Obama Says Wall St. Protests Voice Widespread Frustrations

                                                                                                                 Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The protestors demonstrating against Wall Street and the country’s financial system are expressing the widespread frustrations shared by the U.S. public, President Obama said today.

“I think people are frustrated,” Obama said at a White House news conference. “The protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.”

“I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place,” the president said of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that began in New York City Sept. 17.

But the president made clear that a strong, effective financial sector is necessary for the country to grow economically. “I used up a lot of political capital  – and I’ve got the dings and bruises to prove it — in order to make sure that we prevented a financial meltdown and that banks stayed afloat.  And that was the right thing to do, because had we seen a financial collapse, then the damage to the American economy would have been even worse,” he said.

Obama also touted his efforts to ensure tougher oversight of the financial industry. “For us to have a healthy financial system, that requires that banks and other financial institutions compete on the basis of the best service and the best products and the best price, and it can’t be competing on the basis of hidden fees, deceptive practices or, you know, derivative cocktails that nobody understands and that expose the entire economy to enormous risks,” he said.

Asked about prosecutions of Wall Street executives and why there haven’t been any, the president said a lot of the actions that led to the financial meltdown weren’t “necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless.

“The financial sector is very creative, and they are always looking for ways to make money,” he said. ”That’s their job.  And if there are loopholes and rules that can be bent and arbitrage to be had, they will take advantage of it.”