8 a.m. ET: President Obama this afternoon will lay out a proposal for an ambitious, sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system that, if you subscribe to the message coming out of the White House in the last 24 hours, isn't nearly as ambitious or sweeping as it could have been.
Obama's plan "will touch almost every corner of financial markets, from tougher consumer-protection policies to stricter rules over exotic financial products, such as credit derivatives," the Wall Street Journal says. It would give the Federal Reserve more leeway to prevent future breakdowns in the markets (paging Ron Paul!), endow the government with more power to take over ailing financial firms, bolster consumer protections and impose new regulations on financial instruments like mortgage-backed securites.
And yet the primary administration message this morning seems to be this: We showed restraint. "Senior officials debated using a bulldozer to clear the way for fundamental reforms but decided instead to build within the shell of the existing system, offering what amounts to an architect's blueprint for modernizing a creaky old building," according to the Washington Post. The New York Times calls the plan the product of "weeks of meetings" with various interest groups, one that "results from many compromises with industry executives and lawmakers, and is not as bold as some had hoped." All of this is probably true, but it's also the angle that best helps the administration calm financial markets and reassure the public that none of this is too radical. If you don't like all this government meddling, the story goes, be aware that it could have been much worse!
Obama is showing caution in another key area -- Iran -- and taking criticism for it. The administratration is said to be staying on the sidelines as protesters in Tehran demonstrate against last week's election results.
"It's not productive, given the history of the U.S.-Iranian relationship, to be seen as meddling ... in Iranian elections," Obama said Tuesday. The official explanation for that stance is that the Iranian regime might crack down even harder on the opposition if the White House expresses too much support for the protesters. Another theory of the case, expressed in a column yesterday by Robert Kagan, is that Obama is simply being a good realist. His plan has been to improve relations with the current Iranian government, and avoid saying or doing anything too provocative (like making a firm statement that the election was stolen). "Obama's policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government," Kagan writes, contemptuously.
On the other end of the spectrum, here's a politician who did not show caution -- John Ensign. The junior Senator from Nevada admitted yesterday to having had an extramarital affair with a former campaign worker. The liaison took place last year, robbing Ensign of the ability to use the old "youthful indiscretion" excuse. The Las Vegas Review-Journal says the revelation is particularly rough for Ensign because, unlike some Nevada Republicans who lean Libertarian, Ensign is "a proud social conservative." And did Ensign even want to come clean? Politico reports, "Political insiders in Nevada and in the Senate said that Ensign decided to acknowledge the affair publicly after the husband of the woman he had been seeing asked him for a substantial sum of money."
That provides a perfect transition to the other scandal story of the day -- the trial of William Jefferson. The prosecution argued yesterday that the cash found in Jefferson's freezer, specifically in boxes for Boca Burgers and pie crust, was clear evidence of wrongdoing by the lawmaker. His defense lawyer argued that Jefferson was merely trying to hide the money from "the housekeeper or an intruder." And that was only the trial's first day. Oh boy.
June 17, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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