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Sanjay Sanghoee Headshot

Obama vs. The Robber Baron: The Gloves Must Come Off

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President Obama is between a rock and a hard place. Just when the Facebook debacle and the JPMorgan mess have highlighted the urgent need for Wall Street reform, he is also fighting Republican accusations of being anti-capitalist -- making it harder for him to do what is required, and to respond properly to his opponent in the presidential race.

As for banking reform, he has no choice but to ignore the critics and just do his job. But on the election front, he needs to come out swinging. For starters, he should challenge the misconception propagated by the Republicans to deceive the public -- that attacking Mitt Romney is the same as attacking capitalism.

Romney does not represent Wall Street.
In fact, he is not a banker at all but a bandit, and that is a crucial difference. Banking, which was once regarded as an honorable profession, may not be held in the same esteem anymore, but that does not mean it is an arena of thieves. Most bankers still provide a valuable service to our economy and do it in exchange for fair (and reasonable) compensation.

Romney, however, is more like the robber barons of the late 19th century, amassing wealth at the cost of working-class people, society and eventually the economy. The business model that he oversaw at Bain, especially the Leveraged Buyout, was questionable at best and destructive at worst; and as a highly intelligent man with the best education money can buy, he cannot pretend that the dangers of Bain's investment methods were unknown to him. That is not to say that private equity is bad, but the Bain version under Romney was particularly mercenary and ruthless. The doomed Ampad was only one of several companies that buckled under the weight of the debt that Bain loaded onto them (22 percent of the companies Bain invested in either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or shut down completely).

Yes, Romney knew better, but it didn't matter because he made a fortune doing what he did. I used the robber barons analogy because they too were highly successful businessmen who made their money without regard for the interests of the public or the nation. As such, they were brilliant and had a single-minded purpose, and Romney fits that mold perfectly.
Which is why it is high time that President Obama stopped tiptoeing around him and got down to business.

While a candidate's stance on issues such as unemployment, healthcare and gay marriage are all important, so is the character of the person in the White House, and if the president wants to defeat Romney, this is where he must focus his energy. This is the soft underbelly of his opponent. Pulling punches will not earn him any points with the electorate, and if anything, will give Romney the space he needs to launch his own offensive.

A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt fought a fierce battle against the private sector and his own Republican party in order to break the grip of the robber barons over the nation. It was a battle born of his firm belief that America cannot be allowed to become a huge corporation run in the interests of a few. In the new millennium, President Obama faces the same challenge, only this time the robber baron is actually knocking on the door of the White House. Time is running out and the stakes are astronomically high.

The gloves must come off, Mr. President.