This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
That Lawrence Summers, a president emeritus of Harvard, is a consummate distorter of fact and logic is not a revelation. That he and Bill Clinton, the president he served as treasury secretary, can still get away with disclaiming responsibility for our financial meltdown is an insult to reason.
Yet, there they go again. Clinton is presented, in a fawning cover story in the current edition of Esquire magazine, as “Someone we can all agree on.… Even his staunchest enemies now regard his presidency as the good old days.” In a softball interview, Clinton is once again allowed to pass himself off as a job creator without noting the subsequent loss of jobs resulting from the collapse of the housing derivatives bubble that his financial deregulatory policies promoted.
At least Summers, in a testier interview by British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, was asked some tough questions about his responsibility as Clinton’s treasury secretary for the financial collapse that occurred some years later. He, like Clinton, still defends the reversal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, a 1999 repeal that destroyed the wall between investment and commercial banking put into place by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.
“I think the evidence is that I am right about that. If you look at the big players, Lehman and Bear Stearns were both stand-alone investment banks,” Summers replied, referring to two investment banks allowed to fold. Summers is very good at obscuring the obvious truth—that the too-big-to-fail banks, made legal by Clinton-era deregulation, required taxpayer bailouts.
The point of Glass-Steagall was to prevent jeopardizing commercial banks holding the savings of average citizens. Summers knows full well that the passage of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was pushed initially by Citigroup, a mammoth merger of investment and commercial banking that create the largest financial institution in the world, an institution that eventually had to be bailed out with taxpayer funds to avoid economic disaster for millions of ordinary Americans. He also knows that Citigroup—where Robert Rubin, who preceded Summers as Clinton’s treasury secretary, played leading roles during a critical time—specialized in precisely the mortgage and other debt packages and insurance scams that were the source of America’s economic crisis.
Even Clinton, in a rare moment of honest appraisal of his record, conceded that his signing of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), legalizing those credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations, was based on bad advice. That advice would have had to come from Summers, his point man pushing the CFMA legislation, which Clinton signed into law during his lame-duck days.