Call it bank weekend — the long version.
On Friday, the House passed a financial reform bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it the “most sweeping” legislation since the Great Depression.
On Saturday, the nation’s two major dailies split the difference over its value. The New York Times said “House Approves Tougher Rules for Wall Street”
The Wall Street Journal deck called it the “Biggest Change In Financial Regulation Since the 1930’s”. Most other media also picked up Pelosi’s line.
On Sunday, the President told CBS’s 60 Minutes interviewer Steve Kroft, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” adding “they don’t get it”
On Monday, the President more politely asked leading bankers summoned to the White House to loosen up lending for consumers, small business and housing.
By Washington and Wall Street standards this was good orchestration, even a little slick. Follow up private polls will try to see if the public is buying it.
I don’t think they will.
I’ve been driving West for 8 weeks, zig-zagging across the upper Midwest, the Plain States, the Rockies and a chunk of Northern California, meeting ordinary people in towns like L’Anse Mich, Grand Marais, Minn.. Tomahawk Wis, where they make Harley parts, Lamar, Co. where they ranch, and Chappell, Nebr, with its 24 white grain silos.
I’ve been scouring yard sales for pitchforks and Grange Halls for ‘Wall Street Most Wanted’ posters since the main stream media, late to the story, now detects a “Main Street Hates Wall Street” backlash underway. I haven’t found pitchforks or posters. A few days ago, a Bloomberg poll said two thirds of those polled are angry at Wall Street.
That may be part of it, but people I talk to seem beyond that simple anger. It’s not Wall Street and it’s not regulation. It’s Wall Street and Washington — a nexus which seems as solid as ever. What’s broken is a fundamental trust. They get it. They get it, they just don’t know anyone they’d trust to fix it.
“I don’t blame the financial people. I blame the regulators and the people in Washington who kept them from doing their job” says Dave Wren, a salesman for a Craig Co car dealer. “The financial people did what they were told to do. The politicians took Wall Street money to keep the regulators away.”
“They ruined the economy and now they want to pay themselves off as a reward and the government will let them get away with it. “says Jack Spicer a former submariner in Davidson, N.D. “If this was the military they’d be court-martialed.”
“Government won’t help us” says Shirley Hunter, who was driven off her ranch in Eastern Oklahoma by a local meth gang. She’s cooking me breakfast in the one room store she’s restoring in Kenton, Okla, a hamlet near the New Mexican border.
“What about the police” I ask.
“The sheriff was part of the gang. “
“What about the state police”
“Anytime a new trooper started to look into it he was reassigned”
“What about the Federal government, the FBI”
“Are you kidding? We’re on our own”
I haven’t seen any polls on a breakdown of trust, polls saying how the public feels about WashWall, the entity. The president has been blasting Wall Street since he took office. Much talk, no action. Wall Street’s historic bonus buildup is a done deal. The bonuses may be stretched out with stock warrants, but they’ll be paid. Pay limits? As the President sparred with the bankers on Monday, Citibank, the last big bank under pay rules, was exempted.
The House financial reform bill isn’t wrong. It just replicates much of what any regulator or Federal Reserve Chairman could have done 5 years ago.
It only takes a week before Wall Street’s nuances, the justifications, the “yes but” amplifications, the incessant spin that lasts as long as a cable minute, even Lloyd Blankfin are reduced to a speck in the rear view mirror.
What emerges is a blunter, more menacing apparition. Government and the bankers in lockstep. The public waiting for someone to call them out.