Obama’s State of the Union address was, by most accounts, pretty good. It was the tepid sort of oratory, full of policy wonkery, that has come to define much of the president’s speeches these days. If he was portrayed as all vision and no plan during the 2008 elections, this dynamic has most certainly reversed itself. Nowadays Obama is intently focused on policy, and people complain that he lacks a cogent vision for the United States’ future, the hope that defined his historic campaign having been sapped from him by Republican obstructionism, the accusations of Kenyan citizenship and Stalinist aspirations precluding any hope of having a sane policy discussion. But our president marches onward.
The banking industry, which helped create the housing bubble that led us to financial disaster in 2008, and which was bailed out by the federal government, seems to have an incredibly short memory. Owing perhaps to this, their semi-official response to Obama’s State of the Union this year was both immature and small-minded.
Roll Call reported on lobbyists’ responses to the speech, and Consumer Bankers Association president Richard Hunt had this to say: “It just reiterated what we’ve known for a while: The president does not like banks…We got the memo on that.”
Yes, the president whose largest campaign donor was Goldman Sachs Bank USA, and who jammed his administration full of former employees from the investment bank, just doesn’t like banks. He hates that they give Americans access to credit and savings products. He doesn’t like the way banks allocate capital so efficiently. You’ve nailed it right on the head Richard Hunt: it’s personal.
By the way, this simplistic take on the president’s speech was in response to this policy proposal:
“I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”
It’s a classic socialism-for-us-capitalism-for-them sort of response from Hunt. Somehow forgetting the massive bailouts — both public and secret — that big banks received just a few years ago having ruined the economy, Hunt witnesses our president mention a “small fee” on banks and immediately takes umbrage.
Near-zero interest rates are only for banks to take advantage of, in secret, during a liquidity crisis, and make billions on the spread! But when mortgage rates drop below four percent, and banks have hundreds of thousands of underwater mortgages on their books and an opportunity to deliver savings to Americans, it’s reflective of a personal vendetta the president has against banks when he suggests they do something to help Americans access market-rate loans. Lobbyists like Hunt make it difficult to have a serious conversation about the role of government in regulating business.