Friday, April 28, 2017
It's Not About The Money-It's About The Injustice
In response to the widespread indignance over Barack Obama's having taken $400,000 from the Wall Street firm he'll soon give a speech to, Trevor Noah made a very good point in Obama's defense: "So the first black president must also be the first one to not take money afterwards?"
Noah then made an even more keen observation: "Instead of focusing on how Obama can make so much money from Wall Street for a speech, maybe we should be asking why Wall Street has so much money to give people for a speech: the loose regulations, the intensive lobbying and favorable — you know, the truth is, we can't get into all of this, there's too much, there's too much else that's going on that we have to talk about today." I'd like to get into it a lot more, actually, because there's a lot more to it than what Noah and the other liberals we see coming to Obama's aid on this Wall Street speech issue are saying.
The main defense they like to use seems to be that Obama has a right to take speaking fees, Wall Street firm or no Wall Street firm-sure, $400,000 is a lot for one speech, but why not let him make some money? This argument, similar to the one they like to use whenever a Democratic candidate takes corporate donations of "money makes the world go round," misses the entire reason so many aren't pleased with the situation.
Personally, my attitude wouldn't be any different if Obama's speech had paid a dollar, or if he somehow didn't have a legal right to make money in this way. Because as long as he's being rewarded by Wall Street, there is something deeply unjust about the whole thing.
I'm talking about the fact that, in accordance with Noah's righteous calls for focusing on the deeper problem of Wall Street greed, the resentment from progressives and others about Obama's compensation from the banks has everything to do with said greed. Obama and his party, whose financial relations with the major banking firms go a long way back, can be held responsible for virtually all the excessive power Wall Street currently holds. Obama, along with a crucial amount of other Democratic senators, voted to pass Bush's unnecessary and financial control-consolidating Wall Street bailouts in 2008.
Then, no doubt partly at the behest of the Wall Street insiders within the Obama administration, they took basically no action aside from Dodd Frank. They didn't prosecute the bank executives responsible for the crash, and most importantly they didn't undo the Clinton Wall Street deregulations, which are largely behind the crash in the first place. The results of this were disastrous.
Despite Democrats' (not even accurately founded) back-patting about the unemployment rate having gone below 5% under Obama, the recovery has been what I like to describe as a tower made of toothpicks. The housing bubble has blown right back up, along with the massive overestimation of stock and bond prices. This, coupled with the unprecedented financialization of the economy amid Democrats' failure to break up the banks, along with the record federal debt amid Democrats' failure to sufficiently raise taxes on the wealthy, has created grounds for a new economic crisis. And a crisis that's not far off at all, judging from the bursts in parts of the housing bubble that have already begun to appear.
To be fair, this next crash will also largely involve a reckoning with various larger forms of accounting fraud that society is tied in with too deeply for Obama to have fixed, such our dependence on a petroleum economy. But the reality is that a repeat of 2007-2008 is coming right up, and had Obama and Friends enacted the necessary reforms this crash wouldn't be anywhere near as bad. We also wouldn't have had the resurgence of the GOP and the election of Donald Trump, thus making those reforms here to stay, but that's a different story. My point is that while Noah also protested in his Daily Show rant that change doesn't start with Obama, at a crucial point in history, it did. And the unwillingness of Obama and his party to act at that point has had consequences we'll soon see the full catastrophic scope of.
And now Obama is being paid by the same financial institution whose industry he partnered with for eight years to transfer money away from the lower classes, and which is about to evaporate the money of said classes before quite possibly making another profit through new Wall Street bailouts. You see now, Trevor, why some aren't applauding with your show's audience at that?
In regards to this, along with the countless other hypocrisies and injustices that the Democratic Party has been involved with since its leadership's neoliberal transformation around forty years ago, I doubt the producers of the Daily Show or many other pro-establishment liberals will acknowledge there's a problem. Whatever Noah's personal views on Obama's legacy and the Democratic establishment, he and the rest of the beloved late night liberal comedy crew serve major media institutions that are more than fine with seeing these problems ignored or, better yet, re-framed in a positive light. Thus, it's no wonder Noah was allowed to briefly advocate for standing up to the rigged banking system in the quoted segment-as long as he deflects attention from the root causes of said system, him criticizing Wall Street itself is evidently nonthreatening to the oligarchy.
The good news is that as of the last couple years, every time one of the Democratic establishment's spokespersons has made power-serving statements like the ones mentioned, a consequential facet of the population has reacted by doing something to enact change. And 2016 Democratic primary election theft or not, their efforts are working quite impressively. After a month and a half of Medicare for all supporters leaderlessly pressuring House Democrats to support the H.R. 676 single payer bill, 98 out of the 193 said Democrats are now co-sponsoring it; according to the research of one Warren Lynch, Berniecrats have mostly taken over thirteen state Democratic parties; and as membership in the Democratic Socialists of America has grown rapidly in recent months, so has the electoral success of candidates who share its agenda.
So the types of progressives who aren't cheering on this objectively unfair spectacle of an ex-Wall Street president taking Wall Street money appreciate the concern of the Daily Show's corporate string-pullers, but we're not adopting their cheery attitude about it, not to mention about the monumental flaws in our economic and political systems that it represents. And when extreme financial concentration soon results once again in economic disaster, we expect many of the remaining loyal Democrats, who will suddenly find themselves scarcely able to pay for basic needs let alone cable to watch The Daily Show shortly after Obama left office, to join us in working towards the creation of a society that works for all of us.
But hey, Obama has a right to make money.