Tuesday, September 15, 2009


In The New York Times today, Stephen Labaton and Jeff Zeleny give us the (undoubtedly accurate) conventional wisdom:

President Obama on Monday sternly admonished the financial industry and lawmakers to accept his proposals to reshape financial regulation....

But with the markets slowly healing, Mr. Obama's plan to revamp financial rules faces a diminishing political imperative.....

That's right -- the fact that, for regular people, it's still a deep, horrible recession has nothing whatsoever to do with whether there's a "political imperative" to do something about the big casino. We're not "the markets." The markets are healing. If you and I still want something done, so what? The cool crowd has decided that that wish is so eight months ago.

I'm reminded of a cliche that's migrated from coverage of the Iraq War to coverage of the Afghanistan War: the notion of "two clocks," one in the war zone that's seen as measuring how long it takes to bring about change, the other in Washington, which measures "political will." Reporters like to quote generals (hello, David Petraeus) who invoke this cliche and express the hope that they can ride to the rescue before the bad guys take advantage of the impatience measured by the Washington clock.

But in the case of the Iraq War, at least, the Washington clock measured genuine popular impatience with the fighting. Right now, what ordinary citizen in America is tired of imagining that one day the fat cats of high finance will get what's coming to them? Hell, even the Beckistas hate the bailouts, and for all their worship of capitalism, the tea party/town hall/9-12 crowd hasn't had the nerve to add a full-throated "Leave Wall Street high rollers alone!" to its slogan repertoire.

In this analogy, the Wall Streeters are the Taliban or insurgents -- but with one difference: not only do they have their own clock, they also chat up and stroke journalists (and bankroll members of Congress) so that they can help set the Washington clock.

And now it really is winding down -- we probably won't even see the flawed reform package the White House wants. (It might have helped if the president had made financial reform a task of his 60-plus-approval-rating days, of course -- and we don't know whether the decision to postpone it was a bug or a feature.)

Our clock? It's never even consulted. We haven't moved on to other things -- financially, we're still hurting. We're still in the thick of the recession. We're ready for reform anytime. But nobody's asking us for the time.

No comments: