With the drive for U.S. financial regulation reform at a critical turning point, Barney Frank has to be asking himself by now:

Where's the $6,000 shower curtain?

Where are the perp-walking CEOs in handcuffs, and the cynical trader caught on tape sneering, Burn, baby, burn?

The 2008-2009 global financial crisis has hit the economy much harder than the 2001-2002 Enron-era scandals ever did. But it's lacked the rogue's gallery of obvious villains and glaring images of excess that were so common seven years ago.

That could be decisive from a public opinion standpoint, former Representative Michael Oxley told Reuters in an interview.

Days before the scheduled rollout on Wednesday of the Obama administration's comprehensive financial reform proposals to prevent a recurrence of the latest crisis, Oxley noted an important difference between then and now.

It doesn't seem to be as intense as it was with Enron or WorldCom, he said. Maybe it's because it's not as focused ... maybe it's because it's a little more complicated.

Or maybe it's because the mortgage-banking credit-bailout crisis -- is there even a good name for it? -- is just too big for most people to get their heads around.

Oxley was chairman of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee before Representative Frank, the Democrats' chief architect of financial reform in Congress.

Under Oxley and former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Paul Sarbanes, Congress produced 2002's Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a sweeping business reform package approved on a wave of public outrage that has been unmatched today.

Here's what the Gallup Poll, which tracks Americans' opinions on the biggest future threats to the country, shows.

In July 2002 -- the month Sarbanes-Oxley was signed into law -- 38 percent of Americans identified big business as the top threat to the nation -- an all-time high.

In March 2009 -- when Congress voted to claw back bonuses paid to American International Group managers and the U.S. stock market hit a 12-year low -- that view registered at 32 percent -- high, but below the Enron-era level.


Populist anger was stoked earlier this decade by events such as Tyco International Ltd ex-CEO Dennis Kozlowski using company funds to buy a $6,000 shower curtain and other items to decorate his Manhattan apartment.

Authorities regularly paraded handcuffed corporate officers past TV cameras to their court dates. And there was that Enron energy trader's taped reaction to a forest fire in California that shut down power transmission lines.

Burn, baby, burn. That's a beautiful thing, he cooed.

There was a raft of books about the Enron-era scandals. There were even movies.

But so far, Hollywood has shown little interest in collateralized debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities and the over-the-counter derivatives market.

Oxley, a Republican who retired from Congress in 2006 after 25 years as a lawmaker, was at the center of the Enron-era scandals that erupted in late 2001. He is now of counsel at the law firm Baker Hostetler in Washington.

He noted the present situation still has months to play out and that there's wide support for regulatory change.

I don't think there's anyone who doesn't agree that we need a 21st-century regulatory structure badly, and that the current regulatory structure, which was essentially created in the early 20th century, is inadequate, he said.

So you've got recognition by virtually everybody that you need a different-looking structure ... If that can be harnessed with the outrage of the public, then a lot of changes are going to take place, he said.

Yet as the Democrats' reform agenda has evolved over the past six months, some of its more challenging proposals have been pruned. For instance, a widely expected top-to-bottom shake-up of government regulatory agencies looks unlikely.


At the same time, the economy has been showing signs of recovery, stocks have rebounded from the depths of March, and other issues such as healthcare are taking the stage.

The fate of the financial reform push now looks unclear. Can Democrats complete it by year's end, as Obama wants? What provisions of the package will ultimately be achievable?

Oxley said the Obama administration has lately appeared reluctant to tackle the toughest issues.

If they don't want to break some china right now, six months from now the air could go out of the balloon and basically it's back to the status quo, Oxley said.

On the other hand, if you look at the polls, my guess is that if you got a bill on the floor ... virtually any amendment that's seen as being tough on Wall Street, the banks or whatever, will pass by large margins. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of that issue and face the public.

(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Jan Paschal)