Obama’s Tongue-Lashing of Wall Street Fails to Materialize

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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier today, President Obama gave his highly anticipated speech on financial regulation at Cooper Union in New York. As earlier excerpts of the speech indicated, Obama went after the moral lapses of Wall Street — but for the most part, Obama looked for common ground, framing his proposals in terms that made them sound like "common sense" and necessary without being vindictive, intrusive, or radical. Addressing "those of you who are in the financial sector," Obama suggested, "We will not always see eye to eye. We will not always agree. But that doesn't mean that we've got to choose between two extremes. We do not have to choose between markets that are unfettered by even modest protection against crisis, or markets that are stymied by onerous rules that suppress enterprise and innovation. That is a false choice." With no slap-down to speak of, the punditocracy sounds a little bit deflated.

• Joe Wiesenthal says that Obama "didn't need to get all fire and brimstone" because the legislation is in the bag now that Republicans are onboard. "He didn't say anything to suggest that the financial industry would be radically overhauled. He didn't call out greed very much, except as one cause of the crisis, and even then, only in the past tense. He didn't call out people making a lot of money, except where it isn't warranted, which is uncontroversial." [Clusterstock]

• Andrea Mitchell thinks that Obama "did not give a tough speech," but a "concessionary speech" to New York by saying that Wall Street and Washington created this mess together. [MSNBC]

• Sewell Chan calls the speech "conventional in some ways," as Obama "followed the structure, logic and even the order of points made by his top economic deputies, Lawrence H. Summers and Timothy F. Geithner." He also seemed to not fully embrace the opportunity to connect his proposals "directly to the daily lives of consumers." [Caucus/NYT]

• Daniel Foster calls it "a safe, even defensive speech." [Corner/National Review]

• Kevin Drum no longer "feel[s] so bad about being unable to make [financial regulation] fascinating. If even Obama can't make it sound interesting, what chance do I have?" [Mother Jones]

• Derek Thompson feels like "Obama's conciliatory instincts get in the way of reality" at one point when he claimed, "Ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or we fall together as one nation." [Atlantic]

• Steve Benen saw the speech as "less a stirring address and more a prosecutor's closing argument," with Obama "treating financiers like a skeptical jury." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Noam Scheiber writes that "it appears that the administration is beyond the demonization phase of its campaign for financial reform. Instead, what we saw today was vintage Obama unity." [Jonathan Chait/TNR]

• Ezra Klein wonders whether it's a better policy approach to seek Wall Street's cooperation or to treat it as the enemy, as FDR did in 1936. [Ezra Klein/WP]