A year ago today, long-shot candidate Barack Obama gave a speech at Nasdaq calling on Wall Street to support his program to revitalize our economy:
Seventy-five years ago this week, Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt took his campaign for the presidency to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
It was a time when faith in the American economy was shaken – a time when too many of our leaders clung to the conventional thinking that said all we could do is sit idly by and wish that our problems would go away on their own. But Franklin Roosevelt challenged that cynicism. Amid a crisis of confidence Roosevelt called for a “re-appraisal of values.” He made clear that in this country, our right to live must also include the right to live comfortably; that government must favor no small group at the expense of all its citizens; and that in order for us to prosper as one nation, “…the responsible heads of finance and industry, instead of acting each for himself, must work together to achieve the common end.”
This vision of America would require change that went beyond replacing a failed President. It would require a renewed trust in the market and a renewed spirit of obligation and cooperation between business and workers; between a people and their government. As FDR put it, “Faith in America, faith in our tradition of personal responsibility, faith in our institutions, and faith in ourselves demands that we all recognize the new terms of the old social contract.”
Seventy-five years later, this faith is calling us to act once more…
In recent years, we have seen a dangerous erosion of the rules and principles that have allowed our market to work and our economy to thrive. Instead of thinking about what’s good for America or what’s good for business, a mentality has crept into certain corners of Washington and the business world that says, “what’s good for me is good enough.”
…The quick kill is prized without regard to long-term consequences for the financial system and the economy. And while this may benefit the few who push the envelope as far as it will go, it’s doesn’t benefit America and it doesn’t benefit the market. Just because it makes money doesn’t mean it’s good for business…
In this modern, interconnected economy, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. The decisions that are made in New York’s high-rises and hedge funds matter and have consequences for millions of Americans across the country. And whether those Americans keep their homes or their jobs; whether they can spend with confidence and avoid falling into debt – that matters and has consequences for the entire market.
We all have a stake in each other’s success. We all have a stake in ensuring that the market is efficient and transparent; that it inspires trust and confidence; that it rewards those who are truly successful instead of those who are just successful at gaming the system. Because if the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that we can all suffer from the excesses of a few.
I ask for your support for this economic agenda, both in this campaign and if I should get the chance to enact these policies as your President. I will not pretend it will come without cost, but I do believe we can do achieve this in a fiscally responsible way – certainly more so than the current Administration that’s given us deficits as far as the eye can see.
I know some may say it’s anathema to come to Wall Street and call for shared sacrifice so that all Americans can benefit from this new economy of ours. But I believe that all of you are as open and willing to listen as anyone else in America. I believe you care about this country and the future we are leaving to the next generation. I believe your work to be a part of building a stronger, more vibrant, and more just America. I think the problem is that no one has asked you to play a part in the project of American renewal.
I also realize that there are some who will say that achieving all of this is far too difficult. That it is too hard to build consensus. That we are too divided and self-interested to think about the responsibilities we have to each other and to our country. That the times are simply too tough.
But then I am reminded that we have been in tougher times and we have faced far more difficult challenges. And each time we have emerged stronger, more united, and more prosperous than the last. It is faith in the American ideal that carries us through, as well as the belief that was voiced by Franklin Roosevelt all those years ago this week: “Failure is not an American habit; and in the strength of great hope we must all shoulder our common load.” That is the strength and the hope we seek both today – and in all the days and months to come.
At this time last year, John McCain wasn’t talking about economics, despite the growing sense of a forthcoming crisis on Wall Street. He was talking about Iraq – predicting that the troops would be home soon. His only mention of economics during this week last year that I have been able to find was in discussing Iraq.