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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Obama’s Call for Less Regulation
Posted on Jan 21, 2011
Anderson: Well, here’s someone who wants to challenge you a bit on your column, asking from the Web: “If Obama is ‘pulling a Clinton,’ I look forward to the record-breaking number of jobs that will undoubtedly be created, seeing how Bill had the absolute best job growth in U.S. history—and it’s not even close. (The jobs under Clinton are more than double those of Carter, who is our No. 2 best job-creating president).”
Scheer: Wow, you have very low expectations if you recall the Carter administration fondly, and Clinton…Carter I won’t even visit; that was a disaster in terms of our economy. I mean, the incredible inflation, the…don’t get me started on Carter. Again, a person I like personally, and I interviewed, and so forth. But on Clinton, what we had was what I call the Clinton bubble. He made a deal with the Devil, which I think was Alan Greenspan and the Fed, for cheap money. And it’s well documented. My book, “The Great American Stickup,” goes into it in considerable detail. Robert Reich, who was in that Cabinet, has written about it. He was secretary of labor. And basically, Clinton turned to Greenspan, and he turned to Robert Rubin, who had been the top guy at Goldman Sachs, and brought him in as Treasury secretary, and said, “What do I need to get Wall Street to be happy with us and to have a boom in the economy, and give us a bubble, and give us cheap money?” And they said, “We’ll give you cheap money if you will give us this radical deregulation.” And the [end of] New Deal restrictions, and so forth. And I’ll give you some figures here. For instance, when Clinton…we now have a higher—well, we have the largest number of people in poverty than we’ve ever had in our history. Of course, we have a larger population. But we have 44 million people, officially, living under the official poverty line. That means $20,400 for a family of four. As a percentage of the population, we’re right back where we were when Clinton came into office. So in terms of job creation, and dealing with poverty—no. It’s a bust. Because his radical deregulation—which should have been forewarned by the collapse of long-term capital management, and then we saw the Enron collapse, which had to do with the Enron loophole allowing Enron’s machinations, which was in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that Clinton signed off on. I wish that the reader would just go Google the Commodity Futures…you don’t even have to read my book, although it’s all in there, OK? But if you don’t want to read my book, read the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. You can Google it. Titles 3 and 4 very specifically say that none of these financial derivatives—the things that have caused this incredible loss of jobs, incredible loss of value for American people, signed by Bill Clinton—Titles 3 and 4 say specifically: None of these financial derivatives, none of these new financial devices, the Devil that caused this, none of this will be subject to any existing regulation or any existing regulatory agency! In other words: a blank check for the derivatives that everyone now concedes are the root of all of this job loss, this incredible indebtedness which we have had to run up to bail out everybody, to have the stimulus and everything; the loss of tax dollars that’s driving all of these state governments crazy, whether they’re run by Republicans or Democrats, having to lay off firemen and teachers and everybody. And all of that came from this bubble that Clinton authorized, and empowered, with those specific pieces of legislation that he signed.
And so if you look back at the Clinton years as good years, then you’re not looking at the consequence of action. Bubbles always feel good when they’re blooming; it’s the downturn, and that’s what we’ve been experiencing. So, yes, Clinton was able to pump up the economy with cheap money, thanks to Alan Greenspan, which is the opposite of what happened to Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter had a terrible money situation, superinflation, the Fed was not cooperative. But Greenspan cooperated with Clinton, gave him his free ride, and as a result we have this enormous burden that will be a burden for decades to come, having to pay off these debts.
Anderson: OK. Well, believe it or not, we just have time for one more question. And it’s a future-forward question for you, Bob. Can you handle it?
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Anderson: OK. From Anne Garrison. She asks, “Why did you get so behind Obama in ’08, even as the investment banking industry bankrolled his campaign and it was so easy to see this coming? And what will you do in 2012?”
