On May 22, 2011, I went to the official White House website (http://whitehouse.gov) and dropped President Obama a line. I sent an email congratulating him on some of his more courageous actions to date and urged him to criminally prosecute the Wall Street investment bankers who brought the U.S. and global economies to their knees. I suggested that, should he fail to do so, future historians might construe that as ‘proof’ of the moral bankruptcy of his administration. I then checked off the box at the bottom of the web page requesting a reply. That was more than nine weeks ago, and I’m still waiting to hear something. (At this point, even an acknowledgement of receipt would be nice!)
All of this makes me wonder: “Has Obama remained ‘approachable’ and ‘accessible’ to the people — one of his stated goals as a newly elected President — or has he allowed his coterie of ‘handlers’, many of whom are now former Wall Street insiders, to do what handlers do: Have they cut him off from the people? Do they now tightly control, and filter, his exposure to the public? Furthermore, could they be doing this for their own benefit or for the benefit of their friends and former associates? Has Chief of Staff William Daley succeeded in reducing President Obama to just one more Oval Office ‘Bubble Boy?’
The answer depends on who William Daley is and where his true allegiances may lie. A member of Chicago’s Daley clan, William is heir to one of our nation’s most powerful Democratic political machines. But he’s also a former vice chairman at JPMorgan Chase, America’s second largest bank, in terms of total assets. Mr. Daley ran the bank’s Corporate Responsibility division, which managed its relationships with lobbyists and government officials. He was still in that position, last January, when President Obama appointed him White House chief of staff.
Let’s not forget who we’re dealing with here. Daley worked with bank lobbyists, the same people who, in recent years, pursued greed-inspired policies that ravaged American consumers. It was the bank lobbyists, operating at the directives of people like Daley, who convinced Congress to “reform” (translation:” eviscerate”) personal bankruptcy laws. They also got elected officials to:
- Sanction usurious credit-card interest rates
- Bless unfair, one-sided credit-card contracts and predatory banking fee structures
- Remove virtually all consumer protections and operational constraints on banks
- Leave the emerging derivative and credit-default-swap markets unregulated — an omission that lead directly to the global economic collapse.
At the time of his appointment, Daley owned $7.2 million in JPMorgan Chase stock. His Wall Street background and stock holdings raised concerns. In January, 2011, Simon Johnson, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and a former economist with the International Monetary Fund, told the Huffington Post that the bank’s financial tentacles extended into “anything and everything.” He said it was therefore “essential” that Daley sell his interest in the company, if he wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Johnson warned, “Bill Daley now controls how information is presented to, and decisions are made by, the President.”
Should the President ever see my email and then decide to act on it, bank share prices certainly might fall, but Mr. Daley’s person stock — as a negotiator and fixer — could plummet. His former Wall Street brethren would know that he had failed to rein in federal prosecutors on his watch as White House chief of staff.
As I thought about this, I imagined some White House staffer dutifully pressing “delete” and sending my email slipping into cyber oblivion, along with thousands of other anti-Wall Street missives directed to the President. Is it possible that what President Obama now believes to be the ‘authentic’ voice of the people expresses only those thoughts acceptable to the men and women who surround him?
If you were Bill Daley, and you had the power to filter what the President saw, what would you do? That, my friends, is the nature of the problem we may now face.