Saturday, September 4, 2010

White House hostility so bad business is moving back to GOP

We are a long way from Dwight Eisenhower's cabinet. "Eight millionaires and a plumber," as one journalist dubbed Ike's team.

The Obama administration has the least corporate executive experience of any White House in decades.

The premiere posts of Treasury and Commerce express the issue. Both are traditionally bridges to business. This is the only first-term administration in about a century, when the Commerce post was created, to have neither a Commerce nor Treasury secretary with significant business experience.

"Obviously, the Obama administration doesn't stack up with previous Republican administrations but they don't even stack up with previous Democratic administrations," said Stephen Hess, a Brookings institution presidential scholar and veteran of four administrations.

"Democratic administrations always have a much shallower corporate personnel," Hess continued. "But if you deconstructed previous Democratic administrations you would have found considerable tokenism, particularly to cool things with Wall Street. You would want a Treasury secretary who had the friendships and the connections to settle people down. You don't want a jumpy Wall Street, even in ordinary times."

Obama has advisors from the private sector. The National Journal calculated that 28 percent of Obama's top officials have experience as business executives. It was 38 percent during George W. Bush's first term.

But locating that experience sheds more light on the story. National Journal had to reach to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's brief sojourn from government into investment banking and second tier cabinet posts (e.g., Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, once managing director at Prudential Mortgage Capital for affordable-housing investments, or Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who worked as a partner in his family-run ranch).

It's worth noting that, in these hard times, there would have also been issues with a big business cabinet. Many Americans already believe the Bush and Obama administrations put Wall Street ahead of the public interest (see bailout).

But Obama's circle has the worst of both worlds. He is seen as too close to big business. And big business sees him as too close to the populists.

The anger has built for more than a year, even among Obama supporters. The Obama White House is "without question the most hostile administration to business and to the role of business that we've had in decades," said media mogul Mort Zuckerman this summer on MSNBC, an erstwhile Obama backer.

CNBC's Jim Cramer, another former Obama man, said last March that, "this is the most, greatest wealth destruction I've seen by a president." Cramer has not let up since.

Big business has not been this antagonistic toward Washington since Franklin Roosevelt. FDR's populism earned him the label of "traitor to his class."

The feud has already cost Democrats. Wall Street is donating a majority of its contributions to Republicans for the first time in years.

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