Andrew Ross Sorkin Helps Obama Airbrush His “Economic Legacy” with Obsequious Exclusive Interview in the New York Times

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

A good servant moves silently — Bertie Wooster’s Jeeves is said to “shimmer” — anticipates their master’s wishes, and, above all, asks their master no awkward questions. Andrew Ross Sorkin, access journalist, is all that.[1] However, where Jeeves would brush a crumb from Bertie’s sleeve, or straighten his cravat, Sorkin will silently service his master by satisfying needs much less mundane, and much higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy: No awkward questions prime among them.[2]

You can find Sorkin’s lengthy and well-edited Sunday Magazine piece here (“President Obama Weighs His Economic Legacy“). I really ought to put on my yellow waders and go through it line by line, but when I PDFed it, it was nineteen pages long. So I’m going to take another approach. I’m going to look at these five topic areas:

  1. The Big Short Said Nothing Has Changed
  2. “TARP was Paid Back”
  3. “The Deficit Went Down”
  4. Presidents Should Be Graded on the Curve
  5. “Obama Lacked the Political Capital”

These topics are ordered from simple to complex; from what the moral of a movie was, to the nature and use of political capital. In each case, I’ll take Obama’s account of the topics, as quoted or paraphrased by Sorken, and contrast it a more (shall we say) realistic account, bridging the two with the sort of question that Sorkin, had that been his purpose, might have asked; and in each case I’ll underline the words that might have triggered a question. I hope the selection of topics and the accompanying analysis are such that you will be persuaded, even without a grand theory of Obama’s presidency, to trust both Sorkin and Obama on Obama’s “economic legacy” as far as you can throw a piano. So let’s take those topics in order.

The Big Short Said Nothing Has Changed

Here’s what Obama has to say about The Big Short:

[Obama] said that he liked the film “The Big Short” — a vivid portrayal of the 2008 crisis with a special emphasis on the avarice of its main architects — but not its ending. It suggests, wrongly, he said, that nothing has changed on Wall Street.

So here let me, on Sorkin’s behalf, ask my first question:

Q1: Mr. President, by “ending,” do you mean the very last sentence of the epilogue, or the entire epilogue?

Because Obama’s framing didn’t jibe with my recollection, I went and dug up the screenplay for The Big Short (PDF). Here’s the epilogue, in its entirety:


And then over black…

“When the dust settled from the collapse 5 trillion dollars in pension money, real estate value, 401k, savings, and bonds had disappeared. 8 million people lost their jobs, six million lost their homes. And that was just in the USA.”

“Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley attempted to sue the ratings agencies but were laughed out of all law offices. Jamie still runs Brownfield with Ben Rickert but Charlie left New York to live in Charlotte and start a family. He did not go on Lithium.”

“Cynthia says Mark Baum actually became gracious after the collapse and never said “I told you so” to anyone. But he did give large sums of his money to a charity that helps people escape from cults. Danny, Vinny and Porter all still run a fund together and are as terrified as ever.”

“Michael Burry contacted the government several times to see if anyone wanted to interview him to find out how he knew the system would collapse years before anyone else. No one ever returned his calls. But he was audited four times and questioned by the FBI. The small investing he still does is all focused on one commodity: water.” [ulp]

After a beat…

“In 2015 several large banks began selling billions in something called a “bespoke tranche opportunity.” Which according to the Wall Street Journal is just another name for a CDO.”


Now, to be fair to Obama, the last sentence, beginning with “In 2015…,” could be read to suggest that “nothing has changed.” But I know what the Epilogue means to me. It means The crooks got away with it. And that’s what it means to Michael Burry, too:

Were you surprised no one went to jail?

I am shocked that executives at some of the worst lenders were not punished for what they did. But this is the nature of these things. The ones running the machine did not get punished after the dot-com bubble either — all those VCs and dot-com executives still live in their mansions lining the 280 corridor on the San Francisco peninsula. The little guy will pay for it — the small investor, the borrower. Which is why the little guy needs to be warned to be more diligent and to be more suspicious of society’s sanctioned suits offering free money. It will always be seductive, but that’s the devil that wants your soul.

