The President's speech to Wall Street today about financial reform has all the classic Obama touches. Linking reform to responsibility? Check. Shooting down straw men who defend the status quo? Check. Channeling Jennifer Aniston? Big fat check.
Let me explain!
I have an running observation about Obama, inspired by this article in The New Republic, that the president likes to remind audiences that he would prefer to tweak their incentives than have the government mandate reform. He and Treasury, you remember, wanted private investors to choose to buy the toxic assets. He continues to ask private insurers to choose preventative care, end underwriting and cut it out with rescission.
This instinct reminded me of a famous scene from Aniston's movie The Break-Up, where her character famously tells her live-in boyfriend (Vince Vaughn), not that she wants to do the dishes for him; nor that she wants to force him to do the dishes: She wants him to want to do the dishes.
Reading Obama's speech with my Rom-Com glasses on, the message is strikingly familiar. Obama doesn't want to run Wall St. He wants Wall St. to re-learn how to run itself.
I've always been a strong believer in the power of the free market ... I certainly did not run for President to bail out banks or intervene in the capital markets ...
One of the most important ways to rebuild the system stronger than before is to rebuild trust stronger than before - and you do not have to wait for a new law to do that. You don't have to wait to use plain language in your dealings with consumers. You don't have to wait to put the 2009 bonuses of your senior executives up for a shareholder vote. You don't have to wait for a law to overhaul your pay system so that folks are rewarded for long-term performance instead of short-term gains.
Shorter Obama: "I didn't run for president to do your dishes, Wall Street. I don't want to do your dishes. I want you to want to do your dishes."
I swear, it's not just me watching too much TBS. Tim Fernholz remarks that "his call for financial sector players to act voluntarily in the public interest immediately rather than waiting for reform to pass" sounds like "health care tactics all over again." It's true! This is a very standard rhetorical tactic for Obama. Whether it works for him better than the threat worked for Aniston's character, however, remains an open question.