Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obama's Scorched Earth Day

After a bipartisan blip on financial regulation in Washington, the President is in Manhattan, warning Wall Street, "A free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it."

This tough talk comes after his lofty Earth Day anniversary proclamation: "Forty years from today, when our children and grandchildren look back on what we did at this moment, let them say that we, too, met the challenges of our time and passed on a cleaner, healthier planet."

The contrast underscores a new bipolar tone in the Obama presidency, pairing his inspirational gifts with the kind of hard-edged political pressure from the White House that marked the final days of the health care war.

As key GOP elders move away from Mitch McConnell's adamant obstruction of last week, a party official tells the Washington Post of the President's role in the reversal: "His rhetoric got really sharp and really mean...That's what changed."

In his weekly address, the President labeled McConnell "cynical and deceptive," challenging moderate Republicans to put up or shut up on financial industry reform.

Yesterday, Dick Shelby voted with Democrats to control derivatives, and now Chuck Grassley is predicting, "We're very close to a deal and there will be a substantial number of Republicans that go along with it."

After more than a year of nonstop naysaying, GOP ranks are finally collapsing under the pressure of public anger over banks and bailouts, stoked by an energized President in today's appeal to industry leaders to call off their army of lobbyists who are trying to derail regulation:

“Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is a family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement. What happens here has real consequences across our country.”

The money manipulators may not respond to that message, but Congressional Republicans are showing signs of understanding that there could be "real consequences" for them in November if they don't.

As she often does, Gail Collins nailed it in her New York Times column today: "The Republican leadership originally seemed to believe that financial reform could be a replay of health care reform, with a political payoff for total obstruction. They’re discovering that the only real similarity is that both are almost impossible to explain. People love their doctors, but they tend to hate their bankers. Nobody is going to scare voters by predicting that if the Democratic bill passes, they may not be able to keep seeing the same hedge fund manager."

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