On Monday's Today Show, Ann Curry did a softball interview with Bill Clinton. She asked him about his appearance on Time Magazine's list of 25 People to Blame for the real estate bubble. Like the good politician who has enjoyed ample top cover from the media, he hit the softball out of the park.
President Clinton said, "oh no", and went on to say, "My question to them is: Do any of them seriously believe if I had been president, and my economic team had been in place the last eight years, that this would be happening today? I think they know the answer to that: No."
That’s a really tough question to answer, since he wasn't the decision maker as this bubble began to burst, he also wasn't out there calling for changes in policy for dealing with the real estate bubble's collapse. Where was President Clinton, when his good ideas could have been heard and possibly helped influence policy? He was busy collecting donations from foreign governments for his foundation.
Now I blame Ms. Curry for not following up with a tough and obvious question. I would have asked him something like this ... "Mr. President, how do you explain that in 1998, the home price appreciation curve began climbing away from the personal income growth & inflation curves"? However she either wasn't ready to give this interview or she agreed to give a softball interview. Either circumstance is unacceptable and unprofessional. There were only 2 possible answers to her original question, "yes I belonged on that list" or "no I didn't belong on that list", Ms. Curry should have been prepared for either. I don't know what her follow up question would have been had he agreed with the piece in Time, but she fell down like the lady in the I've fallen and I can't get up commercials, when she failed to follow up with any kind of challenging, pointed question.
Lets also not forget that the tech bubble began on Bill Clinton's watch and was left to blow up on George W. Bush's plate. President Clinton was the beneficiary of the prosperity the tech bubble's expansion and President Bush's legacy took the lumps for cleaning it up, the real estate bubble is no different. I don't agree with the way in which the Bush admninistration dealt with some of the bailouts, particularly AIG & Bear Stears, but he certainly should not shoulder all the blame. In fact, were this a corporate scandal, Bill Clinton, as the chief executive, would potentially be on the hook under Sarbanes/Oxley, which ironically is part of President Bush's legacy in cleaning up another debacle which began forming on President Clinton's watch. Bill Clinton handled himself about as well in this interview as Alex Rodriguez did yesterday. There has been talk of claw backs on bonuses paid to financial executives for their performance prior to the bubble bursting, mostly at the behest of Democratic Senators and Congressmen. If bank executives are subject to revisionist compensation, than so should a Presidents legacy, but Ann Curry let President Clinton off the hook.
If someone else can explain away Bill Clinton's culpability on this matter, the comment box is below. I look forward to seeing the defense argument on Bill Clinton's behalf.