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Obama Takes to the Street

Wall Street has been among Barack Obama's strongest bases of financial support, but yesterday he came bearing not thanks but a tough message: America's financial elite may need to start thinking some more about the greater good.

In a speech at NASDAQ Marketsite, Obama warned that a "what's good for me is good enough" mentality is creeping across Wall Street and echoed Franklin D. Roosevelt in calling for a "reappraisal of values."

"If we are honest, I think we must admit that those who have benefited from the new global marketplace -- and that includes almost everyone in this room -- have not always concerned themselves with the losers in this new economy," the Illinois senator said, according to the Associated Press. "The danger with this mentality isn't just that it offends our morals, it's that it endangers our markets."

It was just the latest example of Obama seeking to be seen as delivering important messages to tough audiences. So far during this campaign, he has gone to Detroit to issue a call for higher mileage standards and to a teachers' union convention to push for performance-based merit-pay opposed by the union.

It is also the latest case of a candidate trying to reckon with Wall Street, a sector that is contributing heavily to most of the leading campaigns even as candidates of both parties lament the widening gap between the nation's financial elite and the rest of the country. Obama's fellow Democrat, John Edwards, has led the call for higher tax rates for private equity firms and hedge funds, despite the fact that he himself earned nearly $500,000 for part-time work last year at one hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group, and collected more than $150,000 in contributions from its employees. On the Republican side, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has spoken out against "greed," "plutocracy" and sky-high corporate pay packages, an unusual theme for a GOP candidate.

In his speech, Obama also cited executive pay packages, faulting corporate boards for the practice for allowing executives to set the price of stock options so that they'll make money regardless of performance. To make markets more transparent and retain the trust of the public, he proposed new mortgage rules with tough penalties for lenders who trick homeowners into unaffordable loans, an investigation of the ties between securities rating agencies and their clients; and a five-star credit card rating system to inform consumers about the level of risk for their credit card.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  September 17, 2007; 6:00 PM ET
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