Yesterday President Obama nominated his choice for the new SEC Chairman, Mary Jo White.
As one former SEC chairman said, Mary Jo “does not intimidate easily.” And that’s important, because she has a big job ahead of her. The SEC played a critical role in protecting our financial system during the worst of the financial crisis. But there’s much more work to be done to complete the task of reforming Wall Street and making sure that American investors are better informed and better protected going forward. And we need to keep going after irresponsible behavior in the financial industry so that taxpayers don’t pay the price.
Her resume as a prosecutor is impressive – on that I do not disagree. After all, she’s the diminutive tough gal who brought down John Gotti and prosecuted terrorists. However, is she really the best person to run the agency charged with rooting out and then prosecuting Wall Street corruption?
Rolling Stone contributor (and brilliant reporter on the financial crisis in general) Matt Taibbi doesn’t think so:
If Barack Obama wanted to send a signal that he’s getting tougher on Wall Street, he sure picked a funny way to do it, nominating the woman who helped John Mack get off on the slam-dunkiest insider trading case ever to cross an SEC investigator’s desk.
I also took the liberty to look up some of the clients Ms. White’s uber-firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, represented. According to Wikipedia, their financial clients included: AIG, American Express, AXA, BNP Paribas, The Carlyle Group, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Kelso & Company, MetLife, Providence Equity Partners, Prudential Financial, and Polyus Gold
Sure, an argument can be made that as someone who defended these Wall Street firms she would be in a unique position to now prosecute them. But even the most un-cynical among us can’t think that is how the confluence of Wall Street and politics works in this day and age. The reality is we have a bi-partisan revolving door that regularly plucks Wall Street hot shots to “serve” for a few years and then they go on (or back) to lucrative jobs at Wall Street firms. (See: Summers, Lawrence; Geithner, Timothy; Paulson, Hank; Rubin, Robert; and so on and so on)
I can’t help but think if George W. Bush nominated someone like this there would be a massive outcry. But that has been the trend of responses to this presidency – things Bush did and drew so much ire from so many now don’t register so much as a blip on those same people’s outrage meter.
It’s hard to stay positive when these surreal episodes keep happening. Not because yet another president nominated yet another wolf to guard the sheep, but because so few people bother to look behind the curtain of the narrative being spun.