Of course, the official myth in Washington, to which all, including Obama, subscribe, is that no criminal wrongdoing took place. And so Sorkin helps Obama airbrush that unpleasant possibility away; down to the detail of a few paragraphs in a movie script.

“TARP was Paid Back”

Here’s what Gene Sperling has to say on the bailouts:

Gene Sperling, the former director of the National Economic Council who spent hours inside the Oval Office debating and devising the president’s economic strategy, told me, “If we were back in early 2009 — when we were coming to work every morning with clenched stomachs, with the economy losing 800,000 jobs a month and the Dow under 7,000 — and someone said that by your last year in office, unemployment would be 5 percent, the deficit would be under 3 percent, AIG would have turned a profit and we made all our money back on the banks, that would’ve been beyond anybody’s wildest expectations.”

(I pity Sperling’s nervous stomach. Of course, I pity the families of the jobless who committed suicide a good deal more.)

So let me, on Sorkin behalf, ask a second question:

Q2: Professor Sperling, how did “we” make our money back on the banks?

A question to which Steve Waldman of Interfluidity had the answer, back in 2011:

I find it really depressing that I have to write this. But it seems I have to write it.

Substantially all of the TARP funds advanced to banks have been paid back, with interest and sometimes even with a profit from sales of warrants. Most of the (much larger) extraordinary liquidity facilities advanced by the Fed have also been wound down without credit losses. So there really was no bailout, right? The banks took loans and paid them back. …

[Lambert here: That’s Sperling’s line.]


Cash is not king in financial markets. Risk is. The government bailed out major banks by assuming the downside risk of major banks when those risks were very large, for minimal compensation. In particular, the government 1) offered regulatory forbearance and tolerated generous valuations; 2) lent to financial institutions at or near risk-free interest rates against sketchy collateral (directly or via guarantee); 3) purchased preferred shares at modest dividend rates under TARP; 4) publicly certified the banks with stress tests and stated “no new Lehmans”. By these actions, the state assumed substantially all of the downside risk of the banking system. The market value of this risk-assumption by the government was more than the entire value of the major banks to their “private shareholders”. On commercial terms, the government paid for and ought to have owned several large banks lock, stock, and barrel. Instead, officials carefully engineered deals to avoid ownership and control.

But still. Everything worked out, right? It turns out that banks didn’t need to use the government’s giant insurance policy. It was just a panic after all!


Suppose my kid’s meth habit got the best of him. He needs to come up with $100K quick or his dealer’s gonna whack him. But he’s a good kid, really! Coulda happened to anyone. So I “lend” him the money, even though he has no visible means of support and the sketchiest loan sharks in town wouldn’t give him the time of day. Now I believe in bootstraps and hard work, individualism and self-reliance. So I tell my son. “Son, you are going to pay me back every penny of that loan. You are going to work it off. I have arranged with one of my golf buddies, a guy who owes me a favor or three, a job that pays $200K a year. You’d better show up every day at 9 a.m. and sit behind that desk, and get me back my money!” And he does! After a year, he’s made me whole. What a good kid.

No bail out, right? He paid me back every penny! Worked it off!

Bullshit. The opportunity I provided him, the $200K job that he would not have received without my intercession, was a huge grant. On the open market, if I were to accept bribes from the highest bidder to wangle the job from my friend, that opportunity would be worth more than the $100K advanced. I paid my son’s loan with my own money. I just obscured the cash flows, so my son and I can pretend and sustain our mutual self-regard and our righteous disdain for the moochers and the hippies and the riff-raff.

Now, to be fair, Sperling’s line is the Beltway line, and a great deal of effort went into creating that line, propagating it, and turning into conventional wisdom, as Yves shows here. And so, in line with what he conceives his duty to be, Sorkin shimmeringly purveys that line.

“The Deficit Went Down”

Sorkin captures a “frustrating” moment for Obama on Air Force One, when he looked like he was “stewing about something”:

[Obama] quickly returned to the topic of public perception. “If you ask the average person on the streets, ‘Have deficits gone down or up under Obama?’ probably 70 percent would say they’ve gone up,” Obama said, with some justifiable exasperation — the deficit has in fact declined (by roughly three-quarters) since he took office, and polls do show that a large majority of Americans believe the opposite.

