Kevin Baker has an exceptional article in the July issue of Harpers about some peccant similarities between our current president and the vilified-by-sands-of-time Herbert Hoover. One finds quickly, dirty, and disquietingly in the history that Hoover was also once considered the most Complete Man of his generation:
The comparison is not meant to be flippant. It has nothing to do with the received image of Hoover, the dour, round-collared, gerbil-cheeked technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. To understand how dire our situation is now it is necessary to remember that when he was elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover was widely considered the most capable public figure in the country. Hoover—like Obama—was almost certainly someone gifted with more intelligence, a better education, and a greater range of life experience than FDR. And Hoover, through the first three years of the Depression, was also the man who comprehended better than anyone else what was happening and what needed to be done. And yet he failed.
Scarier still, Baker isn't a GOP drobot but a deeply competent free-thinker who bemoans his own comparison, which is why I withheld posting his article for some time. Yet as of three months ago, I also knew health care reform would grind down into a Children of a Lesser Group Health Co-op Initiative. I watched as the Federal Reserve bought increasing amounts of each succeeding auction of treasury debt--until last week, when it bought an astounding 47% of the total amount of Treasury Bonds offered at auction. They have been weighed, and found wanting:
It is impossible not to wish desperately for his success as he tries to grapple with all that confronts him: a worldwide depression, catastrophic climate change, an unjust and inadequate health-care system, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ongoing disgrace of Guant·namo, a floundering education system. Obama’s failure would be unthinkable. And yet the best indications now are that he will fail, because he will be unable—indeed he will refuse—to seize the radical moment at hand.
Every instinct the president has honed, every voice he hears in Washington, every inclination of our political culture urges incrementalism, urges deliberation, if any significant change is to be brought about. The trouble is that we are at one of those rare moments in history when the radical becomes pragmatic, when deliberation and compromise foster disaster. The question is not what can be done but what must be done.
A moment was proffered, a boldness was required and abstained. Now bookend Baker's backdrop with a hard-hitting current New York Times piece by Joe Nocera about Obama’s status-quo financial plan:
Obama, like Hoover, has punted at best. What will be called recovery will probably be treading water, and the time for that may be short. Ours is a case of devaluing milk, true, and of casting about for towels, new bottles and next solutions.
Three quarters of a century ago, President Franklin Roosevelt earned the undying enmity of Wall Street when he used his enormous popularity to push through a series of radical regulatory reforms that completely changed the norms of the financial industry. Wall Street hated the reforms, of course, but Roosevelt didn’t care. Wall Street and the financial industry had engaged in practices they shouldn’t have, and had helped lead the country into the Great Depression. Those practices had to be stopped. To the president, that’s all that mattered.
On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled what he described as “a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression.” In terms of the sheer number of proposals, outlined in an 88-page document the administration released on Tuesday, that is undoubtedly true. But in terms of the scope and breadth of the Obama plan — and more important, in terms of its overall effect on Wall Street’s modus operandi — it’s not even close to what Roosevelt accomplished during the Great Depression.
Rather, the Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dike, and not rebuild the entire system. Without question, the latter would be more difficult, more contentious and probably more expensive. But it would also have more lasting value.