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It's getting too late to give President Barack Obama a pass on the economy. Sure, he inherited an enormous mess from George W., who whistled "Dixie" while the banking system imploded. But it's time for Democrats to admit that their guy bears considerable responsibility for not turning things around.
He blindly followed President Bush's would-be remedy of throwing money at the banks and getting nothing in return for beleaguered homeowners. Sadly, Obama has proved to be nothing more than a Bill Clinton clone triangulating with the Wall Street lobbyists at the expense of ordinary folks.
That fatal arc of betrayal was captured by a headline in Tuesday's New York Times: "Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on 'Lost Decade.' " The Census Bureau reported that there are now 46.2 million Americans living below the official poverty line-the highest number in the 52 years since that statistic was first measured-and median household income has fallen back to the 1996 level. As Harvard economist Lawrence Katz summarized this dreary news: "This is truly a lost decade. We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we're looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s."
The late 1990s, it should be noted, is when President Clinton, working with Phil Gramm, the Republican head of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed through two critical pieces of legislation ending effective regulation of the banks. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act smashed the wall between high-flying Wall Street investment firms and the once staid commercial banks entrusted with the deposits and mortgages of America's innocent souls. The next year Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, banning any effective regulation of the rapidly expanded trade in the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that have since haunted the world's economy.
The collapse of those toxic securities led to the housing crisis and resulted in 15.1 percent of Americans now living in poverty, the same level as when Bill Clinton took office. But thanks to another one of Clinton's grand triangulation strategies, the one he called "welfare reform," the impoverished are now denied the safety net that existed before the Clinton presidency. Although 22 percent of U.S. children are now below the poverty line, the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program no longer exists.
Some of us who voted for Obama thought he was no Clinton, but he was and is, as was demonstrated in his first days in office when he appointed two key veterans of the Clinton Treasury Department, Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, to head up the Obama economic team. Geithner, as treasury secretary, is the point man for the administration's push to pass the so-called American Jobs Act, which the president hyped in his Sept. 8 speech to Congress and the nation. It was pure Clinton bull: I feel your pain while I help the superrich pick your pocket.