received $5 million a year from JPMorgan Chase. And so ends the season of hope for the less wealthy constituency traditionally allied with Democrats.

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