Obama Should Do Wall Street Road Trip

As I watched President Obama sternly mouth the words “shameful” and “the height of irresponsibility” into the TV cameras last night, I wondered if the Wall Street chieftains he was talking to really understood how long this commander-in-chief planned on beating this drum.

The normal course of events in political theatre involves this same kind of impassioned rhetoric - until the cameras stop rolling, when the glad handing usually begins. You are used to seeing important men standing closer to each other at times like this than they do with their own wives in public, their clenched jaws practically grazing the shoulders of the man they are talking to as they begin to reassure each other, sotto voce, of how little intent they have of following through on the statements they have just made.

This president was not elected because a select coterie of well heeled donors let him stand on top of their checkbooks. This president was elected by the collective conscience of a nation, by a wave of emotional fervor so powerful that people without jobs sent five and ten and twenty dollars out of their meager budgets for his campaign.

If I were President Obama, I'd be prepared to ratchet up the stakes even more if the bankers who hit the bailout line the way pigs hit the trough at feeding time keep hiding behind the kind of legalistic rhetoric about whose funds are paying for what that have me and practically every other American citizen seeing blood red right now.

If I were him, I'd go to Wall Street.

Not the normal way a president goes to New York, by flying on Air Force One.

I'd drive there.

I'd take that big fat road hog of a presidential limousine he's got and put it on the road. I'd have helicopters flying all up and down I-95. Every news outlet in the country would be following me, with reporters digging up stock footage of Wall Street's excesses and reports of the huge bonuses being paid to fill in the dead time during the five hour drive.

And when I got there, I'd march into the offices of four or five banks, one after the other, for a ten minute, on the air question and answer session with the CEO, the way Mike Wallace used to do it, badgering and ridiculing and belittling each of them every second they were on the air.

If Rush Limbaugh can have his "Obama –Limbaugh Stimulus Plan" fantasy, I figure I can have my "Brown Man Ambush Wall Street 60 Minutes style" fantasy.

My buddy, who is always prone to want to moderate my more fanciful ideas, countered my rhetoric with some middle of the road posture that I can't remember now. So I proceeded to lay out to him the history of Wall Street, going down the row of biographies on my bookshelf one by one, practically ranting at him an anecdote from each of them about Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould and John Rockefeller until he got tired of my harangue.

"The difference to me between those guys and today's CEO's," I said, "was that they had their own skin in the game. It was their own money they were playing with, for the most part."

John Thain, Vinod Gupta, Richard Fuld - how much of their own money did they invest in their companies before they got there? Dick Parsons, the new chairman of Citigroup - did he write a check for five or ten billion to the company's owners to assume the top slot?

Real capitalists put up their own money. Or have enough credit to borrow what they need. Do you see anyone lending any of these clowns (sorry Dick, but you didn't do much at Time Warner) a few billion? A few hundred million?

Nobody but us.

Its like going to a poker tournament and having the house put up your buy-in money. That doesn't happen in poker, or anywhere else in America except in the corporate Fantasy Island we've allowed these guys to build for themselves.

The problem these fake capitalists have right now?

Mr. Roark just died.

And Tattoo doesn't know how to make the magic work.

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S.W. Anderson said...

Excellent; your idea for Obama drop-in visits is intriguing.

So is my idea to install gallows on Wall Street, to be used periodically when greed is getting out of hand again, just as the regulars and higher-ups are coming to work. Broadcast the proceedings on TV, too, for the outliers.

One part just desserts, two parts deterrence.

For less-serious offenders, I'd like to see stocks installed on the street — the kind used by colonials to teach ne'er-do-wells a lesson. You know, the seated honoree's head and arms are held in a sort of wooden yoke. Passers-by get to heave rotten eggs, tomatoes and insults at the wrongdoer.

Nationally, we need to have a serious conversation about greed, limits and responsibility to our country. The sort of thing Fuld and the grand high poobahs at CitiGroup, BankAmerica, and so many others have no concept of.

We need to have that conversation in homes, schools, churches and colleges. We especially need to have that conversation at places that turn out MBA's — a species of dirty bird trying hard to prove it deserves to become extinct.

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