Obama Hits Up Wall Street 'Fat Cats' For Reelection Funds, But What About Jobs?


It's not a surprise, really, that Barack Obama is courting Wall Street donors (again) for his reelection campaign.

Still, the bold, black New York Times headline is a bit jarring. “Obama Seeks to Win Back Wall Street Cash.”

We knew it was coming, but still.

It's not just that there have been no prosecutions of anyone responsible for the financial crisis. It's not just the extension of the Bush tax cuts, overwhelmingly benefiting the rich. It's not just the lack of any meaningful jobs program, or the appointment of banker buddy William Daley as White House Chief of Staff.

This latest report stings because while unemployment hovers just above 9 percent, the administration is more concerned with giving the appearance, to the people who created the crisis, that it's on their side.

A couple of weeks before officially kicking off his reelection campaign, President Obama met with two dozen Wall Street executives at the White House, and asked them for their thoughts on how to bring the economy back to life. Apparently the topics included hedge fund regulation and the deficit. No word if putting people back to work, or paying them a living wage, was on the itinerary.

The Times wrote:

“The event, organized by the Democratic National Committee, kicked off an aggressive push by Mr. Obama to win back the allegiance of one of his most vital sources of campaign cash — in part by trying to convince Wall Street that his policies, far from undercutting the investor class, have helped bring banks and financial markets back to health.”

Yes, the Times chose the word “class” to describe the investors. Let's leave aside the fact, for now, that yes, progressive policies like a jobs program would actually have helped heal the economy, not to mention shrink the deficit, by getting more money back in the pockets of the unemployed and thus back in circulation and back into the government's tax coffers. That's not what the Wall Streeters are really angry about, is it?

They're doing just fine, after all, back to record profits after bailouts from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the Federal Reserve and lowered interest rates.

A “financier” given anonymity by the Times instead complained that the White House had criticized bankers as “fat cats.” And Larry Summers, according to the Wall Street Journal, got into a spat with a donor who complained that he'd had trouble getting a loan. Summers returned that none of the attendees at this event, who had been asked to raise $350,000, were experiencing the same kinds of problems as the average American.

It's nice to know he remembers.

But Wall Street's “investor class” expects deference in exchange for its cash, and while the Obama administration has been anything but tough on banks, it appears that for many former donors, a quite corporate-friendly Democratic party hasn't been corporate-friendly enough.

There are a few dissenters even among the banker ranks. In the Wall Street Journal, a couple of high-dollar donors actually expressed frustration with Obama's policies from the left, noting specifically his caving in on the Bush tax cuts. Art Lipson, a hedge fund manager, told the Journal that he wouldn't be giving a dime to Obama in 2012 because Obama hasn't been tough enough on banks after the financial crisis.

While the investor class isn't a completely unified front, the Times' choice of words is revealing. The paper of record, the bankers themselves, and obviously the Obama administration see them as a class with unified interests, and consider those interests—or the money to be made by catering to those interests—as more important than those of the unemployed or working poor, still struggling to get by.

When Larry Summers, hardly a raving leftist, is publishing op-eds calling for more stimulus, more job creation, after leaving the administration, what are progressives to think? Summers isn't the first, of course. Jared Bernstein called for direct job creation, and Christina Romer said recently, “I frankly do not understand why policymakers are not feeling more urgency to get unemployment down.”

Unemployment numbers are often the best predictor of an incumbent president's reelection, many have noted. Despite a lackluster Republican field and brinksmanship over the debt ceiling that has some on Wall Street scared, sustained joblessness isn't likely to make the majority of the country get out and vote for more of the same. And the jobless rate is at its highest among young people and recent graduates, the very people who put Obama over the top in 2008, the ones whose energy was dedicated not to raising money but to getting out the vote.

The 2012 presidential race will no doubt be the most expensive in history, bolstered by the unlimited corporate cash allowed by the Citizens United decision. It's understandable, of course, that the Democrats don't want to go into that race with their pockets empty. But as the Obama reelection campaign starts calling its small donors and volunteers, asking them to sign back up, to kick in $20 or $30 at a time, what response will they get when those same people can see the administration's interest in courting the investor class, rather than the working class?

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