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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides a window into the Obama mindset, as though hurtling down a laundary chute to the bowels of the earth—his one-way passage to a moral void, as in every avenue of policymaking to which he puts his hand. The familiar refrain, ”Republicans are obstructionist,” echoed in today’s New York Times editorial (Feb. 11), as explanation for why so little has been achieved on this front, suggests both that Democrats protesteth too much, to hide their own villainy (i.e., complicity in savaging working people, on behalf of bipartisan unity in forging the advanced stage of monopoly capitalism) and the Times itself goes only ten yards up the field in its attempt to protect Obama at all costs—including the truth.
There cannot be consumer financial protection until and unless:
a) a democratization of the banking system removes the means and incentive for preying on the consumer;
b) the extreme wealth concentration rooted in part in the selfsame system (wealth is increasingly an interlocking phenomenon, so one must give “credit” as well to other sources, equally vulture-like in relation to the public, from defense contractors to health insurers, and not just banking and the whole vista of financial chicanery and manipulation) must be taken down, by whatever means necessary consistent with nonviolent measures (let’s start with avowedly confiscatory taxation rates and closing ALL loopholes, then putting banks in a straitjacket to keep them honest, the minimum, Glass-Steagall;
c) freeing the consumer from the bondage of a parasitical culture, as so many flies drawn to flypaper (Marx), which might begin with truth-in-advertising (today a headsplitting contradiction) and exposure of the credit-card industry, followed by the enforcement of strict health-and-safety standards, from foods to automobiles, and, on the latter, additional taxes on luxury accessories.
These exceedingly small changes are nonetheless of boat-rocking proportions, wholly anathema to capitalism—and equally so, regrettably, to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which, at best, will be a wrist-slapping exercise, under Obama’s auspices, that serves to protect and legitimate offenders (the value of the government imprimatur in all present regulatory operations) rather than criminalize their behavior and remove their products.
Why my dim view, of what should be a salutary effort? Here as elsewhere, Obama has imposed a paradigm of deregulation on government as part of the so-called liberation of wealth under the principles of market fundamentalism. Regulation, with some exceptions in the New Deal, has from its modern inception in the Bureau of Corporations (T. Roosevelt) and the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System (Wilson) been a creature of the interests presumably to be regulated, for the purpose of resolving internal difficulties and contradictions—e.g., internecine competition—they have brought upon themselves, yet could not resolve through private means, or the straightout purpose of encouraging monopolism (under the flag of virtue, capitalist stability).
Regulation under capitalism, at least the US variant, is a sham, the consumer (as often also the worker) being the least important factor under consideration. Obama, even jumping forward to 1980 (and decades of business-government copartnership reducing regulation to an empty phrase), is the heir to Reagan and Clinton in particular, a synthesis of corporatism shilled by an ole’boy Arkansas twang, an unbeatable “aw shucks” moment in history, with such regular guys as Robert Rubin on guitar, in a steady march to the evisceration of government and its replacement by what was affectionately termed by the NAM and the US Chamber of Commerce in the ‘twenties, the business commonwealth, a privatization demiurge moving to the doorsteps of fascism pure and simple.
But why Obama? Answers do not come easily. The experience of open treachery masked in affability is rare at the upper levels of state power, as though the iron fist were wrapped—in time for Easter—in a bunny muff, fuzzy, comforting, but muff or no muff, the fist itself has plenty of clout. As in conducting a Sherman’s March through the regulatory agencies. How expect anything from Consumer Financial Protection, when—ah, you may not grant interrelatedness of fundamental policy, but what happens at Interior or the SEC consistently is exhibited across the board, in this case, a rush to the lowest common denominator—oil drilling leases hit a new high, hedge fund operations are still, along with exotic financial instruments, on a roller-coaster ride, and environmental protection is transvalued into license to despoil and worse, from industrial pollutants to assaults on the land.
Why the Brennans, Geithners, Salazars, except that Obama backs their activities to the hilt—not because of Republican anything, but because he favors the Right on every indicator I’ve seen, pliable, sure, caving in, no, for the simple reason that one cannot be said to cave when one already desires the outcome. No-one has a gun to his head when he drastically enlarges the CIA’s functions, and when he makes paramilitary action a tool of provocation in the achievement of international goals. No-one holds him hostage to the modernization of nuclear weaponry (which makes a mockery of his reduction of nuclear forces, since the point is to make the remaining stock more LETHAL, with the next generation of weapons in the pipeline). No-one blackmails him into blatant cosiness with all sorts of groups his supporters, were they not blind, would find objectionable: Wall Street, the intelligence community, his present darling, the Joint Special Ops Command (JSOC), pharmaceutical giants, in sum, a Who’s Who of American Reaction.
So be it. We will not wake up. And, for me, the armed drone for targeted assassination says it all—including the abysmal state of American public opinion, which condones—no, applauds—the strikes. Obama, President of the Blood Spat, which is all that is left, where once stood a fellow human being, when struck by a drone missile.
I include here my Comment to the Times (Feb. 11), which itself remains purposefully obtuse on its editorial page, but not the work of its investigative reporters, especially on national-security and financial matters, to Obama’s record:
The CFPB deserves protection. Undoubtedly Republicans have been responsible for preventing the appointment of a director. But it was Obama who first crippled the Bureau by refusing to appoint Elizabeth Warren as its head. Why always blame that party’s intransigence when daily evidence mounts that Obama has been a foe of regulation, whether financial services, oil drilling, climate change, etc.? He doesn’t deserve a free pass here or across the policy spectrum. The Times’s reporters have shown this to be a failed presidency–yet the editorial page persists in one-sided accounts of accountability.
Obama’s nomination of Brennan to CIA should alert one to the moral bankruptcy of Obama, a point equally applicable to consumer protection, assassination, job creation, wherever the public interest is at stake yet shot down. Obama’s market assumptions conflict with the CFPB mission. When you assess blame, why not also ask: What of Obama’s treatment of Paul Volcker, the most respected financial figure in America? And why hasn’t Joseph Stiglitz been brought on the team?
Please wean yourself from one-party bashing to appreciate how both major parties are implicated in the financial swindle of the American people. Also show courage in addressing the record, beginning perhaps with failure to fight for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and the incredible sham of the health care legislation, which benefited only the health insurance industry and Big Pharma.
Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.