Obama at Cooper Union on 21st Century Market Regulation

Obama at the Great HallIt is interesting that Senator Obama came to Cooper Union this morning, especially since the event itself was not even on the schedule until Monday (four days ago, according to a source) and I later heard that he considered giving the speech on Wall Street instead of Cooper Union, but I think the choice of venue was apt after the obvious parallels I insinuated from the previous post.

I got up quite early to experience the event – showing up at 7am and finding a seat as things were beginning to occur. Volunteers were all a-bustle, security was setting up and men with strange things in their ears pervaded the space. In following up with my former post, I spoke to a number of students around me (please note that the Great Hall was designed over 100 years ago, so if you think airline seats are small….) as well as students on line getting into the event. For the students that made it into the Hall early, they were certainly part of the Millennials crowd Winograd and Hais speak of – enthusiastic about politics, enthusiastic about making a difference, part of the civic realignment generation. But, when I went outside and caught up with the people who were showing up closer to the start of the speech, there was a different tone – one of “checking it out”, “interested in the fact that he could be the President”, and such. Somewhat different tone, but I am not surprised at the difference since the ones who showed up early had a strong enthusiastic tone, where everyone else was here to “see”.

The speech itself

When the Chairman of the Board of Trustees spoke (Ron Drucker) who then introduced Mayor Bloomberg, it could look like an endorsement of Obama for President. But Bloomberg discussed the issues of the day and to maintain an open mind and – at least from my point-of-view – gave other contenders a chance to speak in NYC (and at the Great Hall) on the topic of the economy. And, with a flourish indicative of Mayor Bloomberg (“This morning, we have another gentlemen from Illinois…”), he announced Senator Obama.

You can see Senator Obama’s speech after the fold or read the transcript here, but to simplify it, it is in three parts:

  • to address the immediate crisis in the housing market;
  • to create a 21st century regulatory framework, and
  • to pursue a bold opportunity agenda for the American people

Solving the housing crisis

From the points on his plan, it sounds like we are focusing on solving the issues of enabling lenders to refinance, to handle the impact and penalties of fraud and bankruptcy, and to push lenders to be more vigilant in the future against actions as we have seen. In reading this (and listening), it sounded good, but bureaucratic. Broad, positive strokes (especially with the Dodd legislation) but understandably managed in the timeframe presented.

One of the most powerful statements he made was a basic turn of phrase on the “rolling downhill” concept. Rather, instead of Wall Street and Main Street being separate from each other:

What was bad for Main Street turned out to be bad for Wall Street – and this time, pain trickled up.

21st Century Regulation

This is the topic that everyone will be speaking about since this is about changing what we already know as “free markets” and “no government regulation”. Interestingly enough, this speaks directly to the Millennials and their acceptance of the responsibilities that someone has to resolve this, and with a civic realignment, maybe it is about time to re-engage in the protection of our freedoms and security. To that end, Obama proposed:

  • borrow from the government, you should be subject to government oversight and supervision
  • general reform of the requirements to which all regulated financial institutions are subjected to
  • work with international arrangements like the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the International Accounting Standards Board, and the Financial Stability Forum to address the same problems abroad
  • streamline a framework of overlapping and competing regulatory agencies – do not need the redundant bureaucracies
  • regulate institutions for what they do, not what they are
  • crack down on trading activity that crosses the line to market manipulation
  • a process that identifies systemic risks to the financial system – a financial market oversight commission

Now, I am certain that my friends in the Republican Party are going to have a field-day with howling about the intrusion of government into “our lives”. But the sad part of this is – government got out of our lives in some ways (safeguarding our financial prosperity) but is in our lives in other (e.g. Terry Shiavo). Can someone say “hypocrites”?

The third part of his speech brought back the flourish of the American Dream and what it means to everyday Americans. But I think, once again, he took on a topic and discussed something that will require argument and discussion amoungst us and our choices, since the basic principle that Obama discusses is that we are the responsible ones. We are done with waiting for our turn to stand up – our turn is now.

I know we can do this because Americans have done this before. Time and again, we’ve recognized that common stake that we have in each other’s success. That’s how people as different as Hamilton and Jefferson came together to launch the world’s greatest experiment in democracy. That’s why our economy hasn’t just been the world’s greatest wealth creator – it’s bound America together, it’s created jobs, and it’s made the dream of opportunity a reality for generations of Americans.

Now it falls to us. We have as our inheritance the greatest economy the world has ever known. We have the responsibility to continue the work that began on that spring day over two centuries ago right here in Manhattan – to renew our common purpose for a new century, and to write the next chapter in the story of America’s success. We can do this. And we can begin this work today.

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