‘Lying to the American public isn’t illegal’

Steven Rattner concludes 2018 Summer Institute Speaker Series.

Steve Rattner, shown here during a 2017 appearance, was the final guest in the Speaker Series at the Hebrew Center. - Brittany Bowker

Steven Rattner stuck to accepted facts and popular analysis when answering the self-imposed question, What the hell is going on? This question, addressing American politics, was the subject of the final lecture of the Summer Institute Speaker Series at the Hebrew Center.

Rattner led the reconstruction of the automobile industry for the Obama administration, and is now the chairman and chief executive officer of Willett Advisors, which manages former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic and personal assets.

Before he began his remarks, Rattner conducted an unofficial poll asking which audience members voted for Hillary Clinton, President Trump, independents, or abstained in the 2016 election. There were under 10 who did not vote for Clinton.

In 2016, “[Americans] elected a president with an unprecedented lack of governing experience,” Rattner said. With a high turnover of staff at the cabinet level and an air of corruption hanging around the administration, Trump seems to be on shaky ground. “If you put it all together,” Rattner said, “Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s made it deeper.”

This distrust is spreading to international allies, who are questioning their relationships with the U.S. Rattner said based on his extensive travels, it was “extraordinary how quickly our standing in the world has been diminished.”

He did, however, offer a word of hope: “I would rather be playing the Democrats’ hand in the midterm elections.” Historically, the midterms go against the incumbent party. This is good news for Democrats;, however, future success hinges on who is nominated for the 2020 presidential bid. This is made especially interesting by the split between institutional and progressive Democrats, as Rattner termed the two factions. Institutional Democrats are exemplified by figures such as Hillary Clinton or Joseph Biden, while progressive Democrats would be people like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won an upset primary victory against the Democratic incumbent in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Rattner expressed skepticism at the electoral power the progressive faction would hold in a general election, but acknowledged that momentum in the party seemed to be moving that way.

This hopeful thought was tempered by Rattner’s prediction of the future of the economy. After many years in finance, Rattner has been following market trends, and the forcast isn’t looking good. Recovery from the 2008 economic recession is 10 years old this year, and that’s a long time in economic terms. “I don’t know that we’re going to get to 2020 without another economic event,” Rattner said. He also warned that the budget deficit needs to be reduced. “Our nation’s finances are in an unstable position,” he said. With a deficit sitting over the trillion-dollar mark, economic trouble could force future generations into a lower standard of living. Maintaining or growing this level of debt, Rattner said, is “the most rapacious intergenerational theft. We’re stealing from our kids to maintain our standard of life.”

Rattner also briefly discussed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, informing the audience that he had no inside knowledge on the matter. His main argument was to remind the public to stick to the facts that exist, and keep in mind what the public doesn’t know. It has yet to be revealed what role President Trump or people close to him played in this scandal. He drew comparisons to Watergate when he said, “I don’t believe absent the release of those tapes, Nixon would have ever resigned … I would be very surprised if there are tapes like that for Trump.” Rattner was working as a news clerk in Washington for the New York Times at the end of the Watergate scandal; however, he didn’t cover it specifically.

He also argued that the bar for impeachment should be high, and reminded the audience, “lying to the American public isn’t illegal.”

Rattner offered little insight into how to solve the problems he had described in his remarks. He ended with a vague bipartisan request, “The stakes are high … it’s important, whichever party you’re with, to try and move us forward.”


  1. We are moving forward and all those so called experienced ones didn’t do it. Trump is doing it. Intimidating Erdogan is a good thing. Asking NATO to pay it’s fair share is a good thing. Ratcheting up against the thugs in Iran is a good thing. Rattner working to give money to GM is not a good thing. Threatening Kim is a good thing. The level of debt is Congress spending while we collect more revenue than ever before. Ask Rattner if he believes that in order for GM to build 300 billion dollars worth of cars they needed 310 billion dollars of cost. Ask him if he believes that.

    • Let’s go down the list.

      1) Erdogan is working toward an ethnic cleansing and single party government. What 1930-1940 leadership does that suggest?

      2) The current Iran leadership has been more friendly and they’ve complied with the sanctions, so let’s pull out the rug out from under both.

