He's also got a pretty good job, if you measure the success of a company and its chief by the amount of money it's taking in. He's the CEO of the U.S. government, after all, where business is definitely booming, despite Tim Geithner's inability to find a passable job applicant to help him out distributing that wad of bail-out dough. You'd think lots of people would want to do that, including at least a few who actually pay their taxes.
It may not feel this way when his teleprompter breaks down, but Mr. Obama's success as a measure of money in his hands is probably right up there during this horrifying, worldwide economic wedgie, with safe makers and high seas pirates.
But there's something else the president is doing effectively, charged rhetoric and gauntlet-throwing policies notwithstanding: he's doing a hell of a job keeping the lid on things.
How could that be? Mr. Obama gets slapped for hyperbolic scammery when he says something optimistic, then slammed as a giant albatross on the consciousness and confidence of the country every time he tells us how bad it is. The Chronicle ran a story last week that should have been headlined: Just Shut Up. Every time he says or does anything related to the economy, the story said, the market tanks.
Then there's the panic underneath the now fabled Obama calm as the Treasury Department tries to shovel out the door as fast as it can the TARP money designed to titillate the economy back to life, and the clashes with the overworked enforcers and trackers of all this activity. For instance, there's apparently a bounty for loan brokers of $1,000 for every loan modification applicant they turn up with. Friends of mine in the government business tell me that enforcement agencies tried to warn Treasury: hey, wait ten seconds. Can we just see if the applicants make a few payments before greasing the palms of the middle men(women)? Nope, says Treasury.
As Mr. Geithner said last week, "It is imperative that we continue to move with speed..." Yeah, but how about just enough prudence and checks to make sure we're not simply shoveling moolah down the mouths of the same kind of con artists who got us here? Even with new money in the budget for oversight, I hear law enforcement agencies are already eyeball deep in work and not ready to sniff out all the fabulous new ways the public and its funds will get fleeced.
We should hire Bernie Madoff to steal the money back. Or some of those derivative and subprime lending geniuses who at least understand how to untie the hangman's knot we're in because they're the ones who tied it to begin with. It worked for Willie Sutton, and that real-life guy played by Leonard DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can."
The government pays informants and criminals get deals for snitching every day. Why would this be any different?
I always have my kid clean up his own messes after a heavy Friday evening of Nerf war and sleepover madness and he's a solid citizen. Why shouldn't adults have to do the same?
In the meantime, however, people are furious with Madoff and his elves. Taxi drivers are spitting mad that Mr. Madoff is under house arrest in his "luxury penthouse." And they're frustrated, desperate, helpless and feeling heavily victimized however confident the president sounds. In some countries I've worked in, that kind of brew is a prescription for street action.
Money man Barton Biggs was quoted in the NYTimes Sunday as warning about the possibility of "social unrest" over all this stuff. "Very substantial social unrest." That means the modern equivalent of pitchforks and torches.
But that's the thing, you see. The one in charge of everything right now is Barack Obama. And people like him. The big majority wants him to succeed. So how can they possibly riot against someone they're rooting for?
I don't know how long that line will hold, but it's an important one to hold while we see if any of this stuff actually works.
We all need each other. Last year's lockup is today's locksmith. Common denominators.
For more, read Bronstein at Large.