Friday, April 23, 2010

Obama Pits Main Street Against Wall Street

President Obama employed populist rhetoric over substantive discussion to cast banks and Wall Street as the primary villains as he worked to ramp up support for the Democrats proposed bank reform and regulation bill. Glenn Hall from The Street states that by turning the financial industry's profits into greedy indictments, the President overstated his case that Wall Street and Main Street are at odds with one another; on the contrary, the bullish market has created value for numerous IRAs and 401Ks held by the citizens of Main Street. See the following post from The Street.

President Obama is totally overstating the MainStreet vs Wall Street conflict to scare Congress into passing new banking regulations.

"Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement," Obama said Thursday in New York.

That's got a nice populist ring to it, but it's not that simple. What about the value to MainStreet from all the money flowing into 401Ks and IRAs courtesy of a bank-led bull run in the markets?

I'm sure Obama understands the nuances, but they aren't politically expedient. It's far more effective in Washington to have clear villains.

So Obama's SEC delivered Goldman Sachs' (GS) head on a platter with its fraud charges last week.

It doesn't matter that the SEC's case against Goldman is lame, the public has been put on notice that banks can't be trusted.

With the stage set, Obama is now in New York today, taking the fight straight to Wall Street. Just when it looked like Congress might waste a good crisis (as Rahm Emanuel, Hillary Clinton and other Obamanistas have become fond of saying), Obama is putting on a full-court press against banks.

IMF Bank Proposals Face Hurdles (Forbes)

Obama's timing is deliberate, arriving in New York just after the banks started getting good press with headlines like "Morgan Stanley's (MS) Trading Business Delivers" and "JPMorgan's (JPM) Success Raises Stakes".

Even the oft-maligned poster child for the financial crisis, Citigroup (C), posted a surprise profit.

Obama took the opportunity to turn those profits into indictments, saying that "until this progress is felt not just on Wall Street but Main Street we cannot be satisfied. Until the millions of our neighbors who are looking for work can find jobs, and wages are growing at a meaningful pace, we may be able to claim a recovery - but we will not have recovered."

Sure, Obama offered a few bones to the bankers and struck the occasional conciliatory note such as his concluding remarks that "ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or we fall together as one nation."

But Wall Street really served as the backdrop for Obama's populist appeal to rally MainStreet and remind members of Congress that an election is coming and they don't want to be on the wrong side of this debate.

Obama knows how to work a crowd -- and after today's speech in New York, he has put bank reform back on America's agenda.

This article has been republished from The Street, an investment news and analysis site.

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