In the grand Politico tradition of being very late to a story and witlessly enamored of the most conventional wisdom available, the Beltway press release mill has a cover story today filled with lament over that time the Obama administration was mean to the business community. Doesn't Obama want to extend his political career? Isn't that the whole point of being President? Well, he had better bring his "apology tour" to the Chamber of Commerce, then!
If President Barack Obama has any hope for a truce with corporate America in time for his 2012 reelection campaign, he needs to drop the name-calling, try to see their point of view better and step up with some specific proposals.
"No amount of relationship-building is a substitute for policy," said Johanna Schneider, executive director for external affairs at the Business Roundtable, which was once one of the administration's most enduring corporate allies.
"We have to see some concrete policies that will help grow business because everyone's goal is to grow jobs. This isn't hocus-pocus. There are concrete steps to take for job growth," she added.
Yes, the policies, they have been terribly lacking in concreteness, right Kevin Drum?
On a substantive front, after he took office Obama continued George Bush's rescue of the banking system, boosted the economy by passing a stimulus bill, and saved untold thousands of businesses by rescuing GM and Chrysler. His healthcare reform bill was so business friendly it's a wonder the industry didn't keel over in hypoglycemic shock after it was passed. On the rhetorical front, he's taken a few modest shots at the financial industry, but not much more. So what were they all so apoplectic about?
Well, I might have said that the business community was apoplectic over the financial regulatory bill that was passed through Congress, were it not for the fact that it might as well have been named the "Do You Have Enough Loopholes To Continue Your Crazy Casino Speculation In Synthetic Derivatives, Wall Street? Please Let Us Know Act Of 2010."
But neither that, nor multiple small business tax breaks, nor bank stress tests that were impossible to fail are enough to mollify the business community, who I guess are all bent out of shape because Elizabeth Warren might want future loan and credit card agreements to be legible to humans who speak English. And so, Obama must make restitution with the business community as quickly as possible. Luckily for all involved, Politico makes it sound as if everything can be solved through pop-psychology:
The White House's relationship with the corporate world has always had a sort of Mars-Venus quality to it. Business leaders say Obama simply doesn't get them and has no one in the White House with corporate experience or who is steeped in the daily challenges of operating in a global economy. It didn't help when Obama lashed out at "fat cat bankers" on Wall Street at the height of the regulatory reform effort or attacked BP, a onetime White House ally on energy reform, in the midst of the Louisiana oil spill.
So, in Hungary, if a corporation causes a massive environmental disaster, they freeze assets and make arrests. But in America, you aren't even allowed to say something unkind about the people who wantonly wreck economies or coastlines. If you make that mistake, you have to work out your feelings in an encounter session with Dr. Phil, and be willing to admit that you don't know as much about business as the people who ruined everything. (Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce "spent about $75 million attacking Democrats and assisting the Republican takeover of the House," but the President isn't allowed to feel resentful about that, no sir!)
Of course, if you listen to those who have had their head down in a bucket of conventional wisdom-vomit for the past year, you'd hear that the stakes "could not be higher." The White House needs to do more to get banks lending to small businesses! And they need to resolve the "uncertainty" that comes from wanting to roll back taxes on the top 1% of Americans to the Clinton-era levels. (When business was booming, somehow?)
But while the business community and their hack-scribe allies in the media have successfully gone long on selling uncertainty, what's preventing business investment is anything but murky. Currently, the major banks are bent on absorbing as much capital as the possibly can in the form of tax breaks, bailouts, and Fed-window withdrawals because they have only so much time to get liquid and spread the bonus bucks around before all the terrible assets on their balance sheets go from being marked-to-fantasy to being marked-to-market again. With everyone vainly trying to stave off being revealed as zombie banks, there isn't much inclination to start spreading around seed money so you can open a pizza parlor and put six wage-slaves to work.
Of course, the easing of mark-to-market valuations and the hilarious bank stress tests were also both pro-business concepts put together by the current administration. So, what's really going on in this contentious relationship between the White House and the business community? Again, Kevin Drum nailed this weeks ago. How about we take notes, Politico:
What's remarkable about all this is that Obama is, patently, not anti-business. All of the corporate complaints above, when you dig an inch below the surface, amount to lashing out at phantasms. However, although Obama isn't anti-business, it is fair to say that he's not especially business friendly. And after decades of almost literally getting their every heart's desire from Republican presidents and congresses, this has come as something as a shock to the corporate community. When Obama puts a tax break in the stimulus bill, it's aimed mainly at the middle class, not the rich. When he hires a labor secretary, it's someone who actually thinks labor laws should be enforced. When he says he wants to pass a healthcare reform bill, he actually does it. (Its impact on big business is close to zero, but no matter.) There's no evidence at all that Obama wants to punish big business, but at the same time it's quite plain that he cares much more about the middle class than he does about the rich.
And that's pretty hard for them to take. So they're apoplectic. On a scale of 1 to 10, he's a ten. Merely refusing to coddle the business community endlessly is all it takes these days.
Basically, the Chamber of Commerce would like to reopen all that "of the people, by the people, for the people" stuff for a round of corporate naming rights.