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Labor Day at the White House

Obama signs an executive order reversing Bush labor policy on Friday. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Citing ordinary Americans he met during the campaign who were experiencing "the American dream in reverse," President Obama today told an audience full of labor leaders that he has created a new task force, led by Vice President Biden, devoted to strengthening the country's middle class. He also signed four executive orders intended to "level the playing field" for labor unions.

It was Obama's second burst of populism after what I wrote had started to feel like a bit of a drought.

Yesterday afternoon, Obama came out swinging against Wall Street bankers who granted themselves lavish bonuses even as they asked to be bailed-out with tax dollars.

At this morning's event, Obama once again pitched his economic stimulus plan, in the name of "the folks who approached me on the campaign trail, in union halls, in church basements and coffee shops and VFW halls and shop floors, [who] told me about jobs lost and homes foreclosed, hours cut, and benefits slashed -- the costs of life slowly slipping away and chipping away at the hopes of affording college or a new home or retirement. It's like the American Dream in reverse. These are the families who have by no fault of their own been hit hardest as the economy has worsened.

"They need action -- now."

It was a homecoming of sorts for the labor movement. "Welcome back to the White House," Biden said to loud cheers.

"I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it's part of the solution," Obama said, adding: "This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country."

Yesterday, Obama used his photo-op with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to scold some members of the upper class. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Stephen Labaton write in the New York Times: "President Obama branded Wall Street bankers 'shameful' on Thursday for giving themselves nearly $20 billion in bonuses as the economy was deteriorating and the government was spending billions to bail out some of the nation’s most prominent financial institutions.....

"It was a pointed — if calculated — flash of anger from the president, who frequently railed against excesses in executive compensation on the campaign trail. He struck his populist tone as he confronted the possibility of having to ask Congress for additional large sums of money, beyond the $700 billion already authorized, to prop up the financial system, even as he pushes Congress to move quickly on a separate economic stimulus package that could cost taxpayers as much as $900 billion.

"This week alone, American companies reported as many as 65,000 job cuts, and public anger is rising over reports of profligate spending by banks and investment firms that are receiving help from the $700 billion bailout fund."

Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post: "The president said he was reacting to a New York Times report about Wall Street executives who had given themselves almost $20 billion in bonuses in 2008, the same amount they received collectively during the much more bullish 2004."

Dawn Kopecki and Julianna Goldman write for Bloomberg that Obama is feeding "a swelling populist revolt against Wall Street bonuses...

"The president joined politicians such as Senator Christopher Dodd, who today called for using 'every possible legal means to get the money back.'"

Chuck Todd reported on the NBC Nightly News that "outrage at Wall Street became the president's issue of the day... Channeling his inner populist, the president got upset about something that the public has been angry about for weeks."

And he showed a clip of Biden, in an interview with CNBC's John Harwood, saying: "I mean, I'd like to throw these guys in the brig."

Biden alluded yet again to the issue this morning, praising Obama for sending "very, very clear signal to everyone in this country who goes to work every day without expecting acclaim or big bonuses.... To this, the great American middle class, you have simply said, we're on your side again."

And in a USA Today op-ed this morning, Biden was highly critical of the Bush administration: "For years, we had a White House that failed to put the middle class front and center in its economic policies," Biden wrote.

"Over the course of America's last economic expansion, the middle class participated in very few of the benefits. But now in the midst of this historic economic downturn, the middle class sure is participating in all of the pain. Something is seriously wrong when the economic engine of this nation — the great middle class — is treated this way."

Will we regularly be seeing this much of Biden? Monica Langley writes in the Wall Street Journal that Biden "is striving to carve out meaty roles for himself quickly...

"Mr. Biden's team is positioning the vice president to play up his differences with Mr. Cheney. For example, Mr. Biden's new task force on middle-class families will have a Web site complete with details of all meetings, attendees and policies, in contrast to Mr. Cheney's energy task force, which he fought to keep secret in court. Mr. Biden's office is releasing daily the vice president's schedule, unlike Mr. Cheney, who often didn't disclose his schedule....

"'Vice President Biden will be more transparent, accessible, bipartisan and focused on middle-class values than Dick Cheney,' says a senior administration official. 'That doesn't mean he'll be less powerful.'"

Biden got a big laugh from the audience this morning when he announced: "This task force, I might add, which coming out of the Vice President's Office will be a bit unique, will be fully transparent -- totally transparent. (Laughter.) We are going to consult. We are going to consult -- (applause.) We are going to consult openly -- openly and publicly without outside groups, who can help us develop the most far-reaching, imaginative solutions to help us solve these problems and create the outcome we're looking for.

"And we'll put all the material from our meetings and any report we produce up on the website. None of this will happen behind closed doors. We want the American people engaged."

