Wall Street to Obama Campaign: 'You Hurt Our Feelings!'
It seems that the Obama campaign's offensive against Mitt Romney's legacy at Bain Capital is ruffling a few feathers among the 1 percent. You gotta admit, there was no small amount of chutzpah displayed when, in the very week that his campaign launched its first video in the offensive, the commander-in-chief starred at a campaign fundraiser hosted by Hamilton James, president of the Blackstone Group, the largest private equity firm in the U.S. Price of admission? $35,800.
Now, via a front-page story in the New York Times by Nicholas Confessore, the grousing has begun. To, perhaps, his credit, Hamilton James took in stride the campaign's assault on Romney's record as CEO of Bain, another so-called "private equity" (read "leveraged buyout') firm. “Campaigns do what campaigns have to do,” James told his friends, according to the Times.
But, writes Confessore, not every attendee was so philosophical:
“People were incredulous,” said one person who attended the dinner. “They could have waited a week.”
Indeed, the president, to some -- such as the famously un-liberal editorial board of theWashington Post* -- appears to be trying to have it both ways. At a news conference in Chicago earlier this week, Obama fielded a reporter's question about criticism leveled at the campaign by a self-described "surrogate," Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who all but accused the Obama campaign of impugning the good name of so-called "private equity" firms. Here's how Obama's answer was characterized in a Washington Post editorial that joined in Booker's initial criticism (which he as since walked back):
Mr. Obama suggested that he never meant to condemn the private equity business as a whole. “I think there are folks who do good work in that area and there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries,” he noted. Instead, he added, he meant simply to point out that a career in private equity is not appropriate preparation for the White House. There’s a big difference between what it takes to “maximize profits,” a perfectly legitimate goal in the business world, and what it takes to “figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot,” which is the job of a president, he said.
The president's position on the results of Romney's tenure at Bain -- businesses bankrupted, people put out of work, while Bain investors somehow made piles of money on the decimation -- poses a dilemma on some well-heeled Democrats, and the Democratic politicians who rely on the largess of the financial sector for campaign dollars. As I wrote earlier this week, Booker isn't Obama's only critic of the anti-Bain offensive: others include former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., former "car czar" Steve Rattner, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who said he didn't like the tone of the attacks on Romney's Bain legacy. But Rendell conceded this much to Confessore:
“Wall Street screwed up the nation’s economy and the world economy,” Mr. Rendell said. The White House’s approach to regulation was reasonable, he added. “What do they want us to do?”
But it's not as if Wall Street is exactly suffering under the Obama administration, which has relied on former Wall Streeters to steer the economy since the Great Recession hit. Even Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, survived in his position after presiding over a $2 billion loss for his firm in risky derivatives trading. Nonetheless, Dimon's former romance with the Obama administration is off, having declared himself as "barely a Democrat," apparently because of Democrats' attempts, however half-hearted, to rein in Wall Street.
As I wrote on Tuesday, Obama campaign strategists seem to have made a calculation that whatever support they're likely to lose from Wall Street has already been lost by virtue of the fact that Republican candidate Romney is pretty much one of their own. But political calculus aside, the most valuable result of the campaign's offensive against Romney's Bain legacy may be the collateral damage that exposes just how far in the tank some Democrats are with the financial sector. Worth noting, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillebrand, both New York Democrats, declined comment for the New York Times story.
Now, can we start talking about public financing for political campaigns?