Three things must happen if the president wants to get ahead of this politically damaging story:
(1) He must sack U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner immediately and nominate a highly education and qualified successor, who does not have any friends on Wall Street and any connection to Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bank of America, CitiGroup, and Countrywide. Obama shouldn't give the (hopefully departing) secretary a Presidential Medal of Freedom or a pat on the back. Geithner isn't fighting for us; he's fighting against us.
(2) Announce that his administration will be conducting an investigation to see if any criminal charges can be filed on the taxpayers' behalf against Geithner & AIG officials mentioned in the e-mails as well as any civil fraud charges that SEC might file against them. If the e-mails are legitimate, Geithner encouraged AIG officials (who in turn willingly complied) to file false claims on their applications so that they can acquire $182 billion of the taxpayers' hard-earned money. There must be something U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could get them on (fraud? filing false claims?) and if he is having any trouble he could always talk to Eliot Spitzer.
(3) Renew his commitment to reform the financial system. Release the AIG e-mails as former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, William K. Black, and Frank Partnoy suggest in their latest Huffington Post column and move to break up the banks.
The timing could not have been worse. Polls show President Barack Obama's approval rating declining. Many believe this country is still headed on the wrong track. They believe Obama isn't doing enough to create the jobs his predecessor lost because his attention is directed to the debate on health care, no matter how directly tied it is to their welfare, and the progressive/liberal wing of his party for that matter believe he is focused on getting any, as opposed to a good, health care bill through Congress. They believe that Washington is fighting for the interests of the power brokers while leaving the average working Joe and Jane to fight for themselves. CEO's of major U.S. firms write checks underwritten by U.S. taxpayers to preserve their seven-figure bonuses after wiping out workers' 401(k) and retirement plans. They see the stock market rise again while grandma is forced to go back to work in a market where jobs are scarce.
And what does the administration have to say to them? And what does the administration have to show for its year in office? A tepid stimulus package that hasn't created any jobs yet? The banks that promised to give the U.S. government its money back haven't done so yet and the administration that promised to end "too big to fail" has, well, failed to break the larger banks up yet. We were told that AIG's bailouts would enable it to loan to the smaller banks and businesses that would otherwise go under. It sounded like Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics which former President George H.W. (a.k.a. "the smart one" Bush) called "voodoo economics) but we were prepared to give the current administration a chance. We needed to believe in anything. To believe that hope was around the corner. To believe that someone is looking out for the average working stiff.
And then we learn about some f-----g e-mails which suggest that nothing has changed at all. That the powers-that-be in Washington are still, to this day, looking out for the rich bankers on Wall Street.
I'm sorry. This is not the change that I voted for. And though my donations to the Obama campaign might seem paltry when compared to those made by the fat cat robber barons on Wall Street or Hartford, CT I had every reason to believe that we the people would have the president's ear. In the aggregate we didn't do too poorly raising some money.
The president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have eleven months to get something done. I know that we have entered an economic rough patch and I know that the president has inherited a mess from his predecessor. And I know that it might take a while to turn things around. And I know that the Republicans, whose philosophical believes and policies have led us into this mess have proposed nothing to get us out of it. But the president must at least have us believe that he is trying to undo the damage that was inflicted by his predecessor - that he is at least fighting for us. That he would hold the bankers that ruined this economy and the health insurance companies that have taken our money in exchange for coverage accountable. That he is going to be the "fierce advocate" for the gays and other Americans that he said he will be. That he will fight for the working poor and the ever-dwindling middle class American that is feeling like the working poor day-by-day. That he will fight for new environmental regulations to curb the effects of global warming.
That, in sum, he will be the advocate for change that he promised us he will be.
Does the president get it? Do the Democrats on Capitol Hill get it? They have the majority, a filibuster-proof majority to be exact, in the senate. They have a comfortable majority in the House, and they have the White House. They were expected to do something with that majority.
And if not, is there not one Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill or in the White House to explain this to them? November's just around the corner. Eleven months, Mr. President. Eleven months. Shift your focus now or watch us sit the next election out.