To a point

Matt Taibbi, on Mary Jo White, President Obama’s pick to head the SEC:

It’s certainly strange that White has to qualify the idea that bringing cases is a positive thing in a government official – that bringing cases is a “positive thing . . . to a point.” Can anyone imagine the future head of the DEA saying something like, “For a prosecutor, bringing drug cases is a positive, to a point?”

One would think that even a defense firm would value a regulator with an aggressive rep — after all, a tough lawyer is a tough lawyer. What this testimony shows is that what is valued instead in this rarefied community of millionaire lawyers (where one can easily “get a reputation”) is a talent for political calculation, and a sensitivity to what may or may not hamper one’s ability to “function in the private sector.” What they’re looking for is someone who, when sitting in the regulator’s seat, does the job, but doesn’t live the job, if you catch the distinction.

Given that White has already made this move from enforcement to defense once, and given that we now know that she knows that firms like hers value regulators who can avoid creating “resentment in the business community” and retain their ability to “function in the private sector,” I think it’s safe to expect that White’s SEC will take very good care to bring cases, but only “to a point.”

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