AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais
So much for the meritocracy. Despite an elite education, effusive charm and brilliant wit, Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, has ended up betraying his humble origins by abjectly serving the most rapacious variant of Wall Street greed. They both talk a good progressive game, but when push comes to shove -- meaning when the banking lobby weighs in -- big money talks and the best and the brightest fold.
The defining moment of Clinton's capitulation was his destruction of Brooksley Born, the one member of his administration with the courage and prescience to warn him about the unregulated derivatives trading that ultimately led to the housing collapse. For Obama, it is his decision not to nominate Elizabeth Warren to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she fought so hard to create.
Obama's refusal to take the fight to Senate Republicans by nominating Warren should be taken as the vital measure of the man. This gutless decision comes after the president populated his administration with the very people who created the financial meltdown.
The Harvard credential worked for the likes of economist Lawrence Summers, who carried water for Wall Street under both Clinton and Obama, but not for that university's distinguished law professor Warren, an outspoken defender of consumer rights who dared represent the interests of the victims of the banking scams. It is a painful reminder that for Democrats as well as Republicans, governance is still all about serving the rich.
Both Democratic presidents had no difficulty appointing top bankers and their acolytes to all of the key economic positions in their administrations but drew the line at fully backing the rare member of their team who had a proven record of defending the public interest when it was being savaged. Consider the fawning treatment of former Goldman Sachs partner Gary Gensler by both Clinton and Obama. In the Clinton Treasury Department, it was Gensler working under both Robert Rubin and Summers who forcefully pushed for the radical deregulation of the financial industry that led to the biggest economic implosion since the Great Depression.