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Barack Obama, Wall Street Co-Conspirator

From appointments of Lanny Breuer to Mary Jo White, the president has let big banks off the hook at every turn.

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One hackneyed retort to all that is to cast Obama as a “realist” who doesn’t want to pick fights with Congress that he knows he cannot win. That logic is predicated on the absurd notion that a president cannot use the bully pulpit to change public opinion — that is, to actually lead and, ultimately, to win. But even if you accept such apologism, it still cannot account for how the president has used — or, really, not used — his unilateral power to prosecute.

Obama is a president who  asserts the right to execute American citizens without judge, jury or trial. That means that in his role overseeing the Department of Justice, he (like his predecessors) clearly retains the lesser-but-still-serious power to tell his political appointees at the Justice Department to prioritize certain kinds of prosecutions. In fact, this is exactly what he just did when this month he issued an  executive order instructing the Department of Justice to “maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.”

He could just as easily have a similar executive order after winning a presidential election on promises to “hold Wall Street accountable.” But he chose not to back then, just as he chooses not to today.

To know that is an active choice rather than a decision forced on Obama, recall the prosecutorial record of a New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. He had to run for office in the very state that domiciles Wall Street and he held an office with far less power than President of the United States. And yet, he chose to use his prosecutorial power in a way that made him the  “Sheriff of Wall Street.”

Considering all of this, and further considering, again, just how much money Obama has taken from the financial industry, it is hard to believe anyone can see Obama as anything but an active, proud, engaged co-conspirator with Wall Street.

Of course, that many can and do see him as something else is proof that Obama’s cynical political formula works — and works well. As I wrote in my column last week, he seems to know that in a short-attention-span country where the electorate focuses more on TV packaged rhetoric than on reality, he can give tough-sounding speeches and be widely credited as “tough on Wall Street” — even if he isn’t doing anything to stop financial crime.

He also seems to know that liberals, in particular, want to believe “their guy” is trying to do the right thing, even when he’s trying to do the opposite. He knows that for many liberals, it is simply too painful to admit “their guy” is often as duplicitous and destructive as their sworn GOP enemies — and so he knows he probably will face no real opposition movement among the voters who put him in office.

In this, he is not some weakling getting bowled over by more powerful forces. Like I told my dad, he is  one of the strongest presidents in recent history, deftly leveraging the most powerful office in the world to get exactly what he and his Wall Street donors want. Those donors didn’t give him millions as an altruistic gift — they gave him millions as an investment. And he is paying back that investment every single day the bankers who cratered the economy are not prosecuted.


David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at
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