Nick Confessore of the New York Times has a big story in the forthcoming Sunday magazine about Obama’s sour relations with Wall Street and the impact it’s having on fundraising.
Buried in the story is an extraordinary anecdote: Wall Streeters are so upset about Obama’s harsh populist rhetoric that they privattely called on him to make amends with a big speech — like his oration on race — designed to heal the wounds of class warfare in this country.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina recently met with a group of Wall Street donors, and they gave him an earful:
For the next hour, the donors relayed to Messina what their friends had been saying. They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession...
One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich? Around the table, some people shook their heads in disbelief....
“This administration has a more contemptuous view of big money and of Wall Street than any administration in 40 years,” [one] donor said. “And it shows.”
Where to begin? Wall Street excess helped lead to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, inflicting untold economic suffering on millions and millions of Americans. In both rhetorical and substantive terms, the Obama administration’s response was by any reasonable measure moderate and restrained. Indeed, Obama clearly viewed himself as a buffer between Wall Street and rising populist passion, telling a group of bankers in April of 2009: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”
Despite all the wailing, Obama’s subsequent Wall Street reform bill simply was not a threat to the established order of things in any meaningful sense. His call for a Buffett Rule and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts would do nothing to halt growing inequality, which has been exacerbated by trends that have been underway for decades. His push for higher taxes on the wealthy has only been about spreading the sacrifice necessary to close the deficit, and about funding measures to create jobs for working and middle class Americans who continue to suffer, even as Wall Street is now reaping huge profits. In speech after speech after speech, Obama affirms that there’s no begrudging the wealthy their success.
Yet despite all this, many Wall Streeters have responded with an extraordinary outburst of resentment, grievance, and self pity. They’ve shoveled enormous sums of money in the direction of the party whose main driving objective is to roll back everything in the way of new oversight Obama and Dems have put into place in response to the worst meltdown in decades.
One wonders if there is anything Obama could say to make these people happy, short of declaring that rampant inequality is a good thing, in that it affirms the talent and industriousness of the deserving super rich. It certainly seems clear that they won’t be satisfied until he stops mentioning it at all.