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Obama--preoccupied With The Banks

Judis flagged this for me--it sounds from the Times interview like Obama and his top aides are expending a lot of mental energy on the bank situation. The Times asked an open-ended question unrelated to the financial crisis: "Has there been a moment in these last six weeks where you tried to do something and somebody said, Sorry, sir, it doesn’t work that way?" Here's what Obama did with it:  

Well, I mean, I think what we were talking about earlier in terms of Guantanamo. People didn’t have to tell me, No you can’t do that. It was simply, Well, sir, here are the challenges that we face in terms of making a decision about that. In the entire banking sector – we spend every day, myself, Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Christina Romer, every single day, we will spend at least an hour of my time just talking through how we are approaching the financial markets.

And part of the reason we don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs is because if you haven’t looked at it very carefully then you may be under the impression that somehow there’s a clean answer one way or another – well, you just nationalize all the banks, or you just leave them alone and they’ll be fine, or this or that or the other. The truth is this is a very complex set of problems and bad decisions can result in huge taxpayer expenditures and poor results.

And so what I expect from my team is to constantly be guided by evidence, facts, talking through all the best arguments, drawing from all the best perspectives, and then talking the best course of action possible given the fact that there are some big uncertainties and that sometimes what people may want may actually be contradictory. So, for example, lately, people have been concerned – understandably – about the decline in the market. Well, the reason the market’s declining is because the economy’s declining and it’s generating a lot of bad news, not surprisingly. And so what I’m focused on is fixing the underlying economy. That’s ultimately what’s going to fix the markets, but in the interim you’ve got some folks who would love to see us artificially prop up the market by just putting in more taxpayer money which in the short term could make bank balance sheets look better, you know, make creditors and bondholders and shareholders of these financial institutions feel better and you could get a little blip. But we’d be in the exact same spot as we were six, eight, 10 months from now. So what I’ve got to do is make sure that we’re focused on the underlying economy and if we do that right, if we do that well, and I’m confident that we will, then after some very tough times, and after a lot of hardship on the part of some of the people that I hear from every day who’ve lost their jobs or don’t have health insurance or what have you, that we’re going to get this economy moving again. And I think over the long term we’re going to be much better off.

Obama obviously hasn't hit on a solution yet. But it's pretty encouraging that it's weighing on him so much (at least judging from the protest-too-much quality of this response). As it should, of course. But the recent history of presidents suggests that's not automatic...

--Noam Scheiber