Few things have been stranger to those of us on the left over the last couple of years than the continued insistence of the moneyed class that Barack Obama is "anti-business." After all, the stock market has soared since he's been president -- the Dow is up nearly 50 percent since he took office -- corporate profits are at near record levels, the banks are doing great, and if anything, it looks like the capitalist class has fully recovered from the recession, even if regular people haven't. So why do they think he's against them? The answer, of course, is feelings.
We tend to think of business leaders as hard-nosed men immersed in a world of facts, poring over balance sheets until the numbers add up. But they're also human beings, who can be as irrational, emotional, and biased as anyone else. So they were terribly hurt by the fact that a couple of times, Obama used the term "fat cats." Who can forget the Wall Street broker who whined, "When are we going to stop whacking at the Wall Street piñata?" One certainly hopes he can find solace in his eight-figure bonus.
But now the White House is working overtime to assure big business that they love them. Among other things, Obama got headlines by appointing General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (Never heard of it before? Don't worry, you never will again). But Noam Scheiber argues that the capitalists are being snookered:
How did big business get outmaneuvered so easily? To understand this, you have to go back to the charges the corporate world began leveling against Obama in the summer of 2009. The first was that his reform agenda was stifling the recovery by creating massive “uncertainty.” This was spectacularly dishonest, for reasons my colleagues and I have laid out. But at least it was substantive: Business wanted less regulation and Obama was proposing more.
What the White House eventually realized was that co-opting business didn’t require responding to this critique. That's because Corporate America was also leveling a much more superficial charge at the same time: that the president and his aides weren’t sufficiently reverential toward business. As Fareed Zakaria summarized it after speaking with several CEOs: "[T]hey pointed to the fact that Obama has no business executives in his Cabinet, that he rarely consults with CEOs (except for photo ops), that he has almost no private-sector experience, that he’s made clear he thinks government and nonprofit work are superior to the private sector."
The genius of the White House was to address this second concern—showering businessmen with love and attention—while mostly ignoring the first. And, because business leaders had merged the two criticisms in their own minds—and because they have a relatively crude understanding of what actually drives White House policymaking—they couldn’t immediately discern that Obama had conceded almost nothing of consequence.
In other words, Obama seems to have decided to treat America's business leaders like the fools they have shown themselves to be. If they're going to be consumed with whether or not the president is being mean in his rhetoric and ignore the actual policies that do or don't help them, well, who are we to argue? So Obama can make all the symbolic overtures he wants, then continue with the same policies he was going to pursue anyway. Everybody wins.
-- Paul Waldman
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