Does President Obama truly believe that he can castigate and condemn Wall Street on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and then secure its cooperation on the other days of the week?
Does he not understand that when he ignites a public furor over AIG bonuses and then incites Congress to pass a punitive tax, he sends shivers down the spines of every other corporate executive who makes a lot of money?
Does he seriously believe that Wall Street investors will not worry that their winnings, should they join the Treasury as partners in risky investments, would be subject to public abuse, publicity and confiscatory taxation?
Of course he realizes that his rhetoric makes it unlikely that his program will succeed. He obviously gets it that the entire concept of a public-private partnership is impossible amid a climate of waging class warfare, taxing the rich and heaping contempt on anyone who makes money. The president is quite bright and certainly understands that you cannot shake hands with your right while you launch a roundhouse with your left.
So why does Obama persist in his aggressive rhetoric? Why does he continue to treat Wall Street as something out of Dante's Inferno?
Because he's just not that into you! He doesn't really care if the public-private partnerships work out.
He sends Geithner out to announce the program because he doesn't want to make it his own. When he announces a stimulus plan or a new spending bill, it's Obama's moment before the teleprompter. But the public-private partnerships he leaves to his Treasury secretary to announce.
The most rational explanation for Obama's puzzling conduct sabotaging his own program by way of his own rhetoric is that he truly wants to be forced to nationalize the banks in pursuit of his ultimate goal of a socialist economy.
Obama has to oppose nationalization today in order to achieve it tomorrow. He has to show the country and the world that he is doing all he can to help the private sector to sort things out with government help. He must ostentatiously invite the hated demons of Wall Street to join him in rescuing the banks in order, later, to say that he did his best to avoid having to take over the banks. Only then will nationalization be an acceptable alternative when he has run out of other options.
Meanwhile, he makes sure the private sector won't play ball by going after their bonuses, sending an implicit message to the other executives on Wall Street that reads: Stay away.
Even when he takes over the banks, as he almost inevitably will, he is going to have to dress up the nationalization as a temporary measure forced on him by the economy and the previously unrealized depth of the problem. He will cite the example of Sweden, where the government nationalized the banks only temporarily and returned them to private hands quickly.
You can't be for nationalization. But Obama hopes to accomplish it nonetheless.
Already, in the TARP and TALF programs, we can see how eager he is to use government power to manipulate the once-private sector. Consider the mandates piling up on any financial institution that takes government funds: limits on executive pay, corporate travel and conferences; a strong Buy American recommendation; and aggressive action to get them to make consumer loans. Can affirmative action, low-income lending and diversity outreach be far behind?
If Obama can bring banks and the healthcare industry under government control, we will have de facto socialism. Is this Obama's goal? It is obviously where he is headed.
Is Obama a socialist? Rather than throw around labels, let's do the math. The best measure of whether an economy is government- or private-sector-oriented is the percentage of the gross domestic product that flows through government expenditure. Before the current fiscal crisis, here is how the major nations stacked up:
Percent of GDP from Government Expenditure, 2006
Sweden 57 percent
France 53 percent
Germany 48 percent
United Kingdom 43 percent
Japan 35 percent
United States 34 percent
Obama's stimulus package, alone, comes to about 6 percent of GDP, vaulting the United States past Japan to 40 percent on the list above. If we add in the extra spending in the supplemental appropriations bill and the likely increases for health care, the total government percentage will rise well past 40 percent and probably close in on the United Kingdom's 43 percent. That's pretty socialistic, but Obama has three more years to get us up around Germany and really ruin our economy!