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Obama and the "economic royalists": What he should do, but won't

It's hard to know what to make of the first year of Obama's presidency. If he does indeed get a healthcare bill of some kind (and we'll know better after 1 a.m....who says there's a lack of transparency in Washington*) then he arguably would have done a lot of things during those 12 months. But from healthcare to jump-starting the economy to restoring human rights and the rule of law in this country, Obama has reminded us why politicians so often do nothing -- because the system is set up to require so many compromises to "do something" that almost no one can be excited about the mushy mess that emerges (although in Obama's case, some of the unpopular compromising is his own fault). Health care is the prime example -- conservatives are angry over what the government is doing and liberals are furious over what the government isn't doing. Ditto with human rights -- progressives can't be too excited about closing Gitmo or a civilian trial for the 9/11 attackers since so many others continue to be held without charges. Yet we know how the right wing feels about Obama's Guantanamo plan.

Obama and the Democrats are on the brink of paying a horrible price, beginning with the 2010 elections. Ironically, there aren't that many movable, centrist, bona fide swing voters remaining in America, but the once that do exist are now hearing non-stop Obama-blasting in their right ears and not hearing much in the way of defending the president in their left ears.

I do think there's a solution for Obama -- but I don't think he'll take it. I communicate with people on the left, obviously, but I've also been talking lately to a lot of people on the far right of the spectrum (Huh?'ll be hearing more about this in 2010, so stay tuned.) There's one thing, amazingly, that unites the left and right wings in this country, and that is raw fury over the taxpayer bailout of banks and other financial institutions, and more recently over the large bonuses that bankers and Wall Street execs continue to receive. A push for tighter regulations of the financial sector has been slowly wending its way through the system, but most folks don't think it will go far enough to prevent the kind of abuses that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

Meanwhile, have you checked out what they're doing across the pond:

France is looking to match Britain's decision yesterday to impose a one-time 50% windfall tax on bank bonuses, French government officials said today.

Bingo! A direct assault on Wall Street bonuses would be wildly popular, easy for the public to understand, and allow Obama to recapture a tiny share of the "change" aura that has worn off so quickly since his inauguration. It would generate actual enthusiasm from the left, as the bitter taste of the healthcare compromises fades from the headlines, but it would also silence one of the main criticisms from the libertarian elements in the Tea Party movement on the right. It wouldn't get people on the right to vote for Obama, of course, but it would at least shift the political paradigm back toward what it was in 2008. Indeed, it might deepen the rift among conservatives between the Limbaugh/Mitch McConnell pro-business GOP elites and the more libertarian, Ron Paul working-class element. It doesn't have to be the exact same thing as Britain's 50 percent tax -- it's probably too late for that, anyway -- but real, tough actions against Wall Street would be both populist and popular. Student of history that he is, Obama should know that FDR cemented his 1936 re-election landslide not through his New Deal record so much as his powerful attack on "economic royalists" who opposed his programs.

It makes so much political sense that Obama would never do it. He has surrounded himself with an economic team that is inseparable from the Wall Street money-changers who need to be chased from the temple. So now he has a choice: Fire some or all of that wretched team, and take on the economic oligarchy, or lose Congress and spend the latter part of his presidency talking about things like school uniforms and violent video games. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but I'm not a politician. The president might even want to quote from that Roosevelt 1936 speech, delivered right here in Philadelphia, which seems most relevant today:

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.

(* Uh, sarcasm)