A uniter and a divider?

[Peter Suderman]
As I wrote on the office blog at the time, there were a couple of passages in Obama's speech on financial regulation that bugged me. I continue to be bothered by the fact that despite his recognition that the current financial regulation system is outdated, designed for another era, and his equal recognition that we've dealt "with threats to the financial system that weren't anticipated by regulators," the solution is, well, more regulators! It's as if he sees the consistent inability of bureaucracy and regulation to keep pace with market innovation and then says, "But if we just made it a little faster, maybe this time…"

But reading through it, I was also impressed, in a way, not just by his typically soaring rhetorical style, but by his sharp rhetorical tactics. Basically Obama likes to present problems in a moderate conservative frame — and then use that frame to argue for fairly standard liberal policy. So you get passages up front that are positively rapturous in the way they describe the American market — calling it the "envy of the world" and talking about how it "provided great rewards to innovators and risk-takers." It's not quite Larry Kudlow, but it's more than just the generic "America is a land of opportunity" line that every politician has to recite from time to time. Those broad criticisms he mounts about the problems with an outdated regulatory system would be at home in speeches made by plenty of Republicans. But it's in the back end where he tends to switches things up, calling, in this case, for greater financial oversight, harsher punishments for "market manipulation," etc. It's a nice trick, one he employs quite a bit, and I suspect it goes a long way toward bolstering his image as a uniter. It's easy to give up rhetorical ground if you're strengthening your control of the policy territory.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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