My first reaction to the reviews of Ron Suskind’s new book about the Obama administration’s handling of the economic crisis was that it mostly seemed to confirm widely held views, such as the perception that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner are both comfortable with big banks, and resisted to efforts to scale them down. (The one big exception was the President’s temporary decision to break up Citigroup, which was, according to Suskind’s sources, stymied by Geithner).
My other reaction was to marvel at how differently President Obama and Elizabeth Warren address politically sensitive issues. The President often seems to tailor his remarks to his audience. This got him in trouble during the 2008 campaign, when he told a group of Democratic contributors that ordinary Americans cling to guns and religion. During the economic crisis, he has berated Wall Street, on the one hand, while defending the too big to fail banks behind the scenes.
Warren recently caused a flutter when her quote (at a gathering of fervent Democrats) that no one got rich on their own, without the government, went viral on YouTube. In the Suskind book, she complains that the Obama administration can’t criticize Wall Street and at the same time “dump money in their laps and be credible.” Her message—that the government has a central role to play, that big institutions should be controlled, that consumers need a protector-- is almost the same in both contexts. Whether one likes the message or hates it, it doesn’t change from one setting to the next.