By Dan Froomkin  |  January 30, 2009; 1:41 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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That's a laundry list of tangible change. To the doubters, this is the change we've been waiting for. A government looking to grow and protect the quintessential bedrock upon which our country is built, the middle class.

Posted by: hiberniantears | January 30, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I can not imagine anyone preferring the new format for this column.

I am afraid that the extra effort required to read it is moving it from a "must read" to a "read if I have time."

Please reconsider the previous format.

Posted by: Whylee98 | January 30, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

The only thing that really bothers me about the new format is that I have to click to 'Continue to Read.' Just have it all out there.

Posted by: austin_erik | January 30, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I imagine the free-market zombies out there are turning themselves inside out in outrage at the sugggestion that massive bonuses are immoral.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | January 30, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

The new format sucks, please go back to the way it was.

Posted by: daniel3715 | January 30, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Foomkin, your reader clicks will probably go down -- even if you count all the extra clicking We the Readers must do.

Posted by: tperry1 | January 30, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Rather than moan about Wall Street greed and talk about recouping bonuses that can't legally be recouped, Obama has to stop playing Wall Street's game. They want to whine and complain and not make loans until the government bails them out of the bad paper they chose to buy and makes them whole. Just walk away from the 'bad bank' idea. Instead, capitalize two new 'good banks' at half a trillion each and let them go out and make loans, with preset operating rules on leverage, loan quality and allowable derivatives. They could start loaning immediately and free up the economy. This leaves the current Wall Street as the bad banks, who can basically go pound sand until they adopt the shared sacrifice concept. Otherwise, they just keep their hands out for more govt $, stall the economy, and enrich themselves.

Posted by: allentown1 | January 30, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I think you should consider going back to the more reader friendly format.

Posted by: Canopywalk | January 30, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Dan - this is not working out so good. I take your material with me to lunch, so I have a need to print it out. It is a complete pain to print out these postings -- cut and paste. Change can be good, but to coin a borrowed phrase, this is not change I can believe in (or read).

Posted by: kmr5399 | January 30, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Follow-up - even an old dog like me can miss a trick - just noticed the "tools". We are back in biz ....

Posted by: kmr5399 | January 30, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: nina-nyc | January 30, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I like the ability to have a community of commenters. It's too bad a media dinosaur like the WP can't do it any better.

I hope they pay you adequately, Dan. At some point planting your own flag might make sense.

Maybe the WP people could find out how Joan Walsh manages to keep Glennzilla's place so nice and do that for you?

Posted by: jimpharo | January 30, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Yep, the TOOLS at upper left helps tremendously.

Thank you.

Posted by: tperry1 | January 30, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Dan.....quit paying!

You know this looks like an amatuer format. Seriously Dude, you will loose readers with the format.


Posted by: danson1 | January 30, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I actually prefer the more blog-like format, Dan. Rather than one long string of various topics, each topic can have its own post and related comments. I vote you keep the new look.

Posted by: Arachnae | January 30, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I know it'sonly been a couple days but...still no one page view as far as I can tell. Still too many "continue reading this post..." links.

I'm trying to hang in there Dan, but at best I'm skimming your column now instead of actually reading it, and anything you write that ends up in the "continue reading..." portion of a post I can guarantee you I am not bothering with.

I think there have been enough voices on this to make it clear a significant portion of your audience is being left out in the cold without a way to print this column out in it's entirety for a day from a single browser window. Not sure if your response is just slow in coming or if you are just willing to take the loss in readership.

I'm really trying to hang in here...

Posted by: dbushik | January 30, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I must agree with the other comments about the format change...I would much rather wait till late morning (I'm on the west coast) for the full article, rather than come back time and again, for pieces.

and am I missing something in not finding/seeing the political toons?

As others said, the new format seriously changes this from a must read to a 'maybe catch bits now and then...'

Posted by: amilesp | January 30, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Dan, Your work is too good to cut up, please reconsider your format.

Posted by: wallypurdy | January 30, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Dan, it is truly awful. I read you every day and am now in deep depression over the format change. Please save me.
You are the best part of the Wash Post, and that is important !!

Posted by: wrmurray | January 30, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

What's the deal with this new format? Is this the WaPo's way of shunting our heroic Froomkin to the sidelines? I feared something like this might happen when I read about the new online editor. Typical newspaper editor mentality. If something ain't broke, break it. Then go around bragging about all the innovative changes you made while driving away your readers.

Posted by: motorfriend | January 30, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Dan. I have to agree I do not like the new format. I think it will cost you readers and, unfortunately, make it less likely to pull in new ones.

One thing that may help is to VERY PROMINENTLY inform your readers that by clicking the "Print all posts" link in the Tools section, you get a one pager like you did when you clicked on "Print" in the old format. I stumbled on it.

