January 28, 2010

People Don’t Change, But Obama Must

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Our scene opens: Obama is sitting behind his desk with a box of tissues. “Why don’t they listen!! Sobbb…sniff…sobbb.”

Then a sober looking shrink says from across the desk: “Alright, Barack, be assertive. YOU ARE WORTH IT. SAY IT!”

“Would you like to hit me with this foam bat, Barry?” asks the shrink.

“Sniff…ok. Why don’t they love — I mean — change the way they think about bonuses?”

Naturally, I conjured this hyperbolic little scenario because a) I learned from the West Wing that Presidents talking to shrinkiedinks is silly, and b) because Obama really needs to get a grip on his approach toward the banks (and other things).

People don’t change; therefore, we can conclude that executives don’t change. No amount of tough love or vague inauguration anniversary threats is going to change a desire for ca$h-money.

I like ca$h money. So do you. So does that dude — and that lady! That guy doesn’t, but he is in the minority (crazy people).

Unfortunately, or fortunately, (whatever ye fellow free-thinking individuals prefer) few fools are as cynical as I. Led by our foolhardy political leader, Obama, the government is attempting to change the way our fancy-pantsy bankers think about ca$h money. (I’ll stop saying ca$h money now).

In some seriousness, we need banking reform. It is necessary and integral to any plan to make the United States a more responsible nation politically, economically and militarily. This doesn’t, however, entitle Obama to turn the efforts for banking reform into an opportunity to moralize and win some favor with the Dems. It’s bad for everyone, even Obama.

Obama recently proposed that banks can’t use any money to invest in hedge funds. Or perhaps his proposal was that they couldn’t invest in select hedge funds or private-equity funds. Or maybe they can’t sponsor the fund. Or maybe they can only invest their profits? Or maybe no money at all? Or, perhaps, Timmy the Tin Man Geithner (who needs some heart balls) should have fine-tuned the idea before THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES went on the TV talking about how he’s going to bring Wall Street a “fight.” Ok, maybe it was dry run. Except the same language was used in the State of the Union!

Investment in hedge funds and private equity funds was, by and large, not the area in which banks were losing money and acting totally irresponsibly. They were, however, investing in cuckoo mortgages, tin man hearts balls, and all manner of other stoopid things. Focus on those things. Don’t use a highly significant milestone (the end of your first year as Prezo) to make what can only have been a diversionary tactic, and a badly formed one at that.

Did it suggest that Obama is finally following through on some of the many wonderful promises he’s made in the past two years (immortalized in a hilarious Jon Stewart bit a week or so ago)?

I believe this sums that up: HEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLZZZZ no bro.

Did it inspire confidence in the President’s ability to achieve new effective means of regulating banks?

Absolutely not.

The ridiculous people at MSNBC were scratching their heads on the television for while once the proposal was made. And I’m fairly sure that they usually just pretend to know what they’re talking about. In case you were watching, Howard Dean had nothing to say. Others were more loquacious, yet no more illuminating. What monies was he talking about? How was this going to play out? What will be the structure? Who? What? Why? Where? Can someone get me a sandwich? No…seriously. I need a sandwich; more than I need that ridiculous vague proposal that may go nowhere but still freaks everyone out.

Did the tone set in the speech demonstrate that Obama is, as called upon to do so this week by The Economist, getting “tough?”

This might have been tough, but it was unclear, unhelpful and just simply an opportunity to take a shot at Wall Street. What can be concluded other than to say that, at best, Obama was taking advantage of an opportunity to grab some good press from the more lefty lefts. At worst, he was attempting to get some good press from many normals, a lot of whom may not have been listening as closely as the talking heads.

Sue me, I think our President should be in the business of making things more clear, as opposed to taking clear advantage of uncertainty and doubt. In the Washington Post the other day, Fareed Zakaria called on Obama to act more like a President and less like a Prime Minister, a partisan player who’s in the thick of the sausage making.

Indeed, Obama should not have delivered such a proposal. Where were the press secretaries/politicians/economists/smart people telling him that this is the time to rise above this, not to take on a petty attitude. Strength is not going to be found in being snotty on MSNBC, and then again in the State of the Union.

This was a purely political move and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It isn’t mind-bogglingly insane or a total gaffe, but it is malformed and clearly motivated by partisan politics. I’d prefer well-reasoned and clear ideas. Obama should be above televised potshots and make better use of his cabinet.

He also needs to get over the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the 2009 mania. We know things haven’t gone as planned, but I think we’d rather he didn’t parade out a number of half-assed proposals to distract us.

You know what, I didn’t live up to the widespread expectations that I would be an international pop star. I lived. He will too.

Maybe after he gets over the horror of not saving the world in a year, he’ll realize that to be truly exceptional, he’d do better to be more commanding over troublemakers of both parties, instead of attacking intangibles (à la “Wall Street” which is starting to sound a little like “The Axis of Evil”).

Stay tuned for next time, when I plan to talk a lot more about sandwiches and about the same amount about politics.

Rabia Muqaddam is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be contacted at rmuqaddam@cornellsun.com. The Argument Clinic appears alternative Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Rabia Muqaddam