May 25, 2013
Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Obama’s Call for Less Regulation
Posted on Jan 21, 2011
Anderson: OK. Here’s kind of a to-the-point question from Sheila from Cottekill, N.Y. She asks: “How is it possible that so soon after a near collapse of our economy, the corporate interests are holding us hostage again? How can Obama be such a hypocrite and think we, the people who elected him, won’t see through his weakness for the corporate pandering it is?”
Scheer: Well, the problem is, money talks. You know, money can do a lot. We live in a society where we educate people, particularly the best and the brightest—the ones who go to the better schools, who get the better grades—to focus on their career, and not a career of serving, but rather a career of getting a lot of money. Or getting a lot of toys. That’s the standard of success; we de-emphasize ethical concerns. My god, as a teacher, when I bring up things that Jesus said—you know, the good Samaritan, notions of ethics, when we talk about what Scripture says about usury, about not taking advantage of your neighbor … . I asked my students last night in class, I said, “What’s the credit [card interest]—tell me, what are you paying?” and one kid said, “I’m paying 27 percent on my credit card.” From the school! With the football team on it. Oh, really? 27 percent? Well, I think Scripture, whether interpreted by a Muslim, a Jew, or a Christian, would find that to be usurious, a betrayal of the whole idea of not taking advantage of the vulnerable. But now, what we teach in the business schools, in the law schools, is basically: Rip off what you can. And money influences that in an extreme way. These people can offer…they’ve got the smartest, sharpest-talking people to be their publicity agents, their lawyers, their representatives. They can contribute to all the candidates.
And just think about it: the fellow who’s now chief of staff—Daley—for Obama, who really guards the door to this president, was making $5 million when the rest of the people were losing their homes? Working for JPMorgan that had these toxic assets? We’re not talking about ancient history; we’re talking about a year ago, and two years ago. He leaves with a $7 million payoff and we expect this guy to feel the pain of people out there? And I’m afraid that the talking heads on television, the pundits, these people get what, $75,000 for a speaking fee—very often from these same banks? Or from these trade associations and so forth? So we have … this is not the democracy of the founders. They thought the free press that they wanted to protect was, you know, anybody could do it. You have a pamphlet, you put up a wall poster, you speak, you’re the town crier. No! The media now is controlled by the very people who profit from these laws that allow swindling, and it’s amazing to me how much does get out, but it’s very little of what we need to know.
So, yes, I think they will get away with it. The only thing blocking them is reality, OK? That’s the thing blocking it. And Obama has to know that if this economy is still suffering in this way at the time of the next election, he’s going to be in trouble. No matter how many PR people you have, no matter how much money you have from Wall Street, you can’t fool people all of the time. And right now there’s kind of a feeling, “Maybe he saved us from the Great Depression; maybe there’s something that’s going to happen; maybe it’s going to loosen up.” I hope so! But if the numbers of the people who are long-term unemployed, if the housing market, if basic consumption is still down at the time of the election, then there will be a change. I’m afraid it might be a change for the worse, and these demagogues from the right might score some victories again.
Scheer: Well, clearly, the rationalization for what Obama is doing is: “We have to steal the thunder of the conservatives”—the so-called conservatives, I don’t think they’re real conservatives—“who won in the midterm election and we have to show we’re pro-business, and we have to show we’re not wild socialists,” and all this. Which is the silliest thing in the world, given how conservative his health care plan is. I mean, if the health community—and by that I mean the people who profit from it—were at all logical about their long-term interests, they would embrace Obama’s reforms, so-called, because they don’t really control costs; they will not keep down profit; there is no public option. There really is no restraint on costs. This was based on what happened in Massachusetts, their proposal—which was a Republican proposal. Yet the very small steps that Obama has taken are branded as wild-eyed socialism and radicalism and so forth. They’re nothing of the sort. But I think clearly Obama’s strategy, which is the same as Clinton’s strategy, was to move to the right and to embrace these people. I think it’s a failing strategy. I think when Clinton did it, it ushered in this era of greed. I hold Clinton, the Clinton bubble, responsible for the fundamental changes … .
I know we’ll have a lot of readers, people who hear me on the radio, read the column, read me on Truthdig…some of our other Truthdig writers disagree quite bitterly with me. We go quite a range; we have people who are still very sympathetic to Clinton. I know when I work out at the athletic club, people give me a hard time: “Why are you so nasty about Clinton?” or “Why won’t you give Obama more slack?” And my gut feeling is to say “Sure!” I liked Clinton. I interviewed the guy when he was governor; I interviewed him after. I interviewed him after he was president. He’s very charming, and I certainly felt for him when he was under this vicious attack from the right wing and so forth, over the whole Monica thing. But the fact is, when I look at the record, and to the degree that I can be a scholar and be a serious reporter…that’s why I wrote the book, you know. I covered this stuff when I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times; I saw it play out. And the reality is that Clinton bears as much responsibility as anyone—Reagan, George W. Bush, anyone—for the mess that we’re in. And he did it because he was trying to placate Wall Street. He listened to the Robert Rubins and the Lawrence Summerses, and all these people who said: “Give them what they want and they’ll be well-behaved.” Well, they weren’t well-behaved. And I’m just afraid that Obama’s moving down that path. Now, for people who want to prevent that: Open your eyes! Is that what he’s doing? Is he supporting Elizabeth Warren? Is he pushing for regulation? What’s happened to the Volcker rule? What’s going on with Congress? And let’s see. And as I’ve said all through this, I’d love to be proved wrong. Trust me, I’d love it. I would celebrate being wrong, OK?
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