What the hell is Taibbi smoking? In an interview with Democracy Now!, the newly minted First Look Media editor and former Rolling Stone polemicist was asked a preposterous question, and naturally responded with a preposterous answer. The question: “Who was tougher on corporate America, President Obama or President Bush?”
Of course this was intended to set up another round of Worse Than Bush! outrage porn — the same overused refrain we’ve heard since 2008. So Taibbi jumped in with both feet:
Oh, Bush, hands down. And this is an important point to make, because if you go back to the early 2000s, think about all these high-profile cases: Adelphia, Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen. All of these companies were swept up by the Bush Justice Department. And what’s interesting about this is that you can see a progression. If you go back to the savings and loan crisis in the late ’80s, which was an enormous fraud problem, but it paled in comparison to the subprime mortgage crisis, we put about 800 people in jail during—in the aftermath of that crisis. You fast-forward 10 or 15 years to the accounting scandals, like Enron and Adelphia and Tyco, we went after the heads of some of those companies. It wasn’t as vigorous as the S&L prosecutions, but we at least did it. At least George Bush recognized the symbolic importance of showing ordinary Americans that justice is blind, right?
Fast-forward again to the next big crisis, and how many people have we got—have we actually put in jail? Zero. And this was a crisis that was much huger in scope than the S&L crisis or the accounting crisis. I mean, it wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth, and nobody went to jail, so that we’re now in a place where we don’t even recognize the importance of keeping up appearances when it comes to making things look equal.
Uh-huh. Look, I was personally impacted by the Great Recession in nearly every way imaginable. There are few people who were beaten up in those years more than I was, and I would love see whoever was responsible receive their due comeuppance. But here’s the thing: the Enron-era scandals were all based upon identifiable criminal wrongdoing. The financial crisis that up-ended the world economy was partly based on activity that was legal, however dubious and irresponsible it might’ve been. Should the Justice Department be doing more? Sure, why not. But there’s no calculus in any universe — especially among those of us who remember the previous decade — to indicate that Bush on was somehow tougher on corporate American.
By the way, regarding Enron, here’s some Bush toughness:
Ken Lay and Enron were Bush’s leading supporters, contributing $113,800 directly to his campaign and another $888,265 to the Republican National Committee, an arm of the campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Bush repaid Lay and other “Pioneers”–those who raised $100,000 or more for his campaign–with his shameful tax plan. He continues to push for a stimulus plan that benefits corporations over workers. He is pressing Congress to pass the Enron energy plan, which features massive subsidies to energy companies and further deregulation.
Are we supposed to ignore the fact that the Wall Street abuses and the financial collapse occurred while Bush — who was evidently tougher on corporate America — presided over corporate America?
Furthermore, does Taibbi have any clue as to how many corporate contractors were tasked with operating the Iraq invasion and occupation, many of which are still there? How many billions of dollars were dropped into the laps of corporate America during that one war alone?
At least $138 billion. Does Taibbi remember KBR? Blackwater? Agility Logistics? Perhaps he should chat with his colleague Jeremy Scahill over at The Intercept about the massive wealth accumulated by defense contractors during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Comparatively, the total spending on the TARP bailout of Wall Street was $475 billion (reduced from $700 billion by Dodd-Frank). Oh wait, hmm — Taibbi is evidently an expert on the financial crisis yet he totally neglected to mention that it was President Bush, not Obama, who signed TARP, also known as the biggest corporate bailout in the history of the United States?
I’m also old enough to remember that President Bush, not Obama, signed a dividend tax cut, reducing it from 39.6 percent to 15 percent, and a capital gains tax cut from 20 percent to 15 percent. Along with TARP and the other tax cuts, Bush was so tough on corporate America that he squandered the budget surplus and ballooned our long-term debt. Speaking of which, the financial crisis, which began with corporate irresponsibility on Bush’s watch, created a $1.4 trillion deficit.
Should I go on? What about Medicare Part-D, a program which Bush didn’t pay for and which greatly benefited the pharmaceutical industry? Way to get tough on corporations!
But since President Obama didn’t prosecute AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and the rest, Bush wins the tough-on-corporations award, according to Taibbi.
Bush, hands down? Nope. Not even close.