David Axelrod’s first speech since leaving the White House was to this week’s TradeTech convention of stock traders in New York – in keeping with the Obama administration’s latest attempt to appear business-friendly and fiscally responsible.
Axelrod is part of the Chicago political machine that deftly moved an obscure ‘community organizer’ to the White House in little more than four years. Barack Obama owes his extraordinary rise to Axelrod to such an extent that president’s senior advisor recently left the administration to lay the groundwork for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Still, it’s difficult for even the fanciest of talkers like Axelrod to convince Wall Street and business leaders that the president is a fiscally responsible champion of free and unfettered markets. There are more new federal regulations governing the trading of equities and options this year than in the past decade. Just last week, George Buckley of 3M Corp., chief executive of one of the country’s largest industrial companies, said Obama is “anti-business.”
The most chilling moment in Axelrod’s speech was when he said that at some point along the way, the Obama administration had discovered limits to White House power. “It’s the things you can’t control that are the most vexing,” he said.
Obama brought the U.S. government into the day-to-day workings of the automotive industry when it took a stake in General Motors and fired its chief executive officer. How does Axelrod justify how the Obama administration favored Big Labor when it effectively transferred wealth from GM bondholders to the unions in that seedy backroom deal? “Hey, everyone took a haircut in that process,” said Axelrod, brushing off the question.
What about the so-called financial stimulus package that added more than a trillion dollars to the $14.2 trillion national debt in one stroke of the president’s pen? “We had a palpable sense of urgency,” said Axelrod. “The country hadn’t come to grips with how serious the crisis was.”
At one point during the frenzied spending on bailouts in the first five weeks of the Obama administration, Axelrod said he told the president how nice it would be if they could be in office when times were good. “Don’t kid yourself,” Axelrod said the president responded. “If times were good, we wouldn’t be here.”
We should be thankful that the Obama administration didn’t leverage fear tactics to act on each and every socialist-style proposal it had up its sleeve -- such as nationalizing America’s banks, something Axelrod said was on the table. That the president didn’t nationalize the banks is an indication of how in-touch Obama is with Wall Street and the private sector, he said. Apparently, the nationalization of the healthcare industry was enough for one year.
Obama’s right-hand man said he regrets certain things that were said and done to create the impression that Obama is anti-business. Perhaps this includes last week’s awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to union boss John Sweeney. Or the fact that new federal securities regulations have made it more cumbersome than ever for Wall Street brokers to execute trades.
Perhaps someday the Obama administration will discover that government works best when it doesn’t set out to dominate business, but rather to facilitate it.