Political Animal


May 06, 2012 3:00 PM Naivete, Entitlement, or Both?

By Jesse Singal

I missed it when it went up a couple days ago, but Noam Scheiber had a great post about the relationship between Wall Street’s denizens and Obama.

He pulls out this nugget from a piece in today’s Times Magazine:

For the next hour, the [Wall Street] donors relayed to Messina what their friends had been saying. They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed the president and his party for the public’s nasty mood. …
One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich?

Yes, it would be a historic speech—a powerful person finally standing up for other powerful people!

Scheiber explains:

The source of the problem between Obama and Wall Street is, in a word, naivete. Back in 2008, the article notes, Obama’s Wall Street backers considered him “a reflection of their imagined best selves: brainy, self-made, above the mewlings and histrionics of partisan politics.” Obama, like them, believed deeply in empirical evidence and rational argument. If elected, they assumed, he’d make decisions the way they did: purely on the merits.
Obama’s spurned Wall Street lovers are outraged by his occasional fulminations against high finance. But measured against the historical record, or the anger of the average American, they’ve been strikingly mild.
Why do so few Wall Streeters see this? As I say, naivete. As sophisticated as they are about financial markets, they have a remarkably crude sense of the constraints a president faces, and the extent to which a president—even the most earnest and well-intentioned—can wriggle out of them. A lot of these donors—especially the hedge fund managers—were new to politics. Obama was the first politician they fell for. The source of the attraction was that he didn’t seem to observe the laws of politics.

I agree with all of this, but it’s also a particularly sympathetic take. Isn’t another, simpler part of this that these are very powerful people used to getting what they want, and who were pissed off to find that despite their contributions, despite having gotten their foots in the door of the Oval Office, they couldn’t always have their way?

I don’t mean to reduce everything to entitlement, but surely that’s a big part of the story here. Just read some of the quotes from Gabriel Sherman’s February story on this subject in New York magazine.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • jjm on May 06, 2012 3:32 PM:

    I'm flabbergasted! They really are in a bubble, aren't they -- worse than the ancien régime, and we know that ended...

    I heard that when Christina Romer went to WS early on to tell them they had to start investing in those who actually made things, rather than by gambling and speculating with derivatives, the entire room of Wall Streeters HISSED her.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 06, 2012 3:34 PM:

    We, the funding wing of the republican party are due deference from the politicians. We fund and own the tea parties. We own the Supreme Court. We own an ever increasing number of state governorships and legislature. We own the U.S. Senate. We bought Obama and 2008 and his disloyalty must be punished.

    Since our Supreme Court delivered Citizens United Not Timid v. FEC, there should be no doubt of our ownership of this country. For those who doubt, watch us buy the Wisconsin governorship. For those who doubt, watch us buy another Republican Congress. For those who doubt, watch us increase our ownership of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

    We are entitled to the fruits of what we have purchased!

    For the uninformed among you, our mottos are:
    - More is never enough!
    - I've got mine, f*ck you!

  • c u n d gulag on May 06, 2012 3:37 PM:

    In other words, "Don't speak truth to power - make nice with the greedy!"

    These motherfecker's are lucky their heads aren't on pikes along the major roadways.

  • Cybrguy on May 06, 2012 3:51 PM:

    Sadly, they own the pikes.

  • Josef K on May 06, 2012 3:52 PM:

    I'm reminded (again) of the Court of Versailles circa 1789. America is considerably larger and more diverse than revolutionary France, so whatever's going to happen will be of a different flavor.

    These guys (and gals) are still in for worse, regardless. The days of JP Morgan running the show are looooong gone.

  • exlibra on May 06, 2012 3:59 PM:

    Repub POV, @3:34PM,

    Very nice, yes. The Founding Fathers, versus the Funding Fathers, with the latter in ascendance.

  • internet tough guy on May 06, 2012 4:19 PM:

    It's a good thing that the American Dream is to become a rich douchebag; otherwise, there would be trouble.

  • cosima on May 06, 2012 4:37 PM:

    Yesterday I was out registering voters. One of the few that registered -- and the number of people who are not registered and are willing to register is veeeeery small for the average canvasser -- was registering specifically because of the 1% vs. 99% issue. He can't be the only one.

    More of this!!!!

  • Christiaan on May 06, 2012 5:25 PM:

    And don't forget that they know that on the other side of the aisle they have a whole party, including a potential president, that most certainly will give them anything they want.

  • TR on May 06, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Sadists and sociopaths.

  • zandru on May 06, 2012 7:07 PM:

    Thanks for stating it so clearly, RepublicanPOV. Also for calling it by its correct name: Citizens United Not Timid.

    "Citizens United" is a different, much older organization than the one which has given us the plutocrats' paradise.

  • Walker on May 06, 2012 7:21 PM:

    It is not scapegoating if they actually are responsible for the mess.

  • golack on May 06, 2012 9:39 PM:

    what Walker said!

  • Rick B on May 06, 2012 11:08 PM:

    This is the same kind of entitlement as that of the sons of wealthy families. As Ann Richards said of George W. Bush he was born on third base and thought he'd hit a triple. Romney feels similarly entitled and he's been treated that way all his life, because money is power.

    Walker has it right. It's not scapegoating if they are actually responsible for the mess. That's guilt.

    The finance professors (economists) have been teaching for three decades that risk can be sliced and diced and sold, then aggregated so that no one is responsible for the resulting risk. Greenspan and the other libertarians bought it hook line and sinker and now they have to blame someone else or recognize that they, themselves, were responsible for the current crap economy. Like children, they will blame politicians.

  • bob h on May 07, 2012 6:43 AM:

    I would suggest to these jerks that if they do not change their attitudes, Elliot Spitzer may be the AG in a second term.

  • boatboy_srq on May 07, 2012 8:36 AM:

    Obama, like them, believed deeply in empirical evidence and rational argument.

    There's no rational argument that can defend accumulation of wealth when the empirical evidence proves pretty conclusively that it was done through defrauding the public.

  • Patango on May 07, 2012 11:12 AM:

    So the corruption that collapsed our economy is not to be blamed for wall st's unpopularity , its the presidents , the publics and ows's fault? These are the same people who champion LET US POLICE OUR SELVES , then they fire no one after destroying their own portfolios , it is the good ol boys network x 10 million $'s ....

    PBS is re running the Frontline piece on the financial collapse , in the one part they point out that after obama let them off scot free , he asked them to to step forward with new policies that help smooth things over , and get the nation moving forward TOGETHER economic wise , he held a wall st summit policy meeting ( or something like that ) and not one of the bankers showed up ...A person in the interview reflected that they were off vacationing in the hampton's and could care less , because they were given a free pass ...While some of this falls on obamas lap , the lions share is on the people who made the mess , and are now upset about NOT being held accountable , I would imagine the obama team will be handling things different if they get re elected , but I could be flat wrong also