Why do so many CEOs hate President Barack Obama?
It isn’t because they’re being over-taxed and -regulated,d as so many on the Right would have you believe.
According to a January 16, 2013 story published in Bloomberg:
- U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171% under Obama.
- This is more than has existed under any President since World War II.
- Corporate profits are now at their highest level, relative to the economy, since the government began keeping records in 1947.
- Profits are more than twice as high than during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency.
- They are more than 50% greater than during the late-1990s Internet boom.
So if money isn’t the issue, what is?
In a word: Ego.
Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, provides some eye-opening insights into relations between the President and business leaders.
He notes, for example, that even before taking office as President in 2009, Obama pushed through Congress the second $350 billion portion of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)
And he stablilized the almost-wrecked American financial system with stress tests and regulatory reforms.
So Obama believed that business CEOs would be grateful for his efforts on their behalf.
And what did the President get in return?
- The rise of the Tea Party, angered by government bailouts to mega-corporations–and the subsequent loss of a Democratic House of Representatives; and
- Ingratitude and resentment from the very CEOs whose corporations he had saved.
CEOs visiting the White House often believed the President didn’t take them seriously.
For example, many of them wanted a tax amnesty on their overseas earnings. And Obama would ask: How will the government make up for the lost Treasury revenues that would come from such a huge tax break?
Many CEOs thought he was not taking them seriously.
Obama was in fact being serious, and was hoping that his greed-obsessed visitors would help him find an answer that would satisfy both parties.
What the President apparently didn’t understand was this: Most CEOs weren’t used to being dealt with on an equal basis.
They were used to people cowering before them, or instantly agreeing with anything they said.
For Obama, who had taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago from 1992 to 2004, such intellectual querys were routine. He had enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of such exchanges with his law students.
But his law students had not been billionaires with billionaire-sized egos.
One Wall Street CEO charged that Obama regarded intellectuals as a cut above political operatives–and two cuts above businessmen.
As Alter writes: “Being worth a billion dollars wasn’t going to get the President…to believe that your insights were better than anyone else’s.”
Obama was angered that many CEOs felt that nothing should change–even after the excesses of greed-fueled banks almost destroyed the nation’s economy in 2008.
Thus, bank CEOs had furiously opposed the Dodd-Frank bank re-regulations that had been imposed to prevent a recurrence of such abuses.
Obama felt that bankers were ungrateful for his pushing through the second part of the TARP program that had saved their corporations from the CEOs’ own self-destructive greed.
As Alter sums up: “The complex psychology of business confidence was only partly about their tax rates and the threat of regulation; the real problem was personal.
“They [businessmen] had an intuitive sense that Obama didn’t particularly like them, and they responded in kind.”
These are not the kinds of insights you’ll get by reading the highly sanitized bios of corporate chieftains.
As a result, during the 2012 Presidential race, Mitt Romney received nearly $150 million, or more than 15% of his total money raised, from New York. Which meant mostly from Wall Street.
“We got a lot of Barack Obama’s Wall Street money,” said Spencer Zwick, Romney’s finance director, after the campaign.
A passage from Finley Hooper’s classic Roman Realities puts an ancient-world spin on Obama’s relations with wealthy businessmen.
Assessing the reasons for why so many patricians hated Julius Caesar, Hooper writes:
“Caesar…like a teacher, seemed always to be directing affairs in a world of children–chiding one, patting another–yet too far above them all to care about hurting any.
“To less gifted men, however, his aloofness, even if mixed with kindness, was thought to be patronizing. They could not believe that in his heart he really cared about them.
“Caesar never bothered to ask for another man’s opinion. He lacked the tact by which a talented person might reasure others that they have worth, too.
“Pardons, jobs or favors did not completely satisfy the recipients’ craving for attention….
“Caesar…was a supreme egotist wrapped up in his own sense of well-being and good service to the state.
“…For all his experience and sophistication, he had never learned how ungrateful men can be–especially those who feel ignored.”
It has been President Obama’s bad luck–like that of Julius Caesar– to find himself at odds with powerful men whose profits he has greatly expanded.