Our sensitive corporate overlords
I was pretty excited to read John Gapper's column on President Obama's demonstrated loathing of big business. A lot of the people I know have been asking why Obama hasn't been much more unfriendly to big business -- bailouts, tax breaks, loan guarantees and record profits hardly seem like punishment -- and I figured I'd now have something to say to them.
Sadly, no: Gapper's single example of Obama's mistrust of big business is that "one of his favourite jabs at Republicans is that they seek tax breaks for corporations 'to ship jobs overseas.' " That's it? That's what you need to be anti-big business these days? George W. Bush complained about outsourcing. Bill Clinton complained about outsourcing. Every president complains about outsourcing because the American people don't like outsourcing. But it's enough to get Gapper going on Obama's "Manichean world in which small business is worthy and big business suspicious." Yeesh.
The administration has been caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to corporate rhetoric. The country would love some anti-corporate populism, particularly when it comes to Wall Street. But the administration can't let things get out of hand, because when things get out of hand, the financial markets and the corporate titans get scared, and that makes the economy worse. On the other hand, if the administration simply ignores the public's anger, it both destroys itself and creates room for demagogues. We saw this during the AIG bonus fight, when the White House's relative absence created room for a bill regulating Wall Street bonuses to race through the House of Representatives.
So the White House has tried to walk the line between saying the bare minimum in populist applause lines and simultaneously pursuing an extremely pro-business policy agenda. That's why Gapper's column has a banal line on outsourcing and nothing in the way of anti-business policy. But corporations, like other actors in American life, tend to consider the policy wins they get as the bare minimum of what they're due, and to be happy they need to feel respected, honored and admired by the guy in the White House.
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