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October 28, 2011

Honest by Accident

The book Confidence Men by Ron Suskind describes an Obama interview with Rolling Stone from September, 2010 that I didn't read at the time. Here's some of it:

RS: There’s also a concern when it comes to financial reform that your economic team is closely identified with Wall Street and the deregulation that caused the collapse. These are the folks who were supposed to have had oversight of Wall Street, and many of them worked for or were close to banks like Goldman Sachs...

OBAMA: I read some of the articles that Tim Dickinson and others have produced in Rolling Stone. I understand the point of view that they're bringing. But look: Tim Geithner never worked for Goldman; Larry Summers didn't work for Goldman. There is no doubt that I brought in a bunch of folks who understand the financial markets, the same way, by the way, that FDR brought in a lot of folks who understood the financial markets after the crash, including Joe Kennedy...

This is from the book The Money and the Power by Sally Denton and Roger Morris:

Through purloined information and speculative connivance, what a later generation outlawed as "insider trading," [Joe Kennedy] took millions from Wall Street before the Crash...For helping to finance Franklin Roosevelt's presidential commission in 1932, he was rewarded with the chairmanship of the new Securities and Exchange Commission, which began to police some of the same stock exchange abuses he had just practiced so profitably, "a crook to catch a crook," as Roosevelt once quipped to his adviser James Farley.

It would be nice if we had presidents, or music magazines, who were able to remember the past. But then we wouldn't get this kind of accidental honesty, so I guess it all works out in the end.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 28, 2011 07:33 PM

Err, well, lemme think here. Wall Street hated FDR--he was booed noticeably in two places, Wall Street and Harvard, and though it hurt him to be booed at Harvard, he was proud to have been booed on Wall Street. That he made Joe Kennedy the fox in charge of the henhouse didn't mean the chickens liked him for it.

Since it's history night, once 1940 rolled around, FDR made his peace with the Morgan Bank, led by Ned Lamont's grandpappy Tom, who made peace with him because they saw the chance to make a whole bunch of money coming and needed the old pol to lead the nation through the coming war. So FDR took the country down the road that destroyed fascism abroad, eventually by importing it, and destroyed the New Deal in the process. I love FDR, and I think he more or less knew this risk existed, because he wasn't completely stupid, just as Obama isn't completely stupid. The problem was and is that every step of the way this is always a rotten, risky choice, and FDR took one step at a time and got us into WWII and defeated fascism and then got defeated in his attempt, at the crucial point, to make a new and better international order. So instead we got the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, the National Security State, and on into the future.

Obama, on the other hand--well, here were are in that future. And now we're making somebody else's future.

Posted by: N E at October 28, 2011 09:56 PM

just as Obama isn't completely stupid


Posted by: Pepe at October 28, 2011 10:24 PM

Pepe: Haw!

NE, It really seems as if all post 1980 presidents have operated on the principle of-

No, I can't tell you, because then you'd understand everything.

Anyway, the site looks messed up below this post, with all the text smaller on the earlier visible posts, as well as the sidebar.(@1220pm CT)

It may be me, or me browser, but I just thought I'd mention it just in case it's something at your end, etc.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at October 29, 2011 01:29 AM

Site does look odd with the tiny print.
FDR did what he did, Obama pretty much copied his same method. (I won't say mistakes though I think they were. WE won the war and I don't want to be an armchair general)One can only hope the next guy/gal LEARNS from history. The proof is in the pudding and this pudding tastes mighty bitter.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 29, 2011 10:30 AM

I see the website as usual and the text looks FINE.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 29, 2011 11:18 AM

website looks fine to me

mike meyer, fdr is NOT obama's role model--Lincoln has been. That hasn't worked for Obama, then again didn't really work for lincoln either in terms of getting his way. FDR had a large base on the left, and and he had to keep huey long and upton sinclaire and others from swiping it. Who does Obama have on the left challenging him? What movement on the left is a real threat?