I won’t speculate why Americans believe as they do about the deficit. (Perhaps they think government is like a household?) However, a question that Sorkin might well have asked is this:

Q3: Mr. President, is a declining deficit necessarily a good thing?

And of course it isn’t. Leaving aside MMT, even the mainstream — Janet Yellen, Doug Elmendorf and Louise Sheiner, the occasional French mandarin, to pick some recent examples at random — is slowly coming round to the notion that monetary policy can’t do it alone, and in consequence deficits are neither good nor bad but policy makes them so.

Of course, Sorkin asks no such thing (even as, later in the interview, Obama laments the post-2010 lack of infrastructure spending even though interest rates were low).

“Presidents Should Be Graded on the Curve”

Here Sorkin focuses not on Obama’s frustrations, but on his feeling that he is underappreciated:

Obama was talking to me about the problem of political capital. His efforts to rebuild the U.S. economy from the 2008 financial crisis were being hit from left, right and center. And yet, by his own assessment, those efforts were vastly underappreciated. “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” he said. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”

(We’ll get to political capital in the next section.) Here’s the obvious question that Sorkin did not ask:

Q4: Mr. President, do you really believe that you managed the Great Recession better than FDR managed the Great Depression?

(“Modern history” begins in 1500, roughly.) But that would imply that Obama either had an unconventional definition of modern history, believed that the U.S. economy in the 1930s was not “large,” was throwing shade on Democratic icon FDR, or had an inflated sense of his own self-importance, and those are exactly the sort of awkward answers a trained servant doesn’t elicit. So Sorkin doesn’t go there. He also doesn’t ask a more subtle question:

Q5: Mr. President, do you believe that citizens should grade Presidents on the curve?

Because comforting as it may be for Obama, personally, to compare his performance to historical figures, that’s not what the average citizen does or should do. In the short run, we’re all alive, and our needs are met in absolute terms where concrete material benefits (say, wages) are central. If one loaf of bread is my minimum daily requirement, then it does me no good, no good at all, if President B gives me three-quarters of a loaf where President A gave me half of one, no matter that President B is better than President A in relative terms. It’s as if Roman citizens were to judge Claudius only relative to his predecessor, Caligula, instead of judging Claudius in his own right. But that’s how Obama would like to be judged.

“Obama Lacked the Political Capital”

And now to the vexed issue of Obama’s political capital. Here’s Obama’s case for the defense, as recorded by Sorkin:

Asked if he was frustrated by all the criticism, Obama insisted that he wasn’t, at least not personally. “It has frustrated me only insofar as it has shaped the political debate,” he said. “We were moving so fast early on that we couldn’t take victory laps. We couldn’t explain everything we were doing. I mean, one day we’re saving the banks; the next day we’re saving the auto industry; the next day we’re trying to see whether we can have some impact on the housing market.”

The result, he said, was that he lacked the political capital to do more. As his presidency nears its end, this has become an increasingly common refrain from Obama, who, despite his prodigious skills as an orator, has come to seem more confident about his achievements than about his ability to promote them. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

This is such densely packed material that I’m going to help Sorkin again out with several questions:

Q6: Mr. President, when you agreed with the Republicans that TARP should be passed, what policy concessions did you extract from them?

Because here’s Sorkin’s description of what went down:

The next day Obama found himself in the Cabinet Room just down the hall from the Oval Office, along with McCain and congressional leaders from both parties. Henry M. Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary, was developing a bank bailout by which the Treasury would buy up to $700 billion in shaky mortgage-backed securities — “troubled assets” — a plan that eventually became the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. He needed votes, and Republicans weren’t going for it. Nobody wanted to be seen as a friend of the banks.

“We’re sitting around a table, McCain is on one side, I’m on the other, Bernanke and Paulson and President Bush,” Obama recalled. “Paulson says, ‘If we don’t take action now, we could go into a free fall.’ And given how bad the politics were, it was still very tempting for Nancy and Harry” — that is, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid — “to let the Republicans do what they needed to do.”

