This past weekend, The New York Times set out to rehabilitate in the minds of community bankers the image of a woman whose performance in a congressional hearing was once described by The Atlantic's Megan McArdle as "like watching your crazy aunt challenge your boyfriend to prove that fairies aren't real." That's right, you guessed it: Maxine Waters.
The reporter describes a meeting between Mad Max(ine) and community bankers in her district in which Rep. Waters was feeling the pain of the bankers like she was channeling the mojo of William Jefferson Clinton.
“We’ve heard they chase down silly stuff,” Ms. Waters said, referring to regulators and shaking her head in disapproval. “I’m willing to take a hit” to help lower the capital requirements, she said. She even suggested the bankers hire new lobbyists to better represent them. “Influence us,” Ms. Waters said softly, reminding them of her new role as the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. “Help us understand the intricacies of your business.”
As for Dodd-Frank, Ms. Waters said she stood ready to defend the law, but also instructed the bankers to compile a “laundry list” of their concerns. “I don’t want you to look at this as being impossible to tweak,” she said.
After an hour of swiveling nervously in their chairs, the bankers broke into grins. One executive slapped Ms. Waters a high-five. Another embraced her.
“You’ve softened,” Paul C. Hudson, the chairman of Broadway Federal Bank, teased Ms. Waters. “I love the new Maxine.”
What's up with this? Is it simply when Attila The Hun decides to ease up and only lop off the heads of the aged and infirm and spare the able-bodied, the populace reacts with an exaggerated feeling of appreciation born of a profound sense of relief, or is there something more going on here? If you need an objective analysis of a liberal icon, what better source to turn to than the notoriously fair and balanced Pravda New York Times?
The Times claims that in large part her "softening" not only toward community bankers, but toward some of the Wall Street big bankers she used to grill like burgers on a George Foreman 144-incher, is a result of her elevation to the position of ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, now that Barney Frank has retired. You'd think that circumstance might have the opposite effect: making her feel the need to out-Barney Barney in poking sticks in the eyes of bankers everywhere. After all, the opposition, which controls the committee, is traditionally a lot more pro-banker than is Ms. Waters. She might just as likely feel compelled to carry an even bigger torch for the anti-banker crowd.
The Times posits some theories.
A softer touch with the nation’s biggest banks could allow her to score points — and campaign donations — from an industry unhappy with her previous approach. And being more willing to compromise could also afford her new credibility on Capitol Hill to press her central focus — the cause of consumers.
Or maybe, as she ages, she's found that being a 24/7/365 whirling dervish of a whack job simply taxes her psyche and physique beyond human endurance.
On the down side, Ms. Waters' new-found reasonableness carries the risk of blow-back from the usual suspects.
“She should be shoring up regulators’ spines, not clipping their wings,” said Jeff Connaughton, a former lobbyist and Congressional staff member who recently wrote a book entitled “The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins.” Bartlett Naylor, a policy advocate at Public Citizen, a consumer rights group, called the derivatives letter [in which Waters urged the CFTC to delay derivatives trading rules for six months] “troubling,” adding that Ms. Waters “needn’t add her voice to the cacophony from antireform Wall Street apologists.”
Yes, that's right: if you're not adhering to the politically correct ideological line, you're obviously in desperate need of internment in a re-education camp. We get it.
Finally, however, the reporter begins to get to the nub.
The ranking member on the Financial Services Committee typically takes in millions in donations from the financial services industry. As of now, Ms. Waters has received few dollars from the banking industry. Other than a recent $2,500 donation from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, her coffers are largely stocked with money from unions and other liberal causes.
I suppose the risk of alienating donations from consumer advocates is not so large when one considers how much more scratch Wall Street can cough up. $2,500 wouldn't cover coffee and a danish at Norma's, so you know that the Goldman Sachs of the world have a lot more largesse to spread on Maxine if she just continues to "listen to reason."
This may or may not be a trend. This may or may not be real. Whatever it is, it's entertaining.