Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Speech You Don't Remember

PROBABLY BECAUSE you didn't see it. Back at the end of March, after he delivered A More Perfect Union, the best speech on race delivered by an American politician in 250 years, Barack Obama turned his attention to the economy. This was how he saw it.

After this speech, Robert Kuttner wrote:

First, he connected all the dots -- between the complete dismantling of financial regulation, the declining economic opportunity and security for ordinary people, the current financial meltdown, and the political influence of Wall Street as the driver of these changes. Astounding! I wish I had written the speech. It is this kind of leadership and truth-telling that is the predicate for the shift in public opinion required to produce legislative change. A radical, appropriately nuanced, and deeply public-minded description of what has occurred, the speech was Roosevelt quality: the president as teacher-in-chief. Those who felt that Obama was capable of real growth that will transcend the campaign's early and somewhat feeble domestic policy proposals should feel vindicated.

The speech also showed real understanding and subtlety in grasping how financial "innovation" had outrun regulation, as well as a historical sense of the abuses of the 1920s repeating themselves. Obama is one of the few mainstream leaders -- Barney Frank is another -- calling for capital requirements to be extended to every category of financial institution that creates credit. This is exactly what's needed to prevent the next meltdown, but if it were put to a vote now, it would be rejected by legislators from both parties because they are still in thrall to market fundamentalism and Wall Street. That's where presidential leadership comes in.

So the speech was courageous, in that it goes well beyond the current Democratic party consensus, and one can only wonder about the reaction of some of Obama's own financial backers. He also took on a couple of other sacred cows, such as electricity and telecom deregulation, proven failures to everyone but industry defenders and their allies in the economics profession.

Make it viral. Now.

No comments: