America’s corporate officers and CEOs are deeply concerned about a variety of new financial and industrial regulations imposed on them by the administration. In a recent interview with The Economist, President Barack Obama addressed the concerns of American corporate officers and others in a compelling and comprehensive fashion when he told them, essentially, to shut up.
From new regulatory regimes imposed by legislation, like the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, to executive actions like those which recently allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions, many are sounding the alarm. The president, however, does not think these captains of industry have any standing to complain.
“If you look at what’s happened over the last four or five years, the folks who don’t have a right to complain are the folks at the top,” Obama said.
“I would take the complaints of the corporate community with a grain of salt,” he continued. “They always complain about regulation. That’s their job.”
Reuters noted that Obama has “toned down” the populist rhetoric he appealed to in his first term, including using inflammatory terms like “fat cats” to describe Wall Street-based financial professionals. This new tone Obama displayed in his interview with The Economist is, however, not all that dissimilar from the excessive bombast employed by Occupy’s agitators at the height of that leftist protest movement:
“Oftentimes, you’ll hear some hedge-fund manager say, ‘Oh, he’s just trying to stir class resentment’. No. Feel free to keep your house in the Hamptons and your corporate jet, etcetera. I’m not concerned about how you’re living,” Obama said.
“I am concerned about making sure that we have a system in which the ordinary person who is working hard and is being responsible can get ahead,” he said.
What is fascinating here is the president is using language laced with hostility toward American corporate culture while simultaneously defending the federal institutions which many conservatives have claimed dole out undue corporate welfare.
“There is no doubt that a thread has emerged in the Republican Party of anti-globalisation that runs contrary to the party’s traditional support for free trade,” Obama said of the debate surrounding the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
How the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) became targets for Tea Party wrath is a little strange to me. But I do think there remains a consensus within the American business community that ultimately we benefit from trade. I am confident that we can get AGOA reauthorised and refined, given the lessons learned from the first round of AGOA. And the truth is that the amount of trade between the United States and Africa is so small relative to our overall economy that in no way should it be perceived as a threat.”
As conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have noted, the Export-Import Bank is anything but a majoritarian institution that promotes free and fair global trade. Writing in USA Today last week, Cruz accused the bank of enriching foreign firms and those large corporations with the biggest lobbying footprint in Washington.
Contrary to the values that keep America strong, safe and free, the Export-Import Bank has facilitated lending to governments in Congo and Sudan, countries with horrific human rights records. It has financed Chinese power plants and backed Russian billionaires buying luxury planes. And, it has provided lots and lots of financing to oil companies in Russia, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that compete directly with America’s energy companies.
“The paradox of Obama’s position is made even more explicit in question posed by The Economist interlocutor, who seems to think that China can do a better job of engaging in free trade — so much so, that it ends in a joke about how nice it would be if Obama were a dictator,” National Review’s Joel Gehrke observed.
Obama’s populist rhetoric is perfectly untethered to any ideological commitment to populism; the president can shift seamlessly from People’s Revolutionary to calculating monopolist. For its part, the press seems unconcerned with Obama’s blatantly contradictory rhetoric. For many, it seems, the desired end justifies even dishonest means.