Last week President Obama decided to repair his strained relationship with business. He did so, not by advocating permanent reductions in taxes and less regulation, but by interviewing a former Clinton-era Treasury official for a position as economic advisor. Obama's presidency has been torpedoed by his endemic hostility toward capitalism, and he imagines that the problem is one of perception that can be papered over with the appointment of a Wall Street insider. Just how out of touch is this guy?
Week after week, Obama has used his bully pulpit to attack American corporations. Companies big and small are accused of everything from intentionally failing to create jobs to reporting excess profits, which in this President's mind would seem to be any profit at all. Then there is the inscrutable charge that corporate America is conspiring to "steal our democracy." Whatever could the President mean by this?
Just what he means by "stealing our democracy" and other allegations of the sort is made clear in Obama's weekly radio addresses, fully half of which in recent months have been devoted to the purported conspiracy of business against democracy. Among recent titles in the President's long-running anti-capitalist talk show are "No Corporate Takeover of Our Democracy" (Aug. 21), "Honoring the American Worker" (Sept. 4), "The Republican Corporate Power Grab" (Sept. 18), "GOP Rewarding Corporations that Create Jobs Overseas" (Oct. 16), and "Letting Wall Street Run Wild Again" (Oct. 23).
In all of these addresses the claim is the same: corporate America is out to crush workers, extract sinful profits from his labor, and distribute these profits -- presumably as stock dividends and executive compensation -- to a small class of exploiters whom Obama simply calls "the rich." We have heard the same scenario verbatim ever since 1848, when Marx and Engels published "The Communist Manifesto." But what surprises one is not just the anachronistic nature of the Obama's message: it is the crass and boorish quality of his discourse. Everything the President has said about American business can be reduced to a single barbaric yawp repeated over and over again: "the rich have it, we want it, let's take it."
That crude message was certainly the left's rallying cry during the recent midterm election. On Aug. 21, Obama warned voters of "a flood of attack ads by shadowy groups," and he strongly suggested that "big insurance companies," "a Wall Street Bank," or even "a foreign-controlled corporation" was behind it. The Democrats' "fix" for this shadowy fund-raising, made possible by the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, was to pursue legislation that would have suppressed corporate donations by requiring the disclosure of donors' names, thus opening companies to intimidation in the form of boycotts, internet attacks, and outright violence.
The same message was repeated in the President's radio message of Sept. 18. Just as the President had predicted, corporate donations to GOP candidates had increased, and this, he asserted, was "destructive to our democracy." One has to ask, exactly what does Obama mean by this oft-repeated phrase, "our democracy"? Who, exactly, is the "our" in this phrase? I suspect that it is every special interest that has contributed to the Democratic Party in recent elections: public service and teachers unions, trial lawyers, academic Marxist intellectuals, and environmentalist extremists. If the President truly believes that those are the groups that "own" American democracy, the nation is in very deep trouble. Clearly, he does--and it is.
But it is not just Obama's conspiracy theories about stealing democracy that are troubling. At the heart of his political identity lies a deep-seated antipathy toward capitalism and toward its modern embodiment, the successful corporation. Small businesses, of course, are OK, as Obama asserted on Oct. 16 ("These are the people who will help us grow our economy and create jobs"). But Big Insurance, Big Oil, Big Banks, and the rest should be viewed as enemies of the people. They, so the President believes, do not create jobs. They do not produce goods or services of value. They are and always have been merely greedy thieves, exploiting the worker and destroying the environment. They by their very nature are evil.
It is difficult to grasp the truth that America has elected a President whose mind operates at such an unsophisticated level, but this seems to be the case. This is the only conclusion one can reach from the rough "them versus us" tone of Obama's radio talks and other speeches. It would also seem to explain the motivation behind the administration's efforts to retard offshore drilling (deepwater and otherwise), impose onerous and capricious rules on the financial services industry, and concoct healthcare reform in such a way as to drive private insurers out of business. Meanwhile, the President has said nothing about those institutions that may truly be said to be a threat to our democracy: the increasingly powerful public service unions, the parasitical tort bar, and the failed GSE's (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) that may cost the taxpayer as much as $300 billion or more in liabilities.
In an effort to repair his relationship with business, or at least to soften his anti-business reputation, in October the President attempted to recruit a prominent CEO, or any CEO, to fill the position left vacant by Larry Summers (National Economic Council Director). Ursula Burns, the African American woman who heads Xerox, was reportedly approached, as were others. But in a telling sign of just how bad it is between Obama and corporate America, no one could be found to take the job. Why give up a lucrative post where one enjoys respect and wields actual authority in return for appointment as the token ex-CEO within a leftist administration that loathes capitalism?
In a democratic capitalist nation in which the private sector affords jobs for three-fourths of its citizens, one would imagine that the President would act as a booster of the free market, not as its chief nemesis. Attacking the free market in America is like swatting at the air, and just as foolish. If the pursuit of profit is inherently venial, as the President suggests, how else are companies going to stay in business and thus provide jobs? Does Obama really believe that a system of state capitalism in which profits are strictly regulated -- and minimized -- will produce dynamic growth, enough to create jobs for the 30 million workers now unemployed or underemployed and for the millions of new workers entering the job market each year? That, of course, was the vision of Lenin, Mao, and Castro, and of every other Marxist ruler over the past century. Never before has it worked, and it never will, no matter how many radio addresses the President devotes to the subject.
Jeffrey Folks is author of many books and articles on American culture and politics.