      3) Trump gave Kim the world recognition he needed and he’s since ramped up his nuclear weapons program.

      4) Rattner and GM? Is the next Trump effort to return America to the recession Obama rescued us from?

      • Trump has always said obama made me rich. He was bankrupt in 2008, obama and the fed let him have a 1 billion dollar tax write off and let him borrow money at zero interest. He bought maralago that year. Obama and the fed did that for all the richie riches in the world to the tune of 16 trillion dollars. If thats a bailout you can have it.

        • The bailout wasn’t for GM as much as the industries that supplied GM parts: windows, seats, carpets, paint, etc. A lot of companies could have folded and jobs lost.

          • I think if we just let the companies break up, we would be alot further on electric cars by now and our dependence on oil wouldnt be so big. Same for the banks, too big to fail isnt a free market, also the insurance companies Obama didnt let the system work. It would have been rough but alot of good things could have come out of it.

        • Not letting the system work would have worsened the recession. Think about it; even if these companies supplied to both Ford and GM, output would have halved requiring layoffs. How long for those workers to find jobs again? Would we have returned to the days of Hoovervilles? Would that have been good for the nation?

        • Are oil companies too big to fail? We subsidize their exploring with tax write-offs. What if Big Oil were made to follow free market rules? Exploring and drilling would cost more, the expense would be passed on to the consumer, the consumer would use less (presumably spur development of fuel-efficient machines), Big Oil would require a closer connection with the public (and likely help with alternate energy to keep their foot in the door).

          Should Big Oil obey free market rules?

    • Andrew–“taking advantage of the laws of the country” to declare bankruptcy 4 times and stiff working people for $20 billion is not a good thing. cheating on every wife you had is not a good thing– and then paying bribes to keep multiple sexual transgressions to women quiet is not a good thing –grabbing women in sensitive areas is not a good thing–lying lying lying is not a good thing– bullying and name calling is not a good thing– muddying up to ruthless dictators , while criticizing our long term allies is not a good thing– stoking racial , ethnic, and gender tensions are not good things— destroying the environment is not a good thing– cutting food and medical care to people living paycheck to paycheck while giving trillions of dollars to billionaires and fat cat companies is not a good thing– taking children away from their parents when they seek refuge in the wealthiest country in the world is not a good thing– the republican party selling it’s soul and losing all sense of morality, christian and American values is not a good thing. Shame on you for defending this disgrace of a president. Shame on you

    • Im not getting into it, Ill just vote, by the way my savings is getting 1.5 since trump got in, better than the zero I was getting with obama. I think if he had just got rid of bernake like he should of things would have been better.

      • Red sox–trump is on record in favor of low interest rates.. And just in case you don’t know it, the federal reserve does not answer to the president, and he has no influence over their decisions… by the way , you can get 2.4 % on capital one 1 yr cd’s

        • There arent any capital one banks in my neighborhood. There are 5 banks at the triangle now, Ill have to take a look.

  2. Dondondon. God often uses bad characters to promote a future good. David having killed Bathsheba’s husband so that he could have relations with her. St Peter denouncing Jesus, the list goes on. Of course we have Grover Cleveland’s out of wedlock child, Grants drunkenness most of the time, FDR and Eisenhower mistresses, MLK serial adultery and plagiarizing—- the content of HIS character. Bill Clinton’s impetuousness in the Oval Office. Carter was a moral man who ruined the economy and bear hugged Brezhnev. Trump is not a moral man but advances the interests of the working man. You hate trump but overlook Kennedy for example.

    • andrew yes, history is full of good and bad people doing bad things.. when i was a child the nuns beat me– let’s not even go to what the priest do– you are quoting a fairy tale– Kennedy is dead, has been for over 50 years.
      I work, therefore . I am a working man. trump does not advance my interest– he is against everything I hold dear about my country. Just because the economy of the U.S under the Obama administration had gained enough steam after the bush administration trashed it with tax cuts for the rich and a useless war, does not mean trump is doing a good job. It takes a while to destroy a healthy U.S. economy.

    • God? What is this “god” you speak of? Is it good? Is it powerful?I have seen no evidence for this thing.Why doesn’t it cure babies of AIDS?Why has it decided to back Trump? None of what you say makes any sense.

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