Politico.com | Craig Gordon & Jonathan Martin | March 22, 2009
President Barack Obama said he believes the global financial system remains at risk of implosion with the failure of Citigroup or AIG, which could touch off “an even more destructive recession and potentially depression.”
His remarks came in a“60 Minutes” interview in which he was pressed by Steve Kroft for laughing and chuckling several times while discussing the perilous state of the world’s economy.
“You’re sitting here. And you’re— you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, ‘I mean, he’s sitting there just making jokes about money—’ How do you deal with— I mean: explain. . .” Kroft asked at one point.
“Are you punch-drunk?” Kroft said.
“No, no. There’s gotta be a little gallows humor to get you through the day,” Obama said, with a laugh.
Obama tried to inject some optimistic notes into the interview, saying he sees “flickers of hope” that the economy is beginning to turn the corner.
And he seemed intent on cooling the populist anger rising in the country, particularly over AIG’s $165 million in bonuses. He signaled that he would like to see changes in a House resolution that would tax the bonuses at 90 percent, saying “we can’t govern out of anger.”
“Main Street has to understand, unless we get these banks moving again, then we can’t get this economy to recover. And we don’t want to cut off our nose to spite our face,” he said.
The interview captured the balancing act that Obama must strike on the economy. He gave a nod to public anger at Wall Street while saying it could not dictate his response.
He got in a few whacks of his own at Wall Street executives who contributed to the meltdown—referring to them ironically at one point as “the best and the brightest”—while being ever-mindful that he still needs their help to dig out of the crisis.
His talk of depression could be viewed as alarmist—but it also seemed aimed at bracing Congress and the public for the unpopular prospect of spending even more taxpayer dollars to prop up Wall Street. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is set to roll out a plan Monday aimed at restoring the flow of credit that would back up private investments with government funds.
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