Robert Rubin, the ultimate symbol of the Democratic Party's coziness with Wall Street fat cats, has kept a relatively low profile in Washington ever since the financial world he helped remake exploded in late 2008.
As Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, Rubin was a key proponent of the extreme financial deregulation that eventually brought the economy to its knees; after leaving government, he proceeded to enrich himself to the tune of $126 million while driving Citigroup to the edge of bankruptcy.
But Rubin is leaping back into the Washington policy-making scene next week, with a splashy relaunch of his pet think-tank, the Hamilton Project, housed at the Brookings Institution. As founder of the project, he will deliver the opening remarks and speak on one of the two panels
And the Democratic Party, rather than keep Rubin at an extreme distance, is apparently welcoming him back with open arms. The event's keynote speaker is none other than Vice President Joe Biden.
Rubin, even in exile, has continued to be an influential behind-the-scenes player, speaking regularly to proteges (many of them alums of the Hamilton Project) who occupy top economic-policy positions in the Obama administration -- they include Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, White House budget chief Peter Orszag, and key White House advisers Jason Furman and Michael Froman, just for starters.
And the Rubinites, amazingly enough, are riding high these days. They feel like they saved the financial world -- at what they consider a relatively low cost. The millions of lost jobs and homes are considered unfortunate collateral damage.
Nevertheless, there's still a lot of legitimate populist anger at the plutocrats who enabled the crisis, profited from it, and walked away intact. And nobody embodies that role better than Rubin.
As one prominent player in the financial reform movement told HuffPost angrily: "That's exactly what the Democratic Party needs right now. We need to make clear to everybody that we are the party of Robert Rubin. That will get us all kinds of good will."
But Jared Bernstein, Biden's top economic adviser, told HuffPost that the measure of the vice president's views "is what he says, not where he says it."
Biden "speaks to all wings of the party. His last big economic speech was at CAP [the Center for American Progress], and a few weeks ago, we were talking middle-class economics in a factory down in North Carolina. A few weeks before that, we were at the AFL-CIO executive council meeting, the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] annual convention, and about a dozen other labor meetings in the past eight months."
Also attending the event: Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, considered one of the most progressive voices in his chamber. His office made it clear he was there not to endorse the Rubinite position, but to confront it.
"He is attending the conference so that he continues to be a loud voice for a national manufacturing policy among economists," Brown spokesman, Meghan Dubyak, wrote in an email to HuffPost. "His message will be that too much emphasis has been placed on Wall Street and financial services at the expense of manufacturing communities across the nation."
As for Rubin himself, what is the man who's been almost exactly 180 degrees wrong on the major economic issues of his time thinking these days? Well, in an essay published by Newsweek late last year, Rubin worried about too much spending on job-creation, opposed forcing the riskiest derivative contracts onto public exchanges, resisted an accounting reform that would require financial institutions to assess their assets based on actual market prices rather than just making things up, and warned against what he calls impractical proposals to break up "too big to fail" banks. His most pressing concern was the federal deficit.
All in all: A decidedly Wall Street rather than Main Street agenda.