Byline: Niall Ferguson
Wall Street deserves to win its battle with the White House.
I've seen this attack ad before.
Nearly 80 years have elapsed since Franklin Roosevelt savaged the "stubbornness" and "incompetence" of "the rulers of the [stock] exchange" and the "unscrupulous money changers" in his first inaugural address: "Stripped of the lure of profit ... they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers ... The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."
Admittedly President Obama's rhetoric lacks Roosevelt's biblical flourishes. Nevertheless, the intent of Obama's recent assault on Mitt Romney's record as chief executive of Bain Capital is essentially the same.
"My view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits," the president said, reacting to criticism of his campaign's latest attack ad. "And that's not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers ... When you're president, as opposed to the head of a private-equity firm, your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off ... to take into account everybody, not just some ... This is what this campaign is going to be about."
So it's the White House vs. Wall Street, all over again, with a "Fair Shot" standing in for the New Deal.
Now, I can see exactly why the Obama campaign has made this choice. The Democrats' voter base is mad at bankers. The Republicans squirm when they have to defend Wall Street. And no wonder. First the masters of the universe at JPMorgan Chase--the guys who supposedly know how to manage risk--turn out to have lost more than $2 billion in a highly risky derivatives trade placed by a guy in London nicknamed "the Whale." Then the Facebook initial public offering is revealed to have been an initial private offering for those in the know, who were tipped off ahead of time about the social-networking company's latest lousy revenue numbers.
Small wonder that other …