Many within Bush’s own party were supporting an alternative bill that was focused on mortgage-­asset insurance and tax cuts. But Obama, convinced that anything short of a major bailout could lead to economic catastrophe, said Democrats should back Paulson’s plan. They did.

Obama had the Republicans by the short and curlies. An incoming President has more political capital than he will have at any other time. And yet, in Sorkin’s telling, Obama invested no capital at all. All Obama did was agree. He didn’t agree A in exchange for B. He “let the Republicans do what they needed to do.” DId he not have other ideas? Or was he, in policy terms, simply in alignment with them? Did he believe that all would be well in the garden? Was he keeping his powder dry? We don’t know. And Sorkin doesn’t ask the awkward question.

Here’s a second question, on the Democrats’ loss of the Senate in 2010:

Q7: Mr. President, who are “the swing voters” you would have liked to “explain” your policies to in 2010?

The quintessential 2010 race the Democrats lost in 2010 was in Massachusetts, where Martha Coakely lost the Senate race to Scott Brown. Why did they lose that race? Thomas Ferguson explains the loss:

Put simply, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, lower income Massachusetts towns produced substantially heavier majorities for Democrats than richer areas. But in 2010, patterns of voter turnout shifted dramatically: Voters did not turn out in poorer communities that normally give Democrats disproportionately heavy shares of the vote. The finding is consistent with the claim put forward by the chief pollster of the Democratic campaign, that the Obama administration’s unwillingness to face down the banks and slowness in dealing with the recession have demoralized the party’s electoral base.

It’s hard to see how even a President with Obama’s rhetorical skills could “explain” to a swing voter how he’s done such a good job when that same voter just lost their job and their house. What was Obama going to tell them? “Take one for the team”? In other words, the Democrats lost in 2010 on policy; wherever they invested their political capital, it wasn’t with voters. Of course, Sorkin never does think to ask you those pesky “swing voters” might have been. After all, the answer might have been awkward.

In fact, we might help Sorkin out with another, more generalized question:

Q8: Mr. President, if a thoroughly discredited opposition, the Senate, the House, the greatest orator of our time as President, the love of the media, and a mandate for “hope and change” don’t constitute sufficient “political capital,” what does?

And there isn’t really a good answer to that, is there?

So, that was fun!

Readers, I invite you to peruse Sorkin’s piece and devise your own questions. Believe me, it’s a target-rich environment.


[1] Some have called Sorkin “credulous”. Others have called him “a Wall Street concern troll.” Still others have called him “not exactly a Timesman” (that’s gotta sting). But I think all these criticisms are unfair. Sorkin simply has what is called, in the trade, a “service heart.”

[2] Of course, I know that the premise of Wodehouse’s Jeeves series is that Jeeves is, in fact, much smarter than Bertie, and constantly gets him out of scrapes. But we don’t think Sorkin’s smarter than Obama. Right?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Steven

    Obama’s got about eight months left but I guess he’s going to keep his powder dry until the end. You never know what might come up, ya know.

  2. allan

    “Obama Lacked the Political Capital”

    The key to understanding this is that `lacked’ is being used as a transitive verb.

  3. Lumpenproletariat

    I’m guessing Obomber will ride off into the sunset, then cash in with a book deal and huge speaking fees. The books and speaking tours won’t be especially interesting, but they’ll be a nice gesture of thanks from his constituents.

    Deep down, the oligarchs know it’s a sinking ship and the regulatory capture by a bunch of vested interests will inevitably result in economic implosion. But hey, they will have made enough or be dead by the time of reckoning. Kinda like 1980s Soviet Union. You KNEW Brezhnev’s clan and their nomenklatura was corrupt. They still enjoyed it.

    1. John Wright

      Possibly Obama will find attempts to monetize his post presidency are not as lucrative as the Clintons’.

      With Hill + Bill, payments to them could possibly influence future policy, with HRC as Senator or as SOS.

      And there was always the possibility HRC would become president and the investment in Team Clinton might be even more valuable if that happened.

      So these payments to the Team Clinton could have a decent chance of a future good return on the investment.