Scheer: Well, you know, the honest answer is I was a sucker. I wasn’t alone. First of all, I will say I happen to think it’s very important to have a non-white-male president, OK? I think this is a great achievement for American society. It broke an incredibly important barrier that needed to be broken. And I will say Obama is certainly not worse than his predecessors. I mean, in some ways he’s better. So, you know, I didn’t vote for Nixon and I didn’t vote for George W. Bush. I did vote for Clinton. But my vote for Obama is not the worst vote I have cast. Let me put that right out there. And there are positive things about this administration aside from the fact that we have broken this barrier, this racist barrier that dominated. So I think Obama, a lot of things he’s done in foreign policy…not all of them, obviously. He’s been a war president; he’s accelerated the war in Afghanistan. I thought, if you want to have a positive note, I thought his reception of the Chinese leader this week, [who] George W. Bush snubbed—they didn’t have a formal dinner—I think is opening to China, which was reciprocated by the Chinese conceding they have human rights problems. This was really quite an achievement in foreign policy for Obama this week. I think he’s restored America’s reputation in many ways around the world because he’s soft-spoken, he’s smart, he’s diplomatic. I think he has—you know, one of the reasons I get so upset with Obama is I think he obviously has great potential. If I thought this guy was some kind of dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, I wouldn’t be writing in this tone. My tone is one of disappointment. And when I say I was suckered, you know, I fell for too bright a view. And specifically, I ignored the fact that Obama turned his back on public financing. That was the big mistake for people like myself. I should have seen the danger right there. And when he announced that he was going to break with what was the most important, really, campaign finance reform that we’ve instituted—presidential candidates were accepting public financing, and he said no, and it turned out Wall Street was the major contributor to his campaign, not all of us folks hitting those buttons and sending our contribution on the computer. The handwriting was on the wall. And when he came in, he really put the smiling face on George W. Bush’s coddling of Wall Street, throwing money at Wall Street. And it’s been an enormous disappointment.
Now, you know, I never tell people that they should vote the way I tell them to vote. This is not my expertise. I try to concentrate on the issues; I try to concentrate on what I see developing. We have other people who write on Truthdig—Bill Boyarsky, who was the political editor for the Los Angeles Times, and a political reporter, I consider the best political reporter in the United States. And you know, I’d probably suggest, read Bill’s columns when you want to figure out who to vote for, rather than my own. We have other good writers on Truthdig. So I don’t feel, “At election time, vote the way I do.” That’s not my job as a columnist or as a thinker. I’ve been deceived plenty in life, and I’ll probably be deceived again, by candidates. And you do fall for the lesser evil. And if the Republicans put up some horrendous candidate in the next election, I’ll probably have to support Obama. If they put up somebody reasonable, that’s a different story. But, again, this is not my strength, telling people who to vote for. I think my strength is trying to be honest in my analysis, informed, follow the facts, follow the logic. And sadly enough—sadly enough, I say—my work has held up. Sadly enough, I turned out to have been right about my criticisms of presidents in the past, and they didn’t follow my advice, and a lot of damage occurred.
Anderson: Well, Obama has two more years to listen to you, so let’s hope he tunes in soon.
Scheer: Well, let’s hope he listens to our readers, and others, you know? Let’s help people get aroused. I mean, criticism is not intended to make people weaker; it’s to make them stronger. Obama needs to hear from people who are disappointed with his performance on the progressive side. He needs to hear from people who are losing their houses and haven’t gotten their jobs back, or are working for much lower wages. He needs to hear not just angry noises out there, but he needs informed criticism. You know, it’s interesting. Let me end on this: The Republican right really came out of Barry Goldwater’s campaign. And Barry Goldwater suffered an ignominious defeat by Lyndon Johnson—you know, what, two to one? And yet true conservatives…and Barry Goldwater was a principled, decent conservative; I didn’t agree with a lot of his stuff, but he was an honest man and a principled person. And the people who rallied around his message stuck to it. They didn’t sell out, and they demanded that subsequent candidates adhere to Barry Goldwater’s philosophy, to a considerable degree: smaller government, lower taxes, and so forth.
On the progressive side, we don’t do that. We didn’t follow that example. We sell out so easily, you know. We cared about stopping these needless wars that are getting lots of people killed and angering the world and wasting resources—the guy says “OK, I’ll escalate Afghanistan.” “OK, go ahead and escalate Afghanistan.” … And we accept it. We elect this guy because we think, you know, he gave a great speech saying he’s going to hold the bankers accountable. When he was running, he challenged the things that I said today about Clinton. He said in his Cooper Union speech—it’s in my book—when he was a candidate, about the need for regulation, about the mindless deregulation of the Clinton administration, you know, and then he betrays that. Well, why don’t progressives do what the conservatives do and say, “No! This is critical to what we’re all about.” Same thing happened on health care. Why did we accept that there would be no cost control, there would be no public option, no extension of Medicare? I mean, God, if he just had lowered the Medicare age down to 55, that would have been better health reform than what we’ve got now. But the progressive side collapses. And so I don’t think we’re doing him any favor; I certainly know we’re not doing the country a favor by betraying our principles. I happen to think they’re sound; I happen to think it’s the direction of progress. And so I don’t think abandoning logic and fact is good for the country or it’s good for Obama or anybody else.
Anderson: All right. Well, thanks so much for your time and your learned words, and we’ll look forward to more in the future, hopefully next week.
Scheer: And I’m glad you cheered up. [Laughter]
Anderson: All right. ’Bye, everyone.
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