Goldman Sachs is, for President Obama, the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did the firm’s employees donate millions to help elect our young commander in chief, they are now hoisting him out of his ratings slump single-handedly. The president is in trouble, and his handlers know it. Obama predicted that as Americans heard more about his health care bill, they would become fans. Instead, most remain unhappy with the fiscal implications of the giant new entitlements program and angry that the bill will not lower costs but instead usher in a huge transfer of wealth. Consequently, many Americans are unhappy with Obama.
Thank heavens for Wall Street, and for the SEC. Those same Tea Partiers that are sore about health care are also still smarting from the bank bailouts. They don’t much like those cocky bankers in their pin-striped suits, who so desperately needed their tax dollars a year ago and then overnight emerged flush with cash, raking in preposterous bonuses all over again. They suspect that bankers somehow caused 8 million of their fellow countrymen to lose their jobs, and that they haven’t really been punished. They know they’re not as smart as they think they are.
Jumping on Wall Street is a political maneuver tailor-made for President Obama. He, too, doesn’t much like bankers. He needs to realign himself with the disaffected middle class, and getting tough with Wall Street is the easiest way to do it. Thankfully – artfully -- the SEC came along with a dubious case against Goldman Sachs in the nick of time. (That the SEC did not vote unanimously to file charge is highly unusual and doesn’t bode well for prosecution.) The suit made the arrogant, rich Goldman Sachs the villain of the piece, putting a face on a hopelessly complex series of events.
Don’t misunderstand; Goldman’s behavior in creating securities that were doomed to fail, and neglecting to inform buyers of that unusual selling point, is reprehensible. I doubt, however, that it is criminal. Goldman’s reputation is taking a well-deserved massive thrashing, and rightly so. However, to use the public’s distaste for Goldman to push through yet another rushed, poorly conceived piece of legislation is also reprehensible. Obama is so eager to shift the public’s glare from health care to financial regulation that the bill could promise to saw off lower Manhattan and tow it out to sea and the White House would be out shilling for passage.
We actually do need financial reform. We need more transparency in the derivatives markets; we need greater capital and leverage limits. We do not need more overlapping regulatory bodies, as Senator Dodd’s bill promises, and we do not need to pass measures which will drive profitable business offshore. Republicans were right to slow down the bill’s progress, though politically it has no doubt hurt them. Let us hope that out of all this posturing and theater comes a bill than makes sense. Anyone want to construct a synthetic CDO on that?
Liz Peek is a financial, political and social columnist. She is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum. For more, visit LizPeek.com.
Fox Forum is on Twitter. Follow us @fxnopinion.