- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010


Money is a lot like blood. Blood spilled in the jungle is easy to track. Money spilled in the pursuit of avarice and greed can be easy to follow, too, sometimes even to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Lawyers for Goldman Sachs, the big Wall Street investment banking house, have been negotiating with the Securities and Exchange Commission to make some, if not all, of the civil-fraud charges against the firm go away, and President Obama has been entertaining the chairman of Goldman Sachs at the White House.

Nothing has surfaced to suggest that Mr. Obama and the chairman talked about Goldman Sachs’ troubles, and the chairman of the SEC issued the usual boilerplate that the commission “doesn’t co-ordinate enforcement actions with the White House or other political bodies.” Of course. But influence, like money, is fungible, and it’s always possible that clever lawyers and compliant regulators can take a little here and put a little over there, and pretty soon serious troubles go away. It happens.

The calendar and the White House visitors log offer a clue to what was really going on between Mr. Obama and the chairman of Goldman Sachs. The White House meetings occurred in late February and March, toward the end of the collegiate basketball season, and we know the president was having trouble picking the winners in the national tournament. March Madness is no doubt what they talked about.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama is learning what every politician eventually learns, that money, and the pursuit of it, is dangerous and risky business in Washington. What happens in Chicago stays in Chicago. What happens in Washington eventually goes everywhere. Discretion is not always widely practiced in the shadow of the national monuments.

Mr. Obama himself makes it difficult to imagine that his motives are unalloyed and incorruptible. Just when we’re trying to believe that, he cites a visit that Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate, paid to Wall Street. It’s true Mr. McConnell probably didn’t go to Wall Street to talk about basketball. The president, in a speech in California, let us in on what these Washington-Wall Street tete-a-tetes might be about:

“[The minority leader] paid a visit to Wall Street a week or two ago,” he said, “and met with some of the movers and shakers up there. I don’t know exactly what was discussed. All I can tell you is when he came back, he promptly announced he would oppose the financial-regulatory reform.”

Mr. Obama’s slashing personal attacks on his opponents, accusing them of cynicism for doing what he does, demonstrate the community activist at work. His constant running off to make another speech, together with his toxic vitriol aimed at his opponents, is the homage he pays to Saul Alinsky and the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., his Chicago tutors in how to demonize anyone who gets in the way of his scheme to remake America as it never was.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is making Goldman Sachs the poster boys for Wall Street chicanery and greed just as Mr. Obama sets out to impose new regulations on Wall Street. This is, of course, only a coincidence. Some people with no tender mercy in their hearts note that Gregory Craig, the president’s lawyer in the White House, has just taken a job at Goldman Sachs. A spokesman for the SEC assures us that this is only a coincidence, too: “We do not co-ordinate our enforcement actions with the White House.” Of course not. Mr. Craig, says Goldman Sachs, was hired only for his “wisdom and insight.” Of course he was. Insight is the grease that makes wheels turn without a squeak. “I am a lawyer, not a lobbyist,” Mr. Craig says he’s only a lawyer for the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagre and Flom, and who could make up a name like that?

It’s mostly Democrats who are cashing in on their connections now, since Republicans have no connections to cash in on. But they’re inspired by the conviction that their day is coming. Cashing in is the point of getting to Washington; otherwise, you might as well stay in Chicago.

Once upon a time Washington pols worried about “perceptions,” the idea that if something looked bad and smelled bad it probably was bad. Perceptions are not so important now, with Washington awash in slush the color of money.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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