Not far from Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street was fragrantly encamped, I noticed a young man wandering into a store to buy a pack of cigarettes on a bright Saturday morning, wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a $237,000 Vacheron-Constantin watch. In a world of $600,000 cars (consult your local Maybach dealer) and $4,300-a-night whores (consult Eliot Spitzer), it’s no big deal to buy a president, which is precisely what Wall Street did in 2008 when, led by investment giant Goldman Sachs, it closed the deal on Barack Obama.
For a few measly millions, Wall Street not only bought itself a president, but got the start-up firm of B. H. Obama & Co. LLC to throw a cabinet into the deal, too — on remarkably generous terms. President Obama, for a guy prone to delivering prim and smug little homilies denouncing greed, greed, greed — the only of the seven deadly sins that truly offends Democrats (though Mrs. Obama has done some desultory work on gluttony) — is strangely comfortable among the Gordon Gekkos of this world. Shall we have a partial roll call? Beat the drum slowly and call out the names: With unemployment still topping 9 percent, the catastatic world economy teetering on the brink of another, even larger financial catastrophe, and trillion-dollar U.S. deficits as far as the green-shaded eye can see, let’s hear it for Obama’s first National Economic Council director, Lawrence Summers (of hedge-fund giant D. E. Shaw and venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz), who has had some nice paydays courtesy of Lehman Bros., JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup. Let’s hear it for Citigroup’s Michael Froman, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national-security adviser for international economic affairs, for Hartford Financial’s Neal Wolin, deputy Treasury secretary, for JPMorgan’s William Daley, Obama’s chief of staff, and for his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel of Wasserstein Perella. Let’s hear it for Fannie Mae’s Tom Donilon, national-security adviser. (No, seriously: One of the luminous interstellar geniuses who brought Fannie Mae to its current aphotic state of affairs, upside down to the tune of trillions of dollars, is running national security, and the former director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, was on the board of IndyMac when it finally went toes up — sleep tight, America!) And, lest we forget, let’s have three big, sloppy cheers for economic-transition team leaders Robert Rubin (Goldman Sachs, Citigroup) and folksy tax enthusiast/ghoulish billionaire vulture Warren Buffett.
That’s a pretty fantastic lineup, from Wall Street’s point of view, but the real bonus turned out to be Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, who came up through the ranks as part of the bipartisan Robert Rubin–Hank Paulson–Citigroup–Goldman Sachs cabal. Geithner, a government-and-academe man from way back, never really worked on Wall Street, though he once was offered a gig as CEO of Citigroup, which apparently thought he did an outstanding job as chairman of the New York Fed, where one of his main tasks was regulating Citigroup — until it collapsed into the yawning suckhole of its own cavernous ineptitude, at which point Geithner’s main job became shoveling tens of billions of federal dollars into Citigroup, in an ingeniously structured investment that allowed the government to buy a 27 percent share in the bank, for which it paid more than the entire market value of the bank. If you can’t figure out why you’d pay 100-plus percent of a bank’s value for 27 percent of it, then you just don’t understand high finance or high politics.
But high finance is not the only corporate mystery to be unraveled here: President Obama’s repetitious denunciations of Big Oil have not stopped his man David Axelrod’s firm from setting up Astroturf campaigns on behalf of Exelon subsidiary ComEd, or stopped the president from appointing GE chief executive/tax-minimization engineer/offshoring guru/bailout baby Jeff Immelt to his risible White House jobs commission, or choosing former Kraft and Duke Energy board member Mary Schapiro to run the SEC.
When President Obama opined during his 2011 State of the Union speech that a corporate tax-rate cut might be just the thing for America after a year of record corporate profits, his left-wing base was shocked and dismayed. Heck, some conservatives were caught offguard, too. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed who was running the Obama administration: In large part, the same guys who plan to be running the next Republican administration.
If you believe that Wall Street has too much control over our government then you must believe that Barack Obama is Public Enemy Number One. If you really meant the things you say you would focus on him, mic check his speeches, occupy the White House, support a primary challenger, hound Obama into retirement.
Of course that would alienate your financial supporters (the ones who kicked in $500 thousand for smoked salmon and grilled veal at the Zuccotti All-You-Can-Eat Buffet). It would also piss off all those pro-Obama government employee unions that swell your ranks whenever you feel like wankmarching through lower Manhattan. The corporate media wouldn’t have been so nice to you either.
But that’s okay, next Spring you can boost your self-esteem by harassing Mitt Romney and the Republicans. Then next Fall you can hold your nose and vote for Obama.
But don’t expect me to be cheering for your victory.