jonathan versen, yeah, well, if you create a huge national security state that determines all sorts of things without allowing people to know most of even the basic facts, and next thing you know both presidents and advisers (see what ellsberg said about this to kissinger) are trapped in a situation with no escape. they can't really take what others says seriously, because nobody understands their real choices, and nobody is able to accurately judge their decisions, again because nobody understands their real options. This is completely destructive of democracy and fosters corruption, and I think the problem goes way back before 1980. in many ways it even existed in fdr's own time.


too hard to summarize that, but i don't actually see much evidence that he is not smart. then again, he's not been all that successful and i'm not sure how much he actually thinks about trying to do the right thing. busy pragmatic people can lose sight of that pretty easily, i think, unless presented with very jarring contrasting choices as jfk was repeatedly. if the military tried to get obama to have a nuclear war we'd find out what kind of cojones he has. it's pretty easy to go along with unjust economic policy to avoid a terrible political problem, even if bad economic policy does have real and even lethal consequences. It's quite different to kill a couple hundred million people, including potentially your own family.

Posted by: N E at October 29, 2011 02:07 PM

Hey NE, have you seen Gore Vidal in his TRN interviews? e.g. "The Emperor"

If you go to Youtube(or UbiquitousTube as I like to call it), while you are there also see the one about Vidal and the security state. (it's half a promo for TRN, half an interview, but still worth watching.)

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at October 29, 2011 04:43 PM

Jonathan Versen

I hadn't seen that. I love lots of Vidal's essays, and he certainly is provocative, so that was interesting. I think he's right on the money about FDR planning to end colonialism, and that certainly was an enormous source of tension with the Brits. Churchill really resented FDR, and FDR's anticolonial determination must really have smarted because Britain had made itself completely dependent on the US as savior instead of cutting a deal with the Nazis, which of course had a lot of elite support.

But what old Gore says about Wilson being dumber than Truman is really moronic, and yet said with such typically delightful Vidalian pompous arrogance. That credit to Eleanor as a pol I find a little dubious too, but that's not so bad. Mostly FDR suffered from some of the illusions of his era--that a liberal, free trade regime stripped of colonialism would make everyone happy ever after. In that way, FDR suffered from any sort of lack of understanding of how capitalism works. So I qualify my earlier opinion about his smarts--he had great political savvy and understanding, but some limits on his understanding too. Then again, what he wanted was indeed a big step forward, and he probably knew it wouldn't make the world perfect, just better.

Posted by: N E at October 29, 2011 10:16 PM

I believe I fixed the text size problem (an unclosed <small> tag).

Posted by: John Caruso at October 29, 2011 10:17 PM

Little wonder that distrust of government is at an all time high.

Posted by: Dredd at October 30, 2011 08:25 AM

"FDR brought in a lot of folks who understood the financial markets after the crash, including Joe Kennedy..."

And FDR also brought in a lot of folks with progressive ideas to fill other top spots in his administration. Where are Obama's counterparts?

Posted by: Paul Avery at October 30, 2011 12:33 PM

Elizabeth Warren?

Still, I agree, FDR did better that way, but it wasn't just coming from him. People don't know it, but there was more continuity from Hoover to FDR than people think. Lots of people were trying to figure out how to fix the mess, and with about 40% unemployment of white men (imagine how everybody else was doing)and banks closing all the time, it's no wonder. Hoover, FDR, all politicians had to try something, even if the Gold Standard did seem sacrosanct to many banker types. Hell, we were going to end up with Bolshevism if we didn't look out, because we didn't have the technological excess then to keep everyone eating Cheetos and playing video games while the world crumbled around them. So something had to be done.

Now we seem to have enough excess capacity to keep everyone alive and in misery without doing anything about it for a long, long time.

Posted by: N E at October 31, 2011 07:28 AM

I have a dog in this race, since Tim Dickinson sits across the aisle from me (we both rent from the same studio space), but what exactly do you want from Rolling Stone here? They seem to be at least calling Obama on his contemporary bullshit, and it's a bit much to demand they be able to pull out such an obscure historical reference mid-stream in an interview.

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