President Obama jetted into New York Thursday to address the assembled worthies of Wall Street.
In the summer of 2008, as candidate Obama was seeking to distinguish himself from Republican John McCain, the Democratic nominee for president noted rising unemployment and foreclosure rates and griped that: “It was not an accident or a normal part of the business cycle that led us to this situation. There were some irresponsible decisions that were made on Wall Street and in Washington.”
Framing out a Wall Street versus Main Street populism, Obama declared: “This is an emergency we feel not only when reading the Wall Street Journal, but when we travel across Ohio and Michigan, New Mexico, no matter where you meet people day after day who are one foreclosure, one illness, one pink slip away from economic disaster.”
When the scope of the emergency became apparent, after Wall Street speculators crashed the economy, Obama declared in September of 2008: “We cannot only have a plan for Wall Street. We must also help Main Street.”
The Main-Street-not-Wall-Street theme became central to Obama’s successful campaign. Indeed, there is a good case to be made that his ability to make the distinction is what elected him.
When McCain defended the Bush administration policy of slashing taxes for corporations — and crafting trade policies that actually encouraged the off-shoring of U.S. jobs — Obama ridiculed the formerly maverick Republican as an errand boy for the bankers and speculators.
Seizing on McCain’s reference to putting government at the service of big banks and big corporations as “simple fundamental economics,” Obama declared just days before the election: “My opponent may call that ‘fundamental economics,’ but we know that’s just another name for the Wall Street first, Main Street last.”
So, now, Obama is president.
What does he say?
Appealing to the Wall Streeters to help him advance a tepid reform plan, Obama struck a cautious tone that bore no resemblance to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era declaration that “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”