Dictionary Please Wall Streets Wallison Doubles Down on Doublespeak

Richard Eskow

Peter J. Wallison has a bright future … as a surrealist author.. He and the other Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission tried to undermine that group’s work by attempting to ban phrases like “Wall Street” from its final report. Now he’s trying to rebut news reports about their behavior. His response is a brilliant example of what might be called “uninentional literature,” a hallucinogenic mashup of Lewis Carroll and George Orwell that belongs on everyone’s shelf.

News reports said that Wallison and his fellow Republicans on the Commission also wanted to ban the words “shadow banking,” “interconnection,” and “deregulation” from a report on the Great Recession and its causes. That’s like banning the phrase “plastic surgery” from a story about the Kardashians.

Not true, insists Wallison. “Only in the fever-swamps of the left could anyone believe that,” he writes. For example, Wallison says he and his colleagues merely objected to the Commission’s use of “Wall Street” as “a general term for the financial system.” Wallison says it’s unacceptable, politically motivated, and imprecise to use the phrase “Wall Street” as if it referred to the controlling financial interests of the United States.

Wall Street: n. The controlling financial interests of the United States.
- American Heritage Dictionary

What do dictionaries matter when you’re rewriting reality? Wallison says he and his fellow Republicans were only willing to use the phrase “Wall Street” to mean “the major commercial and investment banks that were underwriters for the private label securities that the commission majority’s report discusses.”

That’s like defining “Republicans” as “the people who tried to block health care for 9/11 responders.” While it’s true, it’s only one, very narrow aspect of a much larger reality.

Wallison also ridicules the Commission’s inclusion of Countrywide as part of “Wall Street” because its main office wasn’t physically located on Wall Street. My old employer, AIG, wasn’t on Wall Street either. We were a whole block away, on Pine Street. (There was a second building on Wall Street, with a connecting bridge between the two, but the main office address was 70 Pine Street.)

The Goldman Sachs main office is on West Street, so by Wallison’s reckoning they’re not part of “Wall Street” either. JPMorgan Chase is on Park Avenue. Morgan Stanley’s on Broadway. Citigroup’s on Greenwich Street. And Bank of America’s way down in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Countrywide’s headquarters was in California. That’s not even in America.)

No wonder Wallison and his fellow Republicans were upset by the term “Wall Street.” In their world, Wall Street doesn’t even exist! That would explain the outrage. Imagine: The other members of the Commission, debased by political motives and lacking Wallison’s mental precision, were actually prepared to use the phrase “Wall Street” as if it meant “the influential financial interests of the U. S. economy!”

Wall Street (noun). The influential financial interests of the U. S. economy.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Wallison also objects to the fact that each of the four Republicans (call ‘em the Fantastic Four) was to be given “only” nine pages in the final reports – 4,050 words, as he says – for their response. I’ll spare you the math: That’s 36 pages and over 16,000 words. That should be an especially easy target to reach now that they’ve trimmed so many words from the English language. (As Robert Borosage points out, none of the “forbidden words” appear in their minority … whatever it is … despite Wallison’s statement that they didn’t ban them.)

Sadly, Wallison doesn’t explain the Fantastic Four’s specific objections to the use of the terms “shadow banking,” “deregulation,” and “interconnection.” That’s a tragic loss for the world of literature. Here’s a line from Wallison’s official FCIC bio: “(H)e was General Counsel of the (Reagan) Treasury Department, where he had a significant role in the development of the Reagan Administration’s proposals for deregulation in the financial services industry.”

(Amusingly, the word “deregulation” was apparently scrubbed from Wallison’s American Enterprise Institute bio after this flap became public. )

As for that disingenuous “minority” … er, something … Wallison won’t call it a “report” … it simply parrots what Yves Smith rightly called “urban legends” about the causes of the crash. (More about that “minority non-report” here.)

Those false “legends” spun by Wallison and his friends conveniently hide Wall Street’s culpability in our recent economic train wreck. That’s good for Wall Street and Wallison. As an employee of the American Enterprise Institute, Wallison receives his paycheck from an organization that was created by New York business executives, and whose board includes senior officers from TPG Capital, Clearview Capital, Crow Holdings, the Carlyle Group, Harrison Street Capital, American Express, Hanna Capital, KKR, State Farm Insurance, and CIGNA.

Why, a person would almost consider this roster a who’s who of influential Wall Street types … that is, if Wall Street existed.

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“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
- Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
- George Orwell, 1984
“What we were asking for was precision in the use of these words, so that when the words “Wall Street” were used they referred to the major commercial and investment banks that were underwriters for the private label securities that the commission majority’s report discusses. What we were told, in the case of “Wall Street” is that it’s a general term for the financial system and thus could in fact include a subprime lender like Countrywide, based in California. Maybe this was changed in subsequent drafts of the report, maybe it was not, but using the term Wall Street to describe the financial system generally is — most objective observers would conclude — a political statement rather than an accurate one. You decide.”
- Peter J. Wallison, Huffington Post

This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project.

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