      With Obama, it is less likely that vast money paid to him as speaking fees post presidency will have a good pay off as he probably won’t have an influential job, or the possibility of one, and his wife won’t be positioned for one either..

      Cue MIchelle Obama singing Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is..” as Obama writes his books and serves on corporate boards.

      1. different clue

        If Obama’s beneficiaries don’t make the big paybacks to Obama, what incentive will future presidents have to perform the same services for the OverClass rich people? Failure to pay off Obama for all the money he has made for them, as well as giving them the freedom-from-prosecution which is worth more than all the money in the world, would set a bad precedent which future presidents would take note of.

  4. RootieKazootie

    I will always wonder what the current political landscape would look like if the “hope and change” Obama who ran for President in 2008 had actually become the President.

    1. TK421

      Think about this: Obama could have made immigrants feel more welcome. Instead, his administration deported more immigrants than any other, ever. Now we have Donald Trump running around making hay about building a wall and exploiting immigration fear to rise to power.

      Same thing with Muslims. Obama has attacked more Muslim countries than any other president. So if you find yourself wondering where this Islamophobia that Trump is exploiting came from, think of that.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        And yet somehow the Democrats have managed to position themselves a being pro-immigrant. An amazing achievement, when you think about it.

  5. optimader

    “‘Formation’-inspired protest blocks streets in Chicago” [Rolling Out].

    Anyone see ANY historical irony that they chained themselves together?

    Or was that for the convenience of whomever led them away after one of the (black) Millennium Park Security Guys who normally is wandering aimlessly on a Segway trundled over with the bolt-cutter so they could be relocated to a bike rack next to the Bean.

    The Generation Clueless version of civil disobedience, with sista-gear and dance moves inspired by Beyoncé! What’s not to love here?
    post script, and what’s not to love about internetz supervisory technology gone wild that when I type Beyoncé in this GUI, it’s watching close enough to automatically spellcheck w/ an added accent aigu e?

    1. TK421

      Blocking working people from going to clock in, yeah that will win people over. Brilliant move.

      1. perpetualWAR

        I really despise the masses of Americans who respond the way you just did.

      2. mk

        That blocking strategy shut down the WTO meetings in the Battle in Seattle. Works pretty good if you have enough people participating.

  6. fresno dan

    Most MSM “reporting” is transcribing bullsh*t…enthusiastically!!!
    It is pretty obvious nowadays, to get an interview one cannot challenge or ask critical questions, or bring up reality.

    As an example:

    “I trust the good people of Indiana to differentiate,” Cruz said. “We are not a country built on hatred. We are not a country built on anger, built on pettiness. We are not a country built on bullying. We are not a country about selfishness. No country in the world has spilled more blood saving the lives of others than America. We are not a petty, bigoted, angry people. That is not America.”
    From there, Cruz jumped on the phone to talk with an Indiana radio host. He excoriated media in “Manhattan” for saying that the primary was functionally over, and attacked Trump — but not over transgender bathrooms. Instead, he hit on a theme that the campaign found Friday, when Trump mystifyingly mentioned his endorsement from Mike Tyson.

    “Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist who served three years in prison in Indiana for rape,” Cruz said. “I don’t think rapists are tough guys. I think rapists are weaklings and bullies. We all know that bullies behave the way they do because they’re scared.”

    So Cruz resurrects Lee Atwater. Yes, Cruz is much smarter and sophisticated in his use of dog whistles – and in my view his well planned, well designed, well researched and poll tested innuendos belies his self characterization as a sweet, kind optimist…
    Boehner was wrong that Cruz is Lucifer….Cruz is much, much, MUCH (did I say much) worse than Lucifer…

    Back to Obama, the only relevant question is: Would a nominal repub (as opposed to defact repub Obama) have been actually less effective at preventing ANY investigation/prosecution of the banksters???….as maybe, just maybe, some dems would have pitched a fit??? Nah – the Hillary wing would have prevented it.
    The dirty secret is that on matters of substance, the “two” parties are in lock step on endorsing corruption and advocating all war all the time.

