A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Futureby Robert Kuttner
When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, he had an unprecedented chance to do what no other recent president could: seize the nation's financial reins from the corporate elite and return them to the American people. Progressives everywhere held out hope that their new leader would take advantage of the economic crisis he stepped into and enact bold
When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, he had an unprecedented chance to do what no other recent president could: seize the nation's financial reins from the corporate elite and return them to the American people. Progressives everywhere held out hope that their new leader would take advantage of the economic crisis he stepped into and enact bold policies that would evoke real financial reforms-putting Main Street in front of Wall Street, at last.
But that, writes Robert Kuttner, is not the way things turned out. Instead, America's best chance for radical financial reform turned into Wall Street's greatest victory. Obama filled his administration with allies of financial elites who were more interested in business as usual than in transformative change. As a consequence, Main Street remained mired in deep recession. Instead of being the instrument of economic renewal, Obama became the target of economic frustration.
In this hard-hitting, incisive account, Kuttner shares his unique, insider view of how the Obama administration not only missed its moment to turn our economy around-but deepened Wall Street's risky grip on America's future. Carefully constructing a one-year history of the problem, the players, and the outcome, Kuttner gives readers an unparalleled account of the president's first year. More importantly, though, Kuttner shows how we could-with swift, decisive action-still enact real reforms. This is a book not to be missed by anyone who wants to understand exactly how Wall Street won, and how Main Street can still fight back.
Booklist, Starred Review-
Kuttner follows his previous work, Obamas Challenge (2008), with a scathing criticism that Obama has thus far followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, favoring Wall Street and failing to rein in its more rapacious practices. Drawing on investigations, testimony, and his own research, Kuttner details the outrageous characters and deals that have saved firms with political clout (Citibank) and shut down those without it (Bear Stearns and Lehman). He further details the enormous influence of Goldman Sachs in a system of crony capitalism, a revolving door of Goldman alumni who have worked for administrations dating back to the Clinton era and are now calling the shots behind the scenes in the Obama administration. By propping up failed institutions, Obama is prolonging the agony of the financial crisis, argues Kuttner. Even worse, the administration is squandering an opportunity for real financial reform on a level comparable to that of the New Deal era. Rather than prop up failed banks, the administration should have recapitalized them and restructured the entire banking system, regulating exotic derivatives and providing needed consumer protections. Kuttner argues passionately for a progressive movement to hold Obama to the promise he represented of real change in a system that continues to favor the wealthy and influential over common working Americans. A powerful, passionate work with strong arguments for how Obama might save his presidency and more importantly reform the American financial system.
Before Barack Obama's first year in office was over, the whisper of failure was already on lips of disillusioned progressives like Kuttner (Obama's Challenge). For The American Prospect co-founder and co-editor, Obama's embrace of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin, and Lawrence Summers irrevocably sullied the President's message of hope and change. Worse, Kuttner sees nothing original in Obama's responses to the recession; bailing out banks over homeowners and reappointing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were simple retreads of Clinton and Bush II policies. Indeed, Kuttner argues that Obama ignored the template for economic recovery set by Roosevelt during the Great Depression, preferring to seek consensus on all fronts and failing to adopt more radical measures to restore the economy to health. Since it's already too late to "seize a Roosevelt moment," Kuttner sees Obama's best hope in a Harry Truman-style resurrection by finally taking on obstructionist Republicans, remaking himself as a "plainspoken man of the common people," and opening himself to proposals from the left wing of his own party. Kuttner remains optimistic, but pulls no punches: a "feckless" Obama has disappointed American voters with more of the same.
"Kuttner's book is a sharp critique of the decisions made--and not made--by President Obama in his first year in office. He offers a clear direction for the President to take in coming years to best serve the interests of ordinary Americans and Main Street. A mobilized progressive movement continually pressuring the Administration is essential for the benefit of working people and for solving the nation's greatest challenges, including regulating Wall street and reforming the economy to support manufacturing as its base rather than financiers at its top."--Leo Gerard, president, United Steelworkers
In A Presidency in Peril, Robert Kuttner explores how and why Candidate Obama's audacity of hope morphed into President Obama's timidity of governing - from his deferential treatment of Wall Street to his misguided attachment to the fantasy of bipartisanship. But Kuttner goes beyond criticism and offers sharp, practical ideas on how Obama can still redeem the promise of his administration and break the chokehold special interests have on our politics.--Arianna Huffington, cofounder and editor-in-chief, The Huffington Post
"A must-read for the Obama team and its supporters as well as its critics. Kuttner provides the definitive progressive critique of the Obama presidency and charts a way forward--and a way out of the mess we are in."--Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist and author of Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy
"Robert Kuttner's A Presidency in Peril gives eloquent, intelligent voice to the simultaneous promise and frustration that so many Americans feel after the first year of the Obama administration. This book warns us of the costs of Obama's possible failure, but also of the paths that might still lead him-and us-to better times."--Alan Brinkley, Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University and author of The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century
- Chelsea Green Publishing
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Meet the Author
Robert Kuttner is the New York Times bestselling author of Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, is cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for BusinessWeek, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe.
His previous and widely praised books include The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity; Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets (about which Robert Heilbroner wrote, "I have never seen the market system better described, more intelligently appreciated, or more trenchantly criticized than in Everything for Sale"); The End of Laissez-Faire: National Purpose and the Global Economy After the Cold War; and The Economic Illusion: False Choices Between Prosperity and Social Justice.
Kuttner"s magazine writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Dissent, Columbia Journalism Review, and Harvard Business Review. He has contributed major articles to The New England Journal of Medicine as a national policy correspondent. Formerly an assistant to the legendary I.F. Stone, chief investigator for the Senate Banking Committee, Washington Post staff writer, economics editor for The New Republic, and university lecturer, Kuttner's decades-long intellectual and political project has been to revive the politics and economics of harnessing capitalism to serve a broad public interest.
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