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Matt Taibbi, Bill Moyers and Robert Kuttner: Why Can't Democrats Do Anything Right?

Could a crushing defeat on health reform teach Democrats to stop prioritizing corporate interests?

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ROBERT KUTTNER: I was appalled. I was just appalled because think of the timing. On Thursday and Friday of last week, the same week when the president finally gives this tough talk on "60 Minutes," a very feeble bill is working its way through the House of Representatives and crucial decisions are being made. And where is the President? I mean, there was an amendment to put some teeth back in the provision on credit default swaps and other kinds of derivatives. And that went down by a handful of votes. And to the extent that the Treasury and the White House was working that bill, at all, they were working the wrong side. There was a there was a provision to exempt foreign exchange derivatives from the teeth in the bill. That-- 

MATT TAIBBI: Foreign exchange derivatives are what caused the Long Term Capital Management crisis-- 

ROBERT KUTTNER: Sure. 

MATT TAIBBI: A tremendous problem. 

BILL MOYERS: Ten or 12 years ago, right? 

MATT TAIBBI: Right. 

ROBERT KUTTNER: Yeah. And, Treasury was lobbying in favor of that. There was a provision in the bill to exempt small corporations, not so small, I believe at $75 million and under, from a lot of the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requiring honest accounting. Rahm Emanuel personally was lobbying in favor of that.

BILL MOYERS: So you had the Treasury and the White House chief of staff arguing on behalf of the banking industry? 

ROBERT KUTTNER: Right. Right. And so here's the president two days later giving a tough speech. Why wasn't he working the phones to toughen up that bill and, you know, walk the talk? 

BILL MOYERS: Get on the phone with the Chairman of the Committee and say, if you want that dam in your district, I want your vote on this. 

ROBERT KUTTNER: Right. 

MATT TAIBBI: Right. 

BILL MOYERS: And that's what you mean? 

ROBERT KUTTNER: Yeah. 

BILL MOYERS: You might praise them in public, but you threaten them in private, right? 

MATT TAIBBI: Exactly, yeah. They have-- 

BILL MOYERS: Nobody's afraid of Obama, you know. You go to Washington as you do, report from Washington. Nobody's afraid of him. 

MATT TAIBBI: Right. 

ROBERT KUTTNER: This style is rather diffident. His style is rather hands-off. He's very principled. But, if you're going to be a politician, you have to get in there and mix it up. And to the extent that his surrogates are mixing it up, when it comes to reforming Wall Street, they're mixing it up on the wrong side. 

BILL MOYERS: Well, explain this to me. What is your own take on why he chose Geithner and Summers and people from Goldman Sachs and Wall Street to come and be his financial advisors, instead of choosing Stiglitz-- 

MATT TAIBBI: Volker-- 

BILL MOYERS: Some of his advisors from the progressive wing of the Democratic system? 

MATT TAIBBI: Most people that I've talked to have taken one of two positions on this. One is that Obama was naïve, that he doesn't know a whole about the financial services industry, and he felt the need to rely upon people who'd been there before, people who've had these jobs before, and you know, who have this expertise. And there's another school of thought that look, he took more money from Wall Street than any other presidential candidate in history. Goldman Sachs was his number one private campaign contributor. And if you just look at the evidence, it's just really business as usual. This is what the Democratic Party has done since the mid-'80s. They've relied heavily on the financial services industry to fund their campaigns. And it's the quid pro quo. They gave a lot of money to help these guys run, and in return, they get the big jobs, you know, in the White House. 

 
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