Barack Obama says Bernie Sanders got one thing right about big banks

“The economy is not an abstraction.” President Obama reflects on his economic legacy.
“The economy is not an abstraction.” President Obama reflects on his economic legacy.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

US president Barack Obama is taking a victory lap after bringing the US economy back after the Great Recession—and that includes a back-handed compliment for Bernie Sanders.

He spoke to The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin about his economic legacy:

“There is no doubt that the financial system is substantially more stable,” Obama said. “It is true that we have not dismantled the financial system, and in that sense, Bernie Sanders’s critique is correct.”

Sanders has made breaking up Wall Street financial institutions—specifically those deemed “too big to fail”—a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, in an implicit criticism of Obama’s policies.

“But one of the things that I’ve consistently tried to remind myself during the course of my presidency is that the economy is not an abstraction,” Obama said. “It’s not something that you can just redesign and break up and put back together again without consequences.”

The president also engaged in some light film criticism. Though he said he enjoyed 2015’s The Big Short—which explores the causes of the 2008 financial crisis—he disagreed with with the ending, which suggested nothing has changed.

And finally, Obama rehashed a controversial remark given to 60 Minutes in 2009, telling Steve Kroft, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.”

The comment offended a number of major players in the financial industry, including Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone Group, who likened the White House’s oversight of Wall Street to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

When asked if he regretted the word choice, Obama laughed, claiming the criticism was “extremely mild.”

“It hurt their feelings,” he admitted. “I would have some of them say to me, ‘You know, my son came home and asked me, ‘Am I a fat cat?’”