  7. Vatch

    Sorkin neglects to mention the dozens of senior bank and hedge fund executives who were prosecuted for their crimes that caused the Great Financial Collapse. Oh, wait, . . . .

  8. Ivy

    MGM was known for Ars Gratia Artis

    NYT is known for ARS Gratia Obama

    Sic transit gloria mundi….

      1. Fool

        Lambert – I would think so. A verified Naked Capitalism / Yves / Lambert account would probably draw readers, especially on highly trafficked/annotated pages (e.g. Krugman’s weekly auditions for Treasury Secretary).

        Another benefit is that it’s a good way for NC community to spread the knowledge.

  9. EmilianoZ

    I think one of the most important sentences in the Sorkin piece is this one:

    Something has changed, and as he prepares to leave office, Obama seems to understand that his economic legacy might be judged not just by what he has done, but by how the results compare to a bygone era of middle-class opportunity, one that perhaps no president, faced with the sweeping changes transforming the global economy, could ever bring back.

    You’ve heard it. The good times, they aint never coming back. People’s expectations are just unrealistic. And this irreversible change is also the reason why the big 0 is pursuing the TPP. Here’s how he pitches it in the piece:

    “It’s one of the reasons that I pursued the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said, bringing up the free-trade pact that, uniquely, has divided both parties, “not because I’m not aware of all the failures of some past trade agreements and the disruptions to our economy that occurred as a consequence of globalization, but rather my assessment that most trends are irreversible given the nature of global supply chains, and so we better be out there shaping the rules in ways that allow for higher labor standards overseas, or try to export our environmental standards overseas so that we have more of a level playing field.”

    It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just like the great natural forces of nature. Nothing stays the same for ever. Everything changes. Nobody knows where evolution will take us.

    1. apber

      “Nobody knows where evolution will take us”

      Well, actually we do. Given the incremental descent into totalitarian control (on a global basis, no less) I see “the Hunger Games” in our future.

  10. KYrocky

    Obama is hiding from the truth. First, as has been documented, since his first day in office the Republicans had already conspired and agreed to the strategy of denying Obama ANY Republican votes; and second, Obama came into office committed to “changing the tone” and set “bipartisanship”, that is, getting Republican votes, as his first and foremost objective.

    The truth is that this is why Obama had no political capital: his quest for bipartisanship combined with his egotistical belief that the power of his persuasion could win over republicans neutered him from day one.

    For an entire first term Obama and his team obsessively avoided any criticism of Republicans for fear of being labeled partisan, and likewise threw under the bus other Democrats that did as “not being helpful”. The losses in 2010 were 100% about Obama’s failures. His failure to contrast a Democratic agenda with the Republican agenda (‘the election is over, we need to work together’). His failure to acknowledge the crimes of the banks coupled with his labeling problems in the housing market being caused by “irresponsible” home buyers. And, significantly, his acquiescence to every demand made by the banks and none of the demands made by the Democratic base.

    And it is that last item, Obama’s almost outright hostility to the demands of the Democratic base, that has created a lasting fissure in the Democratic party. There was an infinite amount of excuse making for Obama, that he was playing eleven dimensional chess, that he was a political Zen master who would soon deliver for the base. It never happened. It never was going to happen.

    Obama’s ego and prioritization of political comity over the needs of the people are to blame. Obama’s conceit allows him to believe that he handled the greatest economic recovery in the history of the world is astonishing on two fronts: first, that he places himself above FDR, and second, his cluelessness of the fact that the recession has never ended for a substantial percentage of the population. But that is who he is.

    1. Synoia

      There was an infinite amount of excuse making for Obama, that he was playing eleven dimensional chess, that he was a political Zen master who would soon deliver for the base. It never happened. It never was going to happen.

      Oh but he did play eleventy-sevenr dimensional chess, and it is happening. TPP.

      1. YankeeFrank

        Now let’s not give them credit they don’t deserve. The TPP is certainly not impressive or brilliant. Its just one more massive corporate power grab among so many over the past 50-100 years. And if it gets passed its just one more piece of undemocratic legislation our supine congress will jam through against the will of the people. There is nothing genius about corruption. In fact its one of the most predictable and boring, uncreative inventions the human race has given us, and its older than the pharaohs.

