Progressives have been hopeful that with no future elections to concern him, President Obama would consider the economic plight of ordinary citizens and move in a more populist direction. His nomination of Jack Lew is just one indication that this is a false hope. Taking a page from Bill Clinton, the legacy that concerns Obama is feathering his own post-presidential nest, and in that regard Wall Street offers far more than Main Street.
Clinton’s closing gift to Wall Street (the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000) put him on the Goldman Sachs lecture circuit and has put millions into his pocket (and teed up the 2008 financial crisis, but hey, not his problem!). He gets fancy public speaking gigs and TV appearances and by now has a net worth far beyond what he had when he left office.
In contrast, it looks to me like the last president to embody the idea of public service – in office and after – is Jimmy Carter. His efforts for Habitat for Humanity stand in humble but stark contrast to Clinton’s grandstanding.
The Reagan/Thatcher ‘greed is good’ ethos infuses not just the 1 percent, but plenty of 1 percent wannabes. Obama’s spiritless non-leadership on the ‘fiscal cliff’ gave up the strongest negotiating position he’ll have for at least two years to kick the can down the road a couple of months and only raise taxes on folks making over $450K (middle class? yeah – right!). If that doesn’t show whose side he’s on, just watch as the Robert Rubin acolytes like Lew continue cuts to the common good in the name of ‘austerity’ while pumping up those profitable defense expenditures.
Better than the alternative? Certainly. A principled leader for all Americans? Not this president. And here’s the irony: he hasn’t prosecuted any of the crooks who wrecked the economy but continue to make obscene sums, the banks have barely had their hands slapped, he’s put corporate puppets in his cabinet and on and on – but still I wouldn’t be surprised if these folks turn their back on him when he’s done. Then he’ll have failed to stand up for the 99% only to be shunned by the 1%. His love of compromise – to the ultimate sacrifice of whatever principles folks thought he might have had – might, in the end, leave him very few friends indeed.