Wall Street Blame Game: Tag, You're It

Commentary

"This is the greatest wealth destruction I've seen by a president," Jim Cramer, one of the great cheerleaders of the early 21st century bull market, said of President Obama on television the other day.

Herbert Hoover must be so relieved. And let the scapegoating begin.

Cramer's juvenile rant was nothing compared with pseudoscholarly condemnations of the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, effectively the Quran of radical capitalism. A March 2 decree, titled "The Obama Economy," ruled thusly:

As 2009 opened, three weeks before Barack Obama took office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 9034 on January 2, its highest level since the autumn panic. Yesterday the Dow fell another 4.24% to 6763, for an overall decline of 25% in two months and to its lowest level since 1997. The dismaying message here is that President Obama's policies have become part of the economy's problem.

These kids do know how to have fun with numbers. From its post-panic "high" on Jan. 2 the Dow fell to 7949 by Inauguration Day. I guess that would be Obama's fault, too.

But doesn't just a smidge of common sense tell you that the rather more substantial fall came when the Dow was hovering around 14,000 in October 2007 and then tanked to 7552 on Nov. 20, 2008?

That would mean, using the nastiest numbers, that the Dow fell about 46.5 percent on President Bush's watch. So far during the Obama administration, the Dow has dropped 15 percent.

Wouldn't that make George Bush the greatest destroyer of wealth in modern history? 'Fraid so.

The idea of blaming one person for the downfall of the economy with a gross domestic product of about $14 trillion, powered by 300 million people and engaged in complex global commerce is nuts — whether that person is Bush, Obama, Alan Greenspan, Bernard Madoff, Osama bin Laden or the editors of opinions at The Wall Street Journal.

President Bush, it is true, did very little that Cramer and Wall Street swells didn't want. He relaxed financial regulations and then bailed out the failed financial companies. He deserves many of the pricks he gets from this game of pin the tail on the donkey. Slaughtering the scapegoat is silly.

Obama has been in office six weeks. Doesn't he deserve at least 100 days before he is disemboweled by the Wall Street establishment that, of course, deserves absolutely no blame for the Crash of '08? No, said the Journal; because of Obama, American capital is on strike.

When the U.S. markets hit the big new low this Monday, international markets tanked, too. In the annual report of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett wrote that "the economy will be in shambles, throughout 2009, and, for that matter, probably well beyond." And all this is Obama's fault?

His enemies and critics are just doing to Obama what Bush's enemies and critics did to him. Two wrongs don't make a right, but they do make up the infantilism of American politics. It has been a long time since an American president fended off the piranhas of public opinion and propaganda to be effective deep into an administration.

It appears that at this early point, voters — who are also consumers and investors — have more trust in the president than in Congress or Wall Street. While their hopes for what one person can do to influence this economy may be exaggerated, their views seem to be more mature than the condemnations of the financial elite who drove us into the crash and their backers in the press and backbenches of Congress.

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