    2. aab

      You’re still regurgitating a lot of falsely exculpatory Obama spin. He installed Rahm, Summers, etc. before taking the oath of office. That had zero to do with those meanie Republicans or him wanting to change the tone. He was staked to run for president by Goldman Sachs and Chicago real estate. They were always his masters, and it was always his intention to fleece the rubes by using his racial identity to charm liberal whites and motivate blacks into believing he was far more progressive than he really was. (I was one of the former. My excuse is a) my mother died during the primaries; on her death bed she was watching the Wisconsin returns and praying for him to win to make America a better place for those she was leaving behind, and b) I figured he would at least be better than Hillary Clinton, which seems like the right call, even now. She’d have bombed Iran AND Russia by now.) He was installed to protect FIRE, and he did his job pretty well. If the Freedom Caucus hadn’t gotten in the way with their inconvenient belief in what they ran on to get elected, he’d have cut Social Security, etc., and all would right with Wall Street.

      I know there was plenty of bitching from finance dudes that he didn’t deliver enough or speak highly of them enough. But when your butler doesn’t properly iron your sock garters, it’s right and proper to correct them.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      “the Republicans had already conspired and agreed to the strategy of denying Obama”

      That is exactly what the Republicans did with Bill Clinton, from day one of his administration. So why would anybody expect the current crop of Republicans to do anything different?

      The eternal question: Stupid and/or evil?

  11. Larry

    I will take minor umbrage with the bit on Scott Brown winning a senatorial seat. This was a two-fer really. Obama’s leadership through the economic crisis clearly did nothing but foam the runway with the little people, and the little people might not be able to explain it, but they knew they were runway foam as Lambert correctly points out.

    But secondly, the Democratic machine served up a dead fish in Martha Coakley. I won’t comment on her skills as a litigator, but State AG is basically a position you win by being a Democrat in MA. Martha passed that test. But a Senate election isn’t just inside baseball, you have greater exposure to a wide swath of people. Martha is a terrible politician. She was famously quoted as not being willing to shake hands in bad weather with voters, she was above being out in bad weather. Not a great look in a state that mostly consists of “bad weather”.

    And this one is important, Obamacare is was a big, big political issue at that the time. And as all NC readers know, Obamacare is just Romneycare, which was rolled out here in Massachusetts quite some time ago. So Martha is left defending a policy initiative that many people in Massachusetts already know is bullshit from personal experience. Scott Brown was to be a deciding vote in repealing/blocking Obamacare. Well, why would anyone in MA outside of the liberal elite want to defend a Heritage Foundation plan that delivers expensive health insurance but very little actual healthcare?

    The voters in MA are not stupid. We have turned down things like state income tax reductions in recent elections because enough of us believe in the public good. Martha was so obviously not interested in the people that she didn’t get elected. Scott Brown proved to be nothing more than an F-150 and a barn jacket and was quickly voted out of office and ultimately failed out of politics after losing a senate campaign in NH.

    What what does dear old Martha do now? She failed in another campaign for governor and of course works for a white shoe law firm as Of Counsel:

    And does things like defend internet gambling websites from implosion. I’m sure it’s lucrative to basically be a lobbyist with a law degree in my fair Commonwealth:

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Coakley actually won a $20 million dollar settlement against Goldman Sachs. And then, in 2010, which one would think was a populist year, didn’t hammer that point on the trail. I can’t recall her bringing it up, and I was paying attention at the time.

  12. ian

    Regarding lacking political capital: he spent it on the ACA. He considered that a higher priority. That’s fine, but that’s not the same thing as lacking it.

    1. Yves Smith

      No, that is incorrect. The ACA push was well after all the bank bailouts and Dodd Frank. And going after the banks was in the DoJ’s wheelhouse. He could have done plenty on that front without spending legislative capital.

  13. JaaaaayCeeeee

    Here’s a few more of my favorite revisions of history by Obama, in that nyt buffing of Obama’s economic legacy, which includes Obama lying like a Clinton about Sanders, and setting expectations for the next administration with lies about what’s possible:

    Obama blamed not marketing to voters better how he had saved the economy, when he mostly just saved banks.

