The president travelled to America's financial center on Thursday to deliver what was expected to be a hard-hitting speech shaming Wall Street for its excesses. Even the venue — the Cooper Union Hall in which Abraham Lincoln made his famous 1860 speech on slavery — suggested tub-thumping rhetoric. But in the presence of CEOs from Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Credit Suisse, Obama struck a more conciliatory note than some expected. "There is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or we fall together as one nation," he said. Was he too soft on Wall Street's fat cats? (Watch an AP report about Obama's speech)
Angry voters would have liked a sterner speech: This was Obama the great equivocator, says David Corn at Mother Jones. Although he "slammed" lobbyists, he "named no names" when it came to the titans of Wall Street. He should have. A more "explicit assault" might have had "political benefits" for Democrats facing a difficult election in November.
"Did Obama go easy on Wall Street?"
But this was about as populist as the President gets: By Obama's standards at least this was a "fiery populist speech," says Howard Fineman at Newsweek. He blamed Wall Street for "all that's wrong with the markets," and basically called anyone who disagrees with the Democrats' proposals "selfish, irresponsible, crooked, or all three."
"Obama plays populist"
He knows we need to have a healthy, functioning Wall Street: Obama "doesn't do fire and brimstone," says Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post. So we shouldn't be surprised that he sounded less like a "sword-wielding avenger" than a "stern parent." The president realises that, despite angry voters, America needs Wall Street.
"How Obama found his mojo on Wall Street"
Even so, they didn't like what he had to say: Some might be "frustrated" at Obama's temperate tone, says Richard (RJ) Eskow at the Huffington Post. But you should have heard the "stony silence" his speech elicited. The bankers apparently didn't appreciate the fine job he was doing of walking the line between "vision and reality."
"The president has spoken. Now let's help him act"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Watch out, China — America is working on dogfighting drones
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- Why America won't have enough money to battle ISIS
- The troubling persistence of eugenicist thought in modern America
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- Obama's politically lethal credibility problem
Subscribe to the Week