In Republican folklore, President Obama is a sworn enemy of American capitalism. He wants to “put free enterprise on trial” (Mitt Romney); he erroneously thinks that the country’s problems “must be the fault of those people on Wall Street” (Mitch McConnell); he has “bastardized” Wall Street CEOs (Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, and no, I have no idea what he means).
For much of the past three years, these charges have been simply crazy—bonuses and profits returned to Wall Street, Obama’s campaign hauled in massive donations from the financial sector and high-ranking executives avoided any punishment for the financial crash.
In his State of the Union last week, Obama announced a massive interagency investigation into malfeasance on Wall Street that led to the global financial crisis. He appointed a strong progressive, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to head it—and Schneiderman boldly proclaimed this weekend that his effort aims to end the special protections currently enjoyed by Wall Street as a whole. “You can’t have equal justice under law and ‘too big to fail,’ ” he said.
Obama isn’t putting free enterprise on trial, but he is putting a particular brand of invincible Wall Street free enterprise on trial—perhaps literally.
So what’s the Republican response been? In short, nothing.
Granted, it’s only been one week, but I haven’t found a single mention of the new task force by any Republican presidential candidate on the trail—and they found plenty to hammer at elsewhere in his State of the Union speech. The Republican leadership in Congress hasn’t said a thing, either. I contacted the office of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, but his press staff said they had nothing on the task force at this time. House Speaker John Boehner’s office has not yet returned my request for comment, but Boehner also hasn’t said anything to date.
Even Fox News, which sees an evil Obama conspiracy at almost every turn, has been silent on the issue, according to LexisNexis. The only thing I could find were two items on GOP.com—both of which could have been lifted directly from MoveOn.org. One item points out that previous efforts by the White House have been ineffective, and the other criticizes Lanny Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice criminal division and member of the task force, as being potentially too close to the mortgage industry.
This isn’t to say that Republicans will remain quiet—given their massive donations from the financial sector, I’m sure they won’t. But their initial silence highlights how uncomfortable Republicans are in directly voicing support for Wall Street. Even in their aggressive efforts to disable the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they’ve always been careful not to attack the idea of regulating Wall Street per se. Every reporter who has covered the battle knows the Republican boilerplate on the CFPB: “I’m not against consumer protection, but…,” followed by something about unaccountable czars or big bureaucracy or suffering small banks and credit unions.
Again, I’m sure the Republicans will find their angle. But they haven’t yet. And Schneiderman—who views the success of his task force as a direct function of public opinion and grassroots organizing on the issue—is promising imminent subpoenas and serious action “within six to eight months.” The investigations currently have wide political space in which to maneuver, and Republicans don't have much time to change that.