The one pager is the only way I ever read it in the old format. Still, you don't know if your getting the whole thing.

Otherwise, love you work.

Posted by: asalmon | January 30, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

I am addicted to your work. On one hand, you made strong arguments for the new format. On the other, I don't like it as much, because it makes me, the reader, work harder. But, on balance, I'd argue for keeping it. Change is generally good, and we all need to get out of the routine of the comfortable in order to advance.

Posted by: truthman3 | January 30, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

I miss the format where I can recommend a comment and the pages are numbered.

Posted by: nomore1 | January 30, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree with EVERYONE (emphasis intentional) who much prefer the former format. This is NOT a change I want to believe in!

Posted by: edallan | January 30, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I just found the TOOLS!!! Thanks for pointing it out. I print out the posts and take to gym. New format sucked until I found TOOLS! Froomkin is #1 again!

Posted by: cavys | January 30, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Another nay for the new format, but a big WHOOPEE for the "print all posts from (date)" tool. Can read from screen or print everything from the day on one page. No next page clicks, and . . . no ads! (Will the boss be happy about this?)

Thanks Dan for transitioning to the new president, regardless of format. You are still a daily must read for me.

Julie, Dem in Arkansas
J. P. Ellen

Posted by: jpel | January 30, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I get it now. I had previously seen the link to print posts on the individual posts, but not on the main WHW page. That answers my complaints and gets me back to a one page printer friendly read. Thanks a ton.

Posted by: dbushik | January 30, 2009 8:50 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that there is no definition of "middle class" by this administration. You barely make solid middle class in NYC, DC, Philly, or Boston when you are pulling in 100K to 125K since the cost of living is so much higher. The same amount in Nebraska would put you solidly middle to upper middle or even comfortable. And by the way, what has organized labor to do with most of us. 12.4 percent of our workforce is unionized and a great deal of those union workers are municipal and government employees. What about middle class small business people, entrepeneurs and the like - no mention of them and they don't belong to unions.

Posted by: fwillyhess | January 30, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the new format, once adjusted to is much better than the previous format because of what it provides in regards to better and more frequent content as well as having a better search mechanism. It now is a blog instead of a long "editorial" piece which is good.

Posted by: mickster1 | January 30, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Labor day, huh? Why no mention of card check legislation? It seems to have slid way down the agenda. That fact has been reported, but I have not heard why it fell out of favor. Anybody want to hazard a guess?
Also, how many people received those bonuses that totalled $20m? The average amount is a far more meaningful figure than the total. It's like knowing how many hits a baseball player got in a year without knowing how many at-bats. Or better yet, some ranges (x number of executives received more than $1m, y above $500k, etc).

Posted by: Compared2What | January 30, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Financial incentives to be designers, artist and industrial engineers, Captains of Industry, must be greater than to be the parasitic "masters of the universe" MBAs, accountants and lawyers that got us into this mess if America ever wants to restablish our middle class and generate real wealth for all instead of fees and skimming off the top to favor the elite.

Posted by: tniederberger | January 30, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

tneiderberger, you are right about the geniuses having gotten us into this mess. Just think how smart you have to be to come up with the idea of a credit-default swap! But look at how much havoc it wreaked. The only thing is, we are counting on the same breed of geniuses to get us out of it. In some cases, the very same geniuses (Geithner, for example). So regardless of whether you like that crowd, they are in charge. Heck, Obama already has twice as many WH lawyers as Bush did.

Posted by: Compared2What | January 30, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Put me down as someone who likes this new format better than the old - I used to visit once a day, now I come back 2 or 3 times. And I also appreciate that you don't post entire essays on the front page, so that I don't have to scroll so far to find the next one. I feel really sorry for people who think it's a terrible imposition to have to click a couple of extra times...

Posted by: Steph02115 | January 31, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Dan is the only rational, intelligent columnist here at WaPo, other then an occasional good post by Robinson...all of the other deluded pundits here are only good to read the hundreds of mocking and angry responses to their stupidity!

I do prefer the old inclusive format over this one, but will continue to come here anyway...WHY OH WHY is Froomkin at the bottom with the label "Other Posts?"

He should take his rightful position at the top of the totem pole here, but we know that probably won't happen...LOVE YOU DAN!

Posted by: wagonjak1 | January 31, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

PS Can't wait for little Billy Kristol to bring his trashy column here so we can all gang up on was frustrating at the NY Times NOT TO BE ABLE to mock his stupidity!

Posted by: wagonjak1 | January 31, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Government Blocks Release of Documents on Secret IP Enforcement Treaty

Despite Obama's Order for Openness, Americans Still Kept in the Dark About ACTA

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is withholding hundreds of documents about a secret intellectual property enforcement treaty currently under negotiation between the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries.


Posted by: kelargo | January 31, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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