Saturday, April 4, 2009

Between them and the pitchforks

Reportedly, the president of the United States told a group of assembled financial services sector CEOs gathered at the White House a week ago last Friday that his administration was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks. I don't doubt the accuracy of the report, though it may capture the substance of his message rather than the words he actually used.

I don't know how I feel about that. I would hope that there was a continuum on which to build policy, and not merely a stark choice between simplistic and retributive populist anger bringing down the house and a corrupt and entrenched financial elite a bit overdue for its day of judgment. I do suspect that the political classes in Washington has lost confidence in the financial elite to mend its own affairs, and is struggling with that. If Obama delivered a message like that reported, doing so would tend to confirm my suspicion.

Unfortunately, given the limited political acuity of the bubble boys who are financial services CEOS, I also suspect that the message is lost of them. What they heard was that Obama was like a Chicago cop on horseback doing crowd control in Grant Park. He's wearing the city's livery, taking his orders, and doing his best to keep order in the mob.

But if this continues on its present course, Obama will presently realize that this isn't a matter of crowd control and that the fire department and its high pressure hoses aren't backing him up--they've stood down to see who comes out on top. At that point, he'll understand that his People want to see the back of his head and the asshole of his horse as he leads their charge, not a handsome cop on a handsome horse sidling along the flanks of their protest, keeping them on the approved march route.

If it comes to that, we will have reached an interesting moment.

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