    Obama claimed Bernie Sanders’ approach to the banks/financial sector is dangerously blundering, because Sanders would cause damaging disruption and unintended consequences, which Sanders would actually prevent.

    Obama blamed Republicans for having to start cutting deficits, and claimed sequestration was just to prevent Republicans from doing something worse. This is Clintonian (crime bill, Doma) level blame shifting, which is why Clinton claimed in the first debate that Republicans are the greatest threat to America. Expect more of this.

    Obama is still selling retraining as the answer to his administration’s decisions to reduce jobs and wages.

    Obama said you are either for trade pacts like TPP or a protectionist against free trade (TINA).

    1. different clue

      TINA? I see a choice of two alternatives right in what Obama said there. You are either for trade pacts like TPP or you are a protectionist against free trade. Hopefully soon office seekers begin to run on being protectionists against free trade.

  14. TedWa

    Re: Bailouts section “An incoming President has more political capital than he will have at any other time. And yet, in Sorkin’s telling, Obama invested no capital at all. All Obama did was agree.”

    He did more than just agree, he wanted a bailout of the banks with absolutely no strings attached saying he didn’t want to inherit a great depression – which made McCain wince. Even the Republicans wanted strings attached if there was to be a bailout and offered that. Strings attached saved GM. No strings attached left the corruption at the banks in place. Tell me he wasn’t a Wall St puppet. That’s just not what the Democrats I’ve known in my lifetime do. George HW Bush went after the banks in the S&L crisis. No strings attached is more to the right than all the Republicans.

  15. TedWa

    It still galls me to hear the banks paid back the TARP funds and bailouts. How are they going to pay us back for all the legislation drawn up after TARP that continues to bail the banks out on the taxpayers dime, included making the banks clearly committing fraud in breaking the chain of title on nearly all their foreclosures legal, with a small fine. The bailouts don’t end

  16. Angry Panda

    So here’s a curious thought.

    Generally, when you see someone utter a talking point or a slogan, there are only three possibilities. One, the person knows little or nothing about the matter other than said talking point or slogan, which has been given to them by an external actor. Two, the person is engaging in demagoguery to achieve some real or perceived objective. Three, the person genuinely believes in the talking point or slogan in question, for whatever reason.

    So here we have Obama spending the last several months (has it been months?) doing his farewell interview slash magazine profile tour, of which the Sorkin piece is simply the latest (but presumably not the last) stop. At each whistle stop, he unloaded some very specific and often similar if not identical talking points, for example the one about “lacking political capital”, or about how “we’ve achieved much but didn’t explain it well enough for people to like us better”.

    Which of the three possibilities is it?

    Possibility one seems unlikely. Georgie boy might have been “Possibility One” his entire life, more or less, but Obama does not seem to be of the type.

    Possibility two? Deviousness and demagoguery? A carefully rolled out campaign to airbrush his image just as he rides off into the sunset, to eight figure book advances, six figure paid speeches, and ridiculously expensive presidential libraries? An incredibly subtle attempt to shape the pre-election narrative in case it turns out to be a referendum on the Obama presidency?

    Or does he actually believe all this, in his heart of hearts? That he’s done a lot of good (ha!) but is simply misunderstood. That some combination of things prevented him from doing what various “ideologues” had wanted him to do, and that he instead heroically (double ha!) chose the pragmatist route while stoically (triple ha!) bearing the resulting odium?

    Yeah. I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s door number three all the way. A pinch of narcissism (though nowhere near Clinton doses), a dash of self-pity (inflated by the fact the pre-presidency everyone, for years, told him nothing but what a good boy he’d been), a big bucket of not knowing enough to begin with about any concrete policy area to have to rely on “experts”…

    …ye gods. Put me on the list of never cracking open his upcoming memoir right now. Georgie boy’s probably seems interesting by comparison (not that I’ve read it) – at least you can spend most of the time imagining it to be some sort of a “Life and Opinions of Tomcat Bush in Dick Cheney’s White House” type of thing.

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