The AIG Fire May Cost Obama Dearly

It seems that the battle lines may be forming already. After two months on the job, the Obama administration is faced with an issue that will define its relationship with the American business community. The definition will most likely be found in the dictionary under A as in antagonistic.

The President has indicated that he will sign any ill-considered bill that the Congress lays on his desk that uses the tax code to “punish” TARP recipients. Rather than play the peace maker yesterday he threw in with the mob and heaped verbal fuel on the fire.

The rather minor act of clawing back a small amount of money from a few banks is immaterial. The abrogation of an agreement that persuaded a group of companies to cooperate with a government program is not. Few players from the business community are likely to believe that they can trust this administration to live by the spirit of its agreements and to protect them from the wilder urges of the political class.

An article in the Wall Street Journal today pointed out how diametrically opposed Obama’s approach has been to Roosevelts. The authors note that Roosevelt ‘s first 100 days were devoted to gaining the trust of the business community and that in doing so he was rewarde greatly. They offered this quote from “After Seven Years” a book by Raymond Moley, a Roosevelt adviser:

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the policies which vanquished the bank crisis were thoroughly conservative . . . Those who conceived and executed them were intent upon rallying the confidence, first, of the conservative business and banking leaders of the country and, then, through them, of the public generally.”

It appears as if the administration does not consider a business community with confidence in its policies to be of any particular use. Make no mistake, this goes deeper than the few banks that have been affected. Businesses large and small are watching the government use its considerable powers to punish a specific group of companies. They know full well that their time could come as well.

I do not know if the President harbors an anti-business bias or if he simply lacks the will to challenge the Congress. I tend to think it is the latter and that perhaps he hasn’t yet come to grips with the reality that he will have to relinquish some popularity if he is truly going to govern.

But all of that is really secondary to the issue at hand. If he does indeed let this fire consume reason then he will have lost something that cannot be won back.

A sullen, distrustful business community is not one that will emerge from the recession ready to take the risks necessary to restore prosperity. Sooner or later President Obama is going to come face to face with this reality. It may be when he seeks reelection.

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