Thursday, October 6, 2011

No Accident Obama Chooses Words Carefully on Occupy Wall Street

The last thing President Obama and the Democrats want to do is politicize the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading to cities around the country, as was demonstrated by his cautious words about the growing protest movement at today's White House press conference.

The once-rapid recruitment of the Tea Party was stunted when it was revealed the movement had been co-opted by the GOP and conservative bank-rollers, like the Koch brothers. The Democrats do not want to make the same mistake with the Pavlovian protests against what the demonstrators say is corporate greed.

The media, though schizophrenic in its coverage, has tattooed the "astroturf" label on the forehead of the Tea Party, while the Occupy Wall Street movement so far remains a grassroots uprising in eyes of the press, which, for better or worse, likes to highlight the anarchist element at its core.

Here is Obama's answer to two questions on the subject by Jackie Calmes of The New York Times:

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you travel the country, you also take credit for tightening regulations on Wall Street through the Dodd-Frank law, and about your efforts to combat income inequality.  There’s this movement -- Occupy Wall Street -- which has spread from Wall Street to other cities.  They clearly don’t think that you or Republicans have done enough, that you’re in fact part of the problem.

     Are you following this movement, and what would you say to its -- people that are attracted to it?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Obviously I’ve heard of it.  I’ve seen it on television.  I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel -- that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.

     So, yes, I think people are frustrated, and the protestors are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.  Now, keep in mind I have said before and I will continue to repeat, we have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow.  And I used up a lot of political capital, and I’ve got the dings and bruises to prove it, in order to make sure that we prevented a financial meltdown, and that banks stayed afloat.  And that was the right thing to do, because had we seen a financial collapse then the damage to the American economy would have been even worse. 

But what I’ve also said is that for us to have a healthy financial system, that requires that banks and other financial institutions compete on the basis of the best service and the best products and the best price, and it can’t be competing on the basis of hidden fees, deceptive practices, or derivative cocktails that nobody understands and that expose the entire economy to enormous risks.  That’s what Dodd-Frank was designed to do.  It was designed to make sure that we didn’t have the necessity of taxpayer bailouts; that we said, you know what?  We’re going to be able to control these situations so that if these guys get into trouble, we can isolate them, quarantine them, and let them fail.  It says that we’re going to have a consumer watchdog on the job, all the time, who’s going to make sure that they are dealing with customers in a fair way, and we’re eliminating hidden fees on credit cards, and mortgage brokers are going to have to -- actually have to be straight with people about what they’re purchasing. 

And what we’ve seen over the last year is not only did the financial sector -- with the Republican Party in Congress -- fight us every inch of the way, but now you’ve got these same folks suggesting that we should roll back all those reforms and go back to the way it was before the crisis.  Today, my understanding is we’re going to have a hearing on Richard Cordray, who is my nominee to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  He would be America’s chief consumer watchdog when it comes to financial products.  This is a guy who is well regarded in his home state of Ohio, has been the treasurer of Ohio, the attorney general of Ohio.  Republicans and Democrats in Ohio all say that he is a serious person who looks out for consumers.  He has a good reputation.  And Republicans have threatened not to confirm him not because of anything he’s done, but because they want to roll back the whole notion of having a consumer watchdog. 

You’ve got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we’ll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place.  That does not make sense to the American people.  They are frustrated by it.  And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you’re rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaining the system. 

So I’m going to be fighting every inch of the way here in Washington to make sure that we have a consumer watchdog that is preventing abusive practices by the financial sector. 

I will be hugely supportive of banks and financial institutions that are doing the right thing by their customers.  We need them to be lending.  We need them to be lending more to small businesses.  We need them to help do what traditionally banks and financial services are supposed to be doing, which is providing business and families resources to make productive investments that will actually build the economy.  But until the American people see that happening, yes, they are going to continue to express frustrations about what they see as two sets of rules.

Q    Do you think Occupy Wall Street has the potential to be a tea party movement in 2012?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream.  That’s how you got ahead -- the old-fashioned way.  And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren’t rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren’t doing the right thing are rewarded.

And that’s going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we’re getting back to some old-fashioned American values in which, if you’re a banker, then you are making your money by making prudent loans to businesses and individuals to build plants and equipment and hire workers that are creating goods and products that are building the economy and benefitting everybody.

Nowhere in his answers is there a definitive endorsement for the Occupy Wall Street movement, or even the politician's routine stock response that demonstrations are a traditional form of expressing American democracy. Instead, Obama highlighted his own agenda on questions that he was definitely prepped for before going into his press conference.

It sounds a lot like the President is walking a fine line, but it is more like he is doing cartwheels in a crosswalk, much to the delight of the protesters skeptical of Washington and politically savvy Democrats who are aware of the anti-Wall Street movement's room to grow.

Comparisons with the Tea Party aside, that movement has failed to win the support of mainstream middle class Americans hurt by the banking and finance industry's shenanigans, while the opportunity remains for the fledgling Occupy Wall Street protesters.

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