Who bought who?

Bought and Paid for: the Unholy Alliance Between Barack Obama and Wall Street
Charles Gasparino

Whom. It probably should be ‘Who bought whom?’ At least the nagging nun-voice in the back of my head thinks so. But I already risk being too
pedantic so let’s stick with the vernacular. And in keeping with the vernacular today’s subject is a tome by my friend Charley.

Okay, I don’t actually know Charles Gasparino. He’s just one of those CNBC regulars that I think of by nickname–like Larry and Liz. And, yes, I know he’s now at Fox.  But I don’t see much TV and  I swear Hawaii Five-0 runs on ABC so let’s just say I have a tube inertia thing happening.

None of this has anything to do with the book which is about the too cozy relationship between Washington and Wall Street. It’s a familiar tale. I’ve become sort of a junkie when it comes to the financial crisis so most of this is familiar. As journalists go, Gasparino is more Pete Hamill ‘let me tell you what I know’ than ‘behold the voice of God.’ (Probably another reason I think of him as Charley.)  So if the usual stuff about TARP and CDOs and GSEs gets to you this is the approachable way in.

But the focus, here, is really on the political/financial nexus and no one looks good. It’s not surprising that big banks work the system to maximize the ways they make money. And so it’s not surprising (sordid, but not surprising) to see presidential candidates asking for ‘support,’ which actually means cash, nor is it surprising that supporters expect access and favorable treatment.

What’s supposed to be unique here is the Obama angle. We see the candidate meeting with the kings of the Street. We see the revolving door for Rham, Summers and others. We see those same folks–but never the big O–telling financiers to watch what happens not what’s said. So the case is made and no one should be surprised that crony capitalism results.

Thing is, it comes up short. You could, and probably will if you are an Obama Democrat, be rankled by what you’ll deem the Fox News moments. That’s a recurring pattern of thoughts: small businessmen do more for the economy than Wall Street, Obama is a socialist or the most left-leaning President since FDR, the average taxpayer bails these masters of the universe out, Bush and McCain know Wall Street needs big government. I don’t want to debate the merits of these positions. They are clearly stated so there is no hidden bias. But it’s a worldview some will reject.

The bigger problem is the reversal about 2/3 of the way in. At the outset, after the money’s been raised and the election won, everything points to taking care of the donors.  There’s plenty of evidence to support this and it’s in keeping with the title. That is until the politics shift and suddenly the Street finds itself bought and paid for. I get the conceit. I just don’t buy it.

The whole thing feels rushed. Minor point to illustrate this: Bill Gross is identified as the CEO of PIMCO. Even I can tell you Gross is CIO (co-CIO actually). A founder of PIMCO, Gross was never the CEO. That was Bill Thompson who was succeeded (before the period the book covers) by Mohamed El-Erian. So if a veteran reporter who covers Wall Street blows a simple fact what should one think?

I don’t think the book will change your mind. It may offer you additional insight